Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When is a Fruitarian not a Fruitarian?

I came across a reference to ‘fruitarian’ the other day, and wondered when the term originated – and what it means, exactly.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it very simply, and extremely strictly, as “one who lives on fruit”, and gives the first citation from 1893, in something called The National Food Magazine. This definition naturally requires that one knows what fruit is – which is not as silly a statement as it might at first sound. Botanically speaking, fruit is “the edible product of a plant or tree, consisting of the seed and its envelope” – which means that a strawberry is not a fruit (each of the little seeds speckled over its surface is a fruit), nor is a banana. The tomato however, is a fruit – although the United States legal system in decided in 1893, in spite of botanical evidence to the contrary, that it was a vegetable.

Individual ‘fruitarians’ interpret the idea widely, with varying impact on their nutritional security. Some apply the common-usage definition (the sweet dessert or snack food definition), some admit the botanical definition and include pulses (thus reducing their risk of nutritional suicide). Some will eat only fruit which has naturally fallen to the ground, thinking not to harm the tree. Some only eat ‘fleshy’ fruits – the rationale being that Nature (feels like this needs a capital here) made them thus to encourage animals to eat them and thence assist in seed dispersal – I am not sure of the sanitation arrangements of urban fruitarians who follow this particular practice, and would rather not enquire, thankyou.

Most fruitarians include nuts and seeds in their diets, but some high-minded adherents refuse them on the grounds that they contain future plants. Some allow cereals (that is, edible grains - which are only seeds after all), others eschew these as being “unnatural” food for humans (but seem unclear as to why they are merely unnatural, rather than a method of plant infanticide). Some only eat raw food (applying heat to food also apparently being abnormal, or unethical, or something), others allow a random percentage of cooked food to be included.

Amazing, isn’t it - the human capacity to justify almost every lifestyle choice in an apparently logical or morally sound way?

One interesting man associated with the fruitarian movement was Dr. Josiah Oldfield (1863-1953), who set up a ‘fruitarian’ hospital in Kent, England, in the early twentieth century. His definition included “the produce of harvest field, garden, forest and orchard, with milk, butter, cheese, eggs and honey” – which isnt even "vegan", by today's definition. One of his recipes was included in The Kitchen Garden and the Cook: an alphabetical guide to the cultivation of vegetables, with recipes for cooking them, by Hearst and Herndon (1913).

Margaret Plum Pudding.
(as used at the Lady Margaret Fruitarian Hospital) .
One pound of grated bread-crumbs, one pound of stoned raisins, one pound of sultanas, half a pound of candied peel, half a pound of sweet almonds, a few bitter almonds, a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pound of pine kernels, a quarter of a pound of shelled Brazil nuts, half a pound of brown sugar, the grated rind of threelemons, six eggs. Finely cut up the peel and blanch all the nuts, except the pine kernels, pass through the nut mill; the latter are to be simply chopped. Rub the butter into the bread-crumbs; add the fruit, sugar, grated lemons, and lemon peel; then the eggs, well beaten and mixed together. Put into a basin and boil in the usual way for six hours. The eggs may be replaced by a cupful of milk, half a cup of syrup, and a teaspoon of baking powder.
(Dr. Josiah Oldfield, Fruitarian Diet.)

Inevitable, isn’t it, that most of us would see fruitarians as being amusing eccentrics at best – as in this lovely extract from H.G.Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica?

“Very central in Miss Miniver’s universe were the Goopes. The Goopes were the oddest little couple conceivable, following a fruitarian career upon an upper floor in Theobald’s Road. They were childless and servantless, and they had reduced simple living to the finest of arts. Mr. Goopes, Ann Veronica gathered, was a mathematical tutor and visited schools, and his wife wrote a weekly column in New Ideas upon vegetarian cookery, vivisection, degeneration, the lacteal secretion, appendicitis, and Higher Thought generally, and assisted in the management of a fruit shop in the Tottenham Court Road. Their furniture had mysteriously a high-browed quality, and Mr. Goopes when home dressed simply in a pajama-shaped suit of canvas sacking tied with brown ribbons, while his wife wore a purple djibbah with a richly embroidered yoke. He was a small, dark, reserved man, with a large, inflexible-looking convex forehead, and his wife was very pink and high-spirited, with one of those chins that pass insensibly into a full, strong neck. Once a week, every Saturday, they had a little gathering from nine till the small hours, just talk and perhaps reading aloud and fruitarian refreshments – chestnut sandwiches buttered with nutose, and so forth – and lemonade and unfermented wine; and to one of these symposia, Miss Miniver after a good deal of preliminary solicitude, conducted AnnVeronica."

Quotation for the Day.

Avoid fruits and nuts. You are what you eat.
Jim Davis (creator of “Garfield” )

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