Ecology doing to produce stickers what finger nails can’t

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Probably a good thing Paul Cezanne did his painting a hundred years ago. You would hate to see all his still-life fruit immortalized in a wooden bowl with a bunch of plastic produce stickers ruining the effect.

Since the first day I saw one, and who knows when that was, I have steadfastly believed there is no furnace in hell hot enough for the person who invented these atrocities. Known as PLU, or price look-ups, they are now being defended as a “supply chain marvel” by people who, I assume, don’t eat fruit.

For the rest of us, they are the produce-aisle equivalent of a hair on the roof of the mouth. The New York Times last week ran an article titled “Does It Matter if I Eat the Stickers on Fruits and Vegetables?” This came from a reader who wrote, “I keep finding myself biting into an apple or a peach, only to find I’ve eaten half the sticker the store put on there. Is there any harm in eating produce stickers?”

Tim Rowland

Tim Rowland

Um, OK. Other questions from this reader include: “Is it OK to drop an electric toaster into the bathtub if it’s only set to ‘light brown,’” and “If I don’t have a gas can handy, is it OK to use a lawn-and-leaf bag?”

The mealy-mouth answer was just what you would expect from the New York Times, viz., “While the stickers that get placed on fruits and vegetables won’t cause you any harm, it’s probably best to remove them before eating.”

Probably best? As in, it’s probably best not to change the lawnmower blade while the engine is running? No, the correct answer would be, “It is probably best to peel them off until you have collected a wad the size of a softball, at which point you go and stuff it up the nostrils of the shipping manager of Del Monte.”

I admit that these stickers do have some advantages. A quick, computer-assisted ID is preferable to standing in the checkout aisle for 15 minutes while the clerk stares blankly at a Belgian endive as if he were getting his first look at the Antikythera Mechanism.

And I admit that much of my problem is aesthetics. There’s something about a produce sticker that makes fresh fruit seem less like fresh fruit and more like some processed, mass produced food-like substance on par with one of those shapeless, breaded proteins that breed in the freezer case.

I also can’t say that I’ve ever eaten one. I am too psychotically aware of their presence for that. It would be like trying to slip fake maple syrup past Rain Man.

No, what I do is pick and dig at the stupid thing, which uses enough glue to hold on Elton John’s toupee during a Class V hurricane, until the sticker comes off taking half the peel with it — at which point I don’t eat the apple, I hurl it at whatever I see in the room that I believe has a good chance of breaking.

But it does look like I am about to gain a powerful ally, not for any of the reasons I care about, but because these plastic stickers don’t compost — compost becoming the new environmental watchword as more places make composting mandatory. That rich black compost at the garden center doesn’t look quite as good if it’s peppered with little plastic labels.

Since the stickers don’t decompose, they are about to undergo the same shaming and ostracizing from eco-activists that we saw with plastic drinking straws.

Which is fine with me. I mean yes, at some level it’s troubling that no one cared when it was just me who was being tormented. It was only when they ran the risk of being ingested by a centipede that the special interest groups became outraged.

But hey, I’ll take it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Produce stickers won’t decompose, and columnist feels vindicated



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