For over 70 years, the marketing of one fruit has made it ever-present in our daily lives.
The Red Delicious, in the American consciousness, represents the quintessential apple. It's the one you see on the teacher's desk, and the one in every student's lunchbox. It's also known as the official compost food. But as aesthetically pleasing as it is to the eye, one bite reminds you that what you really want, is one of those crispy golden apples instead. So how is it that they keep selling, and we keep buying, this god awful thing? The production of this gorgeous monstrosity is finally on the decline but, how did we ever let it get this far?
Our story starts rather innocently, with few traces of capitalist forces.
Jesse Hiatt, an Iowa farmer, came across a mutant seedling that refused to die. Year by year he chopped it down and year by year it grew back, so finally he let nature bear its course. What resulted was a thing of beauty - red with yellow stripping. It had strong, beautiful skin and a sweet, delicious taste. Hiatt named it "Hawkeye" in Iowa tradition, and boasted of the mutated beauty he'd cultivated. He entered into a contest in Louisiana, Missouri, hosted by Stark Nurseries.
The owners of the nursery, the Stark brothers, were looking for a replacement apple for the "Ben Davis," which was the apple-of-the-day at that time. The "Hawkeye" won and the Stark brothers purchased it, initially naming it "Delicious". In 1923 a farmer reported back to Stark Nurseries that a strange and beautiful mutation had occurred on one of his seedlings, producing a magnificent, crimson apple tree. Instantly wildly popular, people flocked from all over to gawk at and devour this new beauty of a fruit.
Stark capitalized off of this revelation.
By combining the new varietal with another popular seedling the bore, the "Golden Delicious," he rebranded their new apple as the "Red Delicious". Armed with their innovative new breed, they launched what would equate to a multi-million dollar marketing campaign in today's dollars, and even went as far as to send seedlings cross country by railroad.
As growers rushed to mimic this brilliant looking mutation, they began adopting new methods to control the breeding process.
A Life of Apples wrote: "This has allowed growers and breeders to choose mutations that may be redder or more 'perfectly' shaped, constantly moving the Red Delicious closer to an ever-changing ideal of a perfect apple". They also began manipulating the fruit to maximize it's potential for mass market production and longer storage. This led to stronger, tougher skin which hid blemishes and impurities.
This is why you may bite into a gorgeous apple, only to discover the mealy and tasteless fruit within.
And as they've continued making the apple redder and prettier, as well as increasing production, we've continued taking that first bite and then throwing the apple away, unsatisfied. However, it appears that our taste buds have caught on. Sales for the Red Delicious has declined. And while many of us remember the bailouts of the bank and the auto industry, President Clinton's apple industry bailout continues to be lesser known. In seems that we may be checking out the apple market again, flirting with Galas and Fujis, and Grannysmiths'.