fruit, mobility, science

Earlier this evening at the Shopper's Drug Mart I spotted the upright Fruit To Go display standing prominently at the end of the snack aisle. This is not to be confused with Del Monte's Fruit To-Go, a sadly backward looking fruit-cup product dragged down by the space it takes up on shelves and the hyphen in its name. The Fruit To Go I'm talking about belongs to the fruit leather family, the plant kingdom's answer to beef jerky. It's also the convenience store's solution to produce sections: condense the produce into wafers of spongy cardboard, thereby reducing precious space needed for Harry Potter books, cheap DVD players and bins of industrial refuse sweat-shopped and packaged to look like teddy bears. You know, for kids.

Fruit To Go, its loud packaging notwithstanding, is pretty impressive stuff - conveniently sized, tasty (if a little spongy), and the #1 Canadian fruit snack in the crucial demographics of Moms and Kids. Although it comes in nine mouth-watering flavours, the fruit leather is overwhelmingly apple-based, which places it at the vanguard of healthy eating. Apples, according to the Sun_Rype website, halt heart disease in California, prevent asthma in England, cure cancer in Chicago, smooth your skin in Sydney, manage diabetes in Finland, and spike brain power everywhere. It's no wonder that Moms and Kids are running the country, so healthy and smart they must be from the constant chewing and digestion and extraction of vital health-giving chemicals and nutrients of Fruit To Go.

Despite its obvious position as uber-snack, though, I couldn't figure out why it was called Fruit To Go. In what way was it more mobile than standard fruit? Its convenient - and yes, fun - size may make it slightly easier to fit into a backpack or a purse, but not significantly so. And the advantage of size that pertains with apples and bananas disappears entirely when you compare a grape-flavoured Fruit To Go with an actual grape. Most F2Gs weigh less than their natural counterparts by several grams, which may count for something in endurace races or continent-spanning hikes, but those type of people form such an exclusive demographic that it seems dishonest to base claims on statistically insignificant populations. Its uniformity of shape makes it easier to transport, yes, and better suited for our sleek modern lifestyle, but a single pineapple can span half the globe before it hits your supermarket. In fact, it seemed that F2G was superior to fruit in every possible way except for its mobility.

What was going on here?

I decided to apply the scientific method, just as I had learned it in grade 4 or thereabouts. My hypothesis: That F2G was more mobile than 'real' fruit. My experiment: drop a piece of F2G with/without packaging and a standard-sized Gala apple, produce code 94133, simultaneously from my bathroom window. Expected result: F2G, being more mobile and therefore faster than a Gala apple, will hit the ground first. Really, the experiment was more concerned with determining the degree to which F2G outraced 'real' fruit than determing which had the greater mobility. I also threw a bust of Franz Liszt out the window as a control. I'd never understood the concept of the control, but I expected its role to become clear as the experiment progressed.

I would like to point that the following experiments were not without some sacrifice on my part. The winter weather often invaded the apartment and produced in me a chill that many blankets could not dispel. If it was hard on me, it was equally hard on my wife and particularly nasty for the African violets and the spider plants. Bluey the Canary passed on not long after the experiments, and I suspect it was at least in part the result of my scientific zeal. Bear in mind that I am not a prize-winning scientist with a grant from the Department of Defense. I am just a man working furiously to bridge the gap in his knowledge of fruit. And there was no end of grief from the landlord.

Experiment #1: Extending both arms out the window in an attitude perpendicular to the ground, I held a sample of New Tropical Punch F2G in my left hand and the apple in my right. With the help of my wife, a tape measure and a level that I'd borrowed from my parents' garage, I ensured that both items were exactly 5.5 metres from the ground. I placed an ironing board in the front yard at the expected points of impact. Wind speed was determined by Environment Canada and duly factored in. My wife counted down from three and I dropped the items.

Result: Utter shock. Consternation. Unexpected sneezing. The apple dropped swiftly and silently to the ironing board, while the New Tropical Punch, caught by a current of air, twisted in mid-air, veered off course and fell at least two feet off target. It didn't even hit the ironing board! It fell in the snow and got wet. My wife, who had been charged with timing the fall, forgot herself, standing open-mouthed on the lawn. We decided to repeat the experiment with altered variables. In strict accordance with scientific prinicples I threw the bust of Liszt out the window and accidentally struck the landlord on the shoulder. He had come to observe, apparently suspecting us of attempting to skip out on rent.

Experiments #2-25: Tried every conceivable variable we could think of: waxed apple, washed apple, every flavour of F2G, various wind speeds, different heights (borrowed upstairs neighbours' bathroom - hard to explain). Even removed the stem from one apple in my attempt to exhaust the possibilities. Bust of Liszt in bad shape. Landlord threatening to evict. Sniffling. Fingers stiff and recalcitrant. Damned weak flesh! Must perservere.

Results: No matter what we tried, the 'real' fruit always fell in a straight line and hit the ironing board long before the F2G fluttered down nearby. Indeed, the farther the distance from the ironing board ('ground'), the greater the difference between their respective landing times. I wondered if perhaps there were a special attraction between natural fruit and the fabric of the ironing board, going so far as to write several paragraphs on the subject before giving up in complete disgust. I was dangerously close to admitting that my original premise was false, and that Sun-Rype had misled the public about its product, inexplicably advertising the one quality that it did not have.

The breakthrough came when I started comparing the distance travelled to the duration of the fall. In every case, the Fruit To Go had covered a greater distance than the linearly descending apple. The distance that the F2G covered in a five metre fall was hard to determine, given that its flutterings and convulsions evoked a fractal quality in my calculations, but there was no doubt that Fruit To Go will cover a greater distance in a given span of time than a piece of natural fruit. Somewhere between the orchard and the convenience store, the processing and reconstitution, the dehydrating and refining and mashing and extrusion and pasteurization and transportation and packaging, the accomplished scientists at Sun-Rype had added mobility to their product.

It's probably something in the artificial flavours.