Josh Barro’s Honeydew Melon Apologia

Melon TrayI’m very fond of Josh Barro, but it seems that I only write about him when I’m angry at him. But today, I’m not really angry at him. Over at The Upshot, he wrote, That Honeydew Melon Looks Good, but Does Anyone Eat It? And yes, he does some honeydew melon apologetics, but you can tell he’s not that into it.

Let’s get something straight: it is clear that Barro started researching his article with a clear head. But somewhere along the line, he was assimilated by the honeydew Borg. Because he rightly notes that the purpose of this lesser melon in our society is to sit on fruit trays next to “watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple.” And by the end of any event, there well be not a trace of red, orange, and yellow. All that will remain will be vast tracts of green. If a starving man ran into the room at that point, he would go up to the tray, see only honeydew melons and say, “I’m good.”

And why is it that no one eats the honeydew melon? Because it tastes like green cardboard. I know what happens because I do it myself. We grab a small paper plate and place three pieces each of watermelon and cantaloupe, two pieces of pineapple (because there is never as much pineapple and we don’t want to look selfish), and one piece of honeydew melon. Why one piece? I think for two reasons. First, we have this idea that we should eat our “greens.” Yes, we know that this refers to broccoli, but we figure that since honeydew melons don’t taste good, we ought to get some credit for it. Second, we are optimists. We think that maybe this time the green melon will be better. It never is.

But Barro, ever the iconoclast decides to eat a honeydew melon on one of the two nonconsecutive days of year when they are actually in season. You’ve got to remember that Barro is really, his heart, a liberal, but he insists upon staying in the Republican Party as a kind of protest. As if any of the Republicans actually listen to him! As it is, he’s more liberal than the last two Democratic presidents. He’s the kind of Republican only a Democrat can love. And that means he’s no kind of Republican! Anyway, so he eats his “almost perfect” honeydew melon and announces, “It didn’t rock my world, but it was as tasty as a high-quality cantaloupe.”

I don’t actually know how to take this. I have a hard time believing that any fruit could rock my world. And “tasty” is a word normally reserved for describing food that a friend worked really hard on but isn’t that good. I think this is just his way of saying, “Yeah, the melon tasted better than cardboard.” But the fact remains: honeydew melons are never great. They are just sometimes okay—good enough—edible—you might even say, “Tasty!”

So okay, despite Barro’s obvious attempt at apologetics on behalf of the ATFGA (American Tasteless Fruit Growers Association), we can all agree that honeydew melons are never worth buying unless your grocer specifically tells you, “There’s something wrong with the honeydew melons; they taste good for some reason.” And even then, what is the point? Cantaloupe is usually better. But Barro is quite right that cantaloupe is also poor when out of season. I have a general rule that I apply to all fruits (even the ones you don’t think of as fruits like corn):

Only buy fruit when it is cheap.

I recently bought a cantaloupe for 25¢, and it was one of the best ones I’ve ever had. I know it doesn’t make sense, but the economics of it is pretty simple. When fruit is expensive, it is because there isn’t much of a supply of it. And that means it is out of season. And that means it was probably shipped from another hemisphere. Trust me: it will suck, especially given that they paid a bunch for it and it is worse than it is when it is cheap.

But let’s go back to that fruit tray business. The problem here is that in general, the people who eat the fruit trays are not the same as the people who buy the fruit trays. Even if it is for a family gathering, the person who buys the tray is the host who will be too busy hosting to eat a bunch of fruit. So no one involved in the economic side of it cares. The seller provides a good looking tray and that’s pretty much all the buyer cares about too. What’s more, if there is no honeydew melon, there will always be one freak there who says, “Why isn’t there any honeydew melon? It’s my favorite!”

More important, the seller has an extra incentive to have honeydew melon on the tray besides having some green to go along with the red, orange, and yellow: honeydew melons are the cheapest. And note: if they wanted green on the tray, they could use grapes or kiwi. And how about blueberries to get a little purple. No, cost is king!

So I don’t think honeydew melons are going away anytime soon. They are the equivalent of the lettuce bed on a meat tray: cheap filler that adds some color while still being technically edible. But if you are at the grocery store and you see a honeydew melon: stop! According to Produce Pete:

Unless you live in California, however, a ripe honeydew before August or after October is as rare as a blue moon. Because ripe ones are fragile and hard to ship, 99 percent of those you see most the year have been picked green, and they’ll never ripen.

That’s at most two months folks! Cantaloupe is good from June through September. That’s four months. The truth is, you should stay away from all these fruits outside of summer. You can get all the fruits you need in the winter by drinking wine. And if you serve wine at your events, no one will care about which fruits you do or don’t have.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Josh Barro’s Honeydew Melon Apologia

  1. I love honeydew melon. A couple of times recently I have had some after my Saturday workout and it is like candy. Now in these cases I haven’t eaten in about 15 hours and I have very low blood sugar, but I picked up honeydew, and not cantaloupe or watermelon, because I prefer it. Watermelon has great potential, but it is usually mealy in texture, or not sweet enough. And I know I’m being a baby, but I don’t like the seeds. Cantaloupe is OK, when ripe enough. I like crenshaw and casaba better. And I would not have thought to include pineapple in a melon comparison. Papaya is a good substitute for cantaloupe. I have used it in the melon and prosciutto appetizer classic and my guests love it. We eat lots of mangoes, also not a melon. My daughter gobbles them and gnaws on the pit. I like them with a little lime juice to tame the sweet. I make this sound like I eat more fruit than I usually do. Trying to eat better and lose weight. It worked a lot faster at 23 than it does at 44.

  2. @Lawrence – I’m overstating, of course. The article is more making fun of myself for my David Weigel apologia articles than anything.

    Honeydew melons can be quite good. But they are usually terrible. Cantaloupe is more consistent, but out of season it is pretty much inedible. I’ve never understood the appeal of watermelon. It’s okay, but nothing special. I’m very fond of pineapple, but you are right: it isn’t a melon and I’m not sure why it is in the discussion. And that gets to my main thought: I’m not that fond of melons. Give me a peach or a plum any day.

    Good luck with the weight!

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