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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
1:58 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Column: 'Papaya breakthrough' makes eating a challenge

Have you given much thought as to the sex of papayas lately? A half-page article in a recent Science Digest was quite a shocker. Scientists have finally been able to determine the sex of these yummy fruits - only to discover that the most delicious of all are actually hermaphrodites! Yikes... what is the world coming to? Next we'll be forced to contemplate the sex of tomatoes (researchers claim that the male tomatoes are tougher to slice).

I'm not sure that I'm ready to consider whether I'm eating a male or female apple, much less a hermaphrodite! It's almost too weird and surreal to discuss. Why can't some things be left a mystery? For the sake of science, I suppose, the "papaya breakthrough" was huge. Now growers are running through the fields and "disposing" of most of the male papayas (bitter tasting) and "limiting" the female papayas (less juicy) and "selecting" the big, sweet hermaphrodites. Hey, I'm not making this up!

I asked our local produce workers at the Albertsons and Fry's if they could tell the difference between female, male and hermaphrodite fruit. They each looked at me like I had a screw loose. When I told them that I only want to purchase hermaphrodite papayas, I think they went to get their store managers. (I decided to move on to the meat department, where gender issues seemed a bit clearer).

I recall having some mesquite trees planted and the man from the nursery asked me why I had so many male trees. Was I to know which trees were males and which were females? He said something about thorns, but now I can't remember which has them - the girls or the boys. Do you know the sex of your trees? (Oops, I keep forgetting we're a family newspaper. Children, please stop reading immediately). Let me know how you can tell the difference.

An instructor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, claims that fruit and vegetables have "feelings." They are aware of being picked and give off some sort of vibrations (like screaming) when they are being chopped or sliced. So now I wonder what really is going on when I slice that tomato. Is it female, male, a little of both... is it letting out a shriek?

My kitchen has always been a quiet, happy, comforting place. Good aromas, fresh ingredients, and soothing sounds of mixing and chopping - you get the picture. The kitchen is the epicenter of the house, the heart of the home, the place where people gather. It feels, smells and tastes good. Nothing like the sex of a papaya or the scream of a tomato ever entered my mind!

If a team of scientists wants to spend years of time and money on figuring out how to tell that the best papayas are hermaphrodites, then it must be a big deal. Soon everything will be figured out, all mysteries solved, and every simple thing turned into mind-boggling quirks of nature. Maybe my world is just too darn small. Perhaps I'm not curious enough about what I'm bringing home in those plastic bags from the grocery store.

Oh, did I mention that the best coconuts are females? Tomatoes are really fruits. The sweetest mangos are females. Male nuts are a little bit chewier than female nuts. Vegetables grown in the ground are dense and thick-skinned and tend to have less feelings. Really? Watch out for the hermaphrodites - I mean papayas (and don't ask too many questions while in the produce department - you might get some strange looks). And salad greens? They are loaded with "screaming" vegetables. Wine might be the only safe, sure thing to keep in the kitchen. Drink up and try not to think about the sex (or sex lives) or emotions of all those fruits and vegetables. Some things are best left unknown.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a question or a comment? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.