I Peel Your Pain

Maybe you don’t like fruit and produce stickers either. They’ve been around since the 1990s, but only recently have I begun to be concerned. They seem harder to get off than they used to. And I’m not going to eat them even though the FDA says that both the sticker paper and the glue are edible and a good source of fiber. My mulch pile doesn’t have much use for them either.

So, who puts these little stickers on squash and avocados and tomatoes and bananas?  I hear it’s the Keebler Elves. Not all of them, but a breakaway group. No one totally agrees with others in their group any more. Not Democrats or Republicans or Keebler Elves. One faction is happy eating nothing but cookies – E.L. Fudge, Sandies, Chips Deluxe – but another wants a more balanced diet – add some fruit and veggies – and so they went to work for Big Farma.

When interviewed, Keebler executives denied this split in their work force. But many of the elves who continue to bake cookies confirmed it. They actually are glad that the “fruit and veggie” crowd left. They’re getting more overtime.

And these sawed-off sticker stickers are serious about their work. When they put a sticker on, it stays on. There’s a famous Dear Heloise column in which readers are told to use Scotch tape to pull pesky fruit stickers off. Reader say that this method doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does the job with apples. I say that if we have to look to Dear Heloise for help in eating an apple, we might as well stick with cookies.

Each of these little stickers contains a PLU Code. PLU stands for “Produce Loves U”. Just what we wanted to know, but what do the numbers on the stickers mean? Retired cryptologists – and when you retire you have a need to eat more fruit – have cracked much of it. Conventionally grown produce, meaning it was dipped in a vat of insecticide before arriving at the store, has a 4-digit code on it beginning with “3” or “4”.  Bananas are 4011, avocados 4225, apples 4130, and navel oranges 3107.

What I’ve never seen is a five-digit code beginning in “8”. If there’s a five-digit code and it begins in “8”, the item has been genetically modified, GMO. An 84225 is a genetically modified avocado, which in reality could be a cross between alfalfa and a small turtle.  An 84130 is a genetically modified apple, which could be a cross between a potato and a nerf ball. No one knows for sure.

Lots of people won’t buy fruit or produce unless the five-digit code begins with “9”, meaning that it is either orgasmic or organic. (I can’t read my notes from the supermarket.) If it’s the former rather than the latter, the sticker will be heart-shaped and also say, “Hiya, Sailor” in tiny letters. In either event, “PLU!”

But why are supermarkets doing this to us? The system is voluntary and not regulated by any governmental agency. They can’t blame anyone but Big Farma. I think the use of stickers is Big Farma’s response to nature deficit disorder. Think about it. Kids aren’t getting outside like they used to. Not only is the lack of dirt in their diet harmful, but kids have a level of ignorance about what grows in the natural world previously thought impossible.

But kids are involved daily with passwords, logins, and usernames, some of which are still entirely numeric.  What Big Farma is doing is adjusting to a changing world, making sure it doesn’t lose customers.  The kid comes home from school and says, “What can I have for a snack, Mom?” She says, “You can have a 4130.” The kid is happy but not ecstatic. “Teacher says that a 94130 is much better for me.”… “And teacher is right. They just didn’t have any at the supermarket today.” Disappointed, the kid asks what’s for dinner. “We’re having tacos and 4225s! You like tacos, don’t you?”… “Yeah, but do I have to eat my 4225? I hate it, hate it, hate it!”… “Yes, you have to eat your 4225 or you won’t get any 4032 for dessert.”

4032 is watermelon.



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