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  Wild/Natural Fruit vs. Modern, Cultivated Fruit: A Summary Comparison

Copyright April 1997 by Thomas E. Billings  

This table provides a partial answer to the question, "how natural is 
modern, cultivated fruit?", by comparing it to wild/natural fruit.
WILD/NATURAL FRUIT                     MODERN, CULTIVATED FRUIT 
A. Plant Breeding and Propagation
Evolutionary varietal selection        Human-directed varietal selection for
driven by species survival             taste (high sugar content: market 
                                       acceptance) and production factors such
                                       as ability to withstand shipping
Usually non-hybrid; on                 Artificial hybrids common; genetic eng. 
occasion - natural hybrid              is latest fashion
Propagation usually by seeds           Vegetative propagation, usually 
(not nec. true to seed), or            artificial: grafting, budding, air-layer,
natural vegetative prop - root         cloning
divisions/slips [banana, pineapple]
Grows on its own roots                 Usually grafted to an alternate rootstock
B. Plant Culture
Grown in natural "permaculture"        Mass-produced in orchards, a type of 
                                       "mono-culture"
Generally watered by rainfall only,    Often grown on irrigated land (desert 
according to natural seasonal cycle    areas like California), or drained
				       swamp land (e.g., Florida)
Grows within specific climactic        May be grown in greenhouse, or artificial
zone, per natural adaptation/habitat   plant breeding techniques may be used to
				       extend plant climate tolerance range
				       (i.e., increase cold/heat resistance)
Plants grow to full size, subject to   Plants may be artificially dwarfed for
local conditions                       ease in picking & other conveniences
Plants are pollinated by natural       Pollination services which use the 
means - native insects, wind,          honeybee (not native to North America)
birds, bats.                           are often used. Some fruits are hand- 
                                       pollinated (cherimoya), while Smyrna
				       type figs are pollinated by Caprifig
				       wasps, deliberately raised for that use.
				       Seedless watermelons are a hybrid and 
				       require cross-pollination by other 
				       varieties of watermelon.
Plants bloom and fruit according to    Blooming and fruiting may be induced
natural conditions and seasons. Some   or controlled by chemical or physical
fruits are biennial - heavy crop one   means, including partial girdling of
year, light crop the next              large branches. Some growers go to great
				       lengths (harming the plants) to force
				       a biennial fruit to bear heavily each 
				       year.
No chemical fertilizers                May receive chemical fertilizers
No pesticides, fungicides or other     May receive applications of pesticides,
poisons applied                        fungicides, etc. - even if so-called
                                       organic 
C. Fruit Characteristics/Quality
Small, high in fiber, often sour,      Large, low in fiber, usually very sweet
bitter, or even astringent; rarely     with a very high sugar level
sweet; usually low sugar level
Typically, large seeds with small      Typically, small or no seeds, large 
amount of fruit flesh.                 amount of fruit flesh. Seedless fruits,
				       in a species that normally reproduces by
				       seeds, are a short-lived anomaly - they 
				       are biologically sterile!
D. Harvest, Postharvest Processing, and Shipping
Falls to ground or picked when         Usually picked unripe or before mature
ripe or mature green.                  green stage. Ripe/mature green fruit will
				       not withstand the rigors of shipping. 
				       Chemicals may be used to promote fruit
				       drop, esp. if mechanically harvested.
Never fumigated                        May be fumigated to induce ripening, to 
				       kill fruit fly larvae, or to prevent
				       postharvest fungus growth
Not treated with hot water, no cold    May be treated with hot water to kill
treatment                              fruit fly larvae or fungus, cold 
				       treatments possible - same reasons.
Not refrigerated, not shipped          May be refrigerated for weeks or even
				       months (cold storage apples, controlled
				       atmosphere storage), usually shipped long
				       distances - shipping and refrigeration 
				       cost fossil fuel and create pollution.
Never waxed, colored, or treated       May be waxed, colored, treated with
with preservative films                preservative films
E. Plant Survival and Reproduction
By definition, survives and            Most cultivated fruit strains can survive
reproduces in real nature -            only under human protection. Cultivated
the wild (survival of the              fruit generally cannot survive/reproduce
fittest).                              in real nature - the wild. This suggests
                                       that cultivated fruit is biologically 
				       "weaker" than wild, natural fruit.
F. Availability to Consumer
First you find the plant, then you     Easily and readily available at 
harvest it. Picking wild fruit may     supermarkets, produce markets, and 
necessitate dealing with any of the    even at convenience stores. Little effort
following: sharp thorns, caustic       is required to obtain.
plant sap, poisonous plants, stinging 
and/or biting insects, snakes, skunks
and other animals. Considerable 
effort usually required to obtain.
Wild fruit is sometimes sold at 
markets in tropical countries.

Comments:
1. The preceding is a generalization/summary, and is subject to the constraints
thereof: many points would benefit from additional explanation.
2. Vegetables and grains are also subjected to some of the un-natural practices
listed above. However, fruits are generally subjected to far more of the above 
practices than are grains or vegetables.
3. Referring to wild fruit as natural is an indirect reference to the most
intellectually honest definition of the word natural: what exists or happens 
in nature, without the assistance of, or intervention by, humans.
4. Although modern fruit is clearly the "least natural" of common plant foods,
one should not fear or hate it. Simply understand that it is over-rated as a
food, and eat less/eat in moderation.

 

 

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