Travel literature review: The Fruit Hunters

The Fruit HuntersThe Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner
3.5 star

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Saralinda Turner

Saralinda Turner is an in-house editor at Lonely Planet, a convert to prickly pear fruits, despite the prickles, and a member of that tribe who prefers their fruit to be both tasty and pesticide-free.

For Adam Leith Gollner, the adventure that became The Fruit Hunters began in the Rio de Janeiro botanical gardens with some paradise nuts and grew into a seemingly obsessive compulsion to chart every nuance of fruit tourism, every odd edible seed or pod and every shocking statistic when it comes to the homogenisation of produce, particularly in North America. From botanists in Borneo and fruit obsessives in Hawaii, to fruitarians, fruitleggers and the American fruit mafia, Gollner rounds up an impressive harvest of exotic botanicals and the humans who seek to eat, examine or exploit them.

Ingesting Gollner’s book, however, is a little like diving into a lap pool filled with fruit salad and trying to simultaneously swim and identify each element – only the fruits are dreamt up by Roald Dahl and your coach is a highly enthusiastic proponent of the butterfly stroke. Miracle fruit or magic beans, anyone? What about num-nums, chupa chupas or pope’s testes? Jumping from marvel to marvel, from mongongos to HG Wells’ Morlocks to Adam and Eve and the fruit of knowledge, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with Gollner’s boundless horticultural passions. The chapters on commerce and fruit as commodity are the most coherent and therefore easiest to dip into, charting our increasing Western detachment from food sources such that we won’t accept a blemished apple in the supermarket, but we will purchase a tasteless one – provided it is ‘shiny, smooth, even, uniform and bright’.

As an editor I was pleased to not see any fruit-shop-sign ‘banana’s’ in The Fruit Hunters, but I would have liked to see a little less literary leaping around and a little more depth and attention to detail. I assume, for instance, that Barbour Lathrop, who died in 1927, would have been quite overripe had David Fairchild really first clapped eyes on him in November 1983. Indeed, sometimes Gollner’s fertile logorrhoea makes it difficult to see the fruit for the orchards of description and the fields of research that have been jammed into this book. He has certainly managed to compile a fascinating treatise nonetheless, and this is a text to inspire the gourmandising fruit hunter in all of us.

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