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Irritations of Modern Life- 13: Small Stickers on Fruit

ALL THINGS are branded. We have to accept this as a fait accompli of capitalism. Normally I believe that only killjoys hate branding. Packing, labelling and the sundry other ephemera of mercantile society - it is all there to be enjoyed. But not little stickers on fruit, which are sent simply to try us. Why should these innocent-seeming interventions annoy me so much? Partly it is the nature of the product. Fruit should be pure, graceful, unsullied. As the first and final foodstuff to be tasted before the onset of original sin - one can say with some certainty that Eve's apple bore no sticker - fruit somehow remains primordial, sensual and carefree.

Fruit is a food of the gods. Suffice to say that there is a romance to fruit that cannot help but be corrupted by the hard-edged world of marketing. Of course we all know that fruit is just another product, and marketing influences our choice. But when did a sticker on a fruit ever influence someone's decision to buy one apple or pear over another? Very rarely, I would bet, for this is surely one sector where the actual appearance of the product - its shape, colour and freshness - provides the incentive to purchase, not the packaging.

Okay, the market rationale might be that the label strengthens brand recognition and lodges in our memory, making sure we feel good about Costa Rica, Bonita or New Zealand Reds and functioning as a quality control. Possibly. I also accept that stickers alert consumers to the provenance of the fruit, which may have a function in enabling us to make enlightened geo-political choices - those tell-tale stickers may have helped the politically righteous to avoid Cape Grannies all those years ago. But these are negligible benefits.

It is not as if marketing itself is the problem. I even begrudgingly admit that some fruit stickers can carry memorable graphics - the blue oval that once told us one's banana came via the Fyffes corporation somehow adhered to the memory bank. But even when they are attractive, they still seem to perform no real function apart from to be a sticky nuisance. Not only do they create unnecessary labour on the production line, they also create unnecessary work for the consumer, who has to peel them off and remove the inevitable gum stain.

The issue gets higher-key when the sticker goes right onto the epidermis of fruit such as apples and pears. Even after washing, there often remains a bogey-like smudge. And then, after peeling off, they are extremely difficult to throw away. Like old sticking plasters, they seem to end up in some part of oneself - sole of foot, back of jacket - where they taunt you from an invisible position.

But I am fighting a losing battle: there are growing hordes of fruit sticker aficionados, particularly in the US, where there is a fashion for people to put them on their fridge doors. There is a fruit sticker fanzine from Austin, Texas with the odd title Please Stop Snickering. And there are the websites. "Stickers enhance nutrition!" proclaims one. Fruitbats, the lot of them. As far as I am concerned one message should ring loud and clear - Keep Fruit Naked.