The fetishism of commodities
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Sat Nov 4 07:22:36 MST 2000
NY Times, November 4, 2000
'Perfect' Apple Pushed Growers Into Debt
By TIMOTHY EGAN
ORONDO, Wash., Nov. 2 Nearly a half-century ago, the farmers in these
dun-colored valleys east of the Cascade Mountains set out to create the
perfect apple. It would be lipstick red; broad-shouldered; uniform in size,
color and crispness; a health food that would look as dazzling as an
ornament on a Christmas tree.
In time, they refined the Red Delicious apple into an American icon, fit
for a teacher's desk, a child's lunch box, a dieter's dash out the door.
The growers produced these apples like widgets coming off a factory line
far more than they could ever sell. And while many people raved about the
apples, other consumers complained that the fruit did not taste like the
original Red Delicious.
Losses piled up. And now the bill has come due. Last month, Congress
approved and President Clinton signed the biggest bailout in the history of
the apple industry, after the government reported that apple growers had
lost $760 million in the last three years.
But while apple farmers blame their woes on a variety of troubles unfair
competition with foreign growers, oversupply, low prices paid by
wholesalers many of them now talk openly about their own role in the
collapse of one of the last sectors of American agriculture still dominated
by family farms.
In trying to create the perfect apple for major supermarket chains, these
farmers say, they may have sacrificed taste to cosmetics. The growers say
their story is like a fable with lessons for how the nation produces its
"Nobody should feel sorry for us we did this to ourselves," said Doyle
Fleming, a lifelong apple farmer who has been gradually replacing his Red
Delicious trees near this village along the Columbia River with newer
varieties. "For almost 50 years, we've been cramming down the consumer's
throat a red apple with ever thicker skin, sometimes mushy, sometimes very
good if done right, but a product that was bred for color and size and not
Complete article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/04/national/04APPL.html
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