It was lunchtime, and I was hungry. So I went looking for Prune Burgers.
Excuse me, I mean Dried Plum Burgers. There's a difference, you know. But more about that later.
I had read in Wednesday's Appeal how the U.S. government was testing Prune Burgers on fifth-graders in Washington, D.C.
I was outraged, of course. Of all the things this society does to children, I had yet to hear anything quite so nefarious as Prune Burger-testing.
I say, we have 158 suspected terrorists encamped at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and if we must test Prune Burgers on someone, why not them?
But innocent, little children ... poor, unsuspecting children. They were given a mixture of ground beef and "4 percent prune puree." The horror!
Apparently, several survived -- at least long enough to try the raisin-tomato barbecue dip for chicken nuggets. Some even said they liked them. And I thought we had laws against hazing.
(Not to get sidetracked again, but am I supposed to be referring to raisins as dried grapes these days? It's so hard to keep up.)
Upon a bit of investigation, involving rummaging around in my memory for awhile, I realized that schoolchildren have long been subjected to secret "testing" programs -- sometimes at the insistence of government, sometimes due mainly to the creativity of cafeteria cooks.
Every time the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovers its policies have accidentally wrecked an entire agricultural industry, it turns to the nation's schoolchildren to bail it out.
Got a few warehouses full of cheese? Guess what's on Wednesday's lunch menu.
Turkey industry going foul? Hey, kids, now every Thursday will seem like Thanksgiving.
Prices plummeting in the citrus market? Crank up the Vitamin C campaign and make sure students get their juice three times a day.
Now it's the prune market. The Associated Press reported there's such a glut of prunes on the market the department is paying growers to destroy 20,000 acres of plum trees.
Maybe prune demand is down because people don't know where to find them.
If you go shopping for prunes or try to contact the California Prune Board, you may have a hard time. That's because they're no longer called prunes, according to the people who decide such things.
And the people who decide such things are on the California Dried Plum Board.
Prunes, it turns out, have a bad reputation. They've been the butt of jokes. They're associated with old people and bowel movements.
So they went around asking people not to refer to this particular edible item as prunes any more. Call them dried plums. Dried plums appeal to "new, younger users."
I just want to say that, although I am rapidly approaching prune age, I am not now nor have I ever been a prune "user." And it disturbs me to think they are trying to turn an entire generation of our young people into prune users by injecting prune puree into their hamburgers (which, by the way, are not made of ham.)
The people on the Dried Plum Board even persuaded the folks in charge of the age-old California Prune Festival in Yuba City to change the name to the California Dried Plum Festival (Sept. 7 and 8).
Fortunately, as far as I can tell, the folks who run the other California Prune Festival in Campbell have resisted the pressure and are clinging to the name of California Prune Festival (May 19 and 20).
Although this debate has been raging for a year now among the prune/dried plum cognescenti, it was all new to me. I tried to find out more by going to www.driedplums.org, but I found zilch.
I did, however, find the California Dried Plum Board at www.prunes.org.
There I discovered the 2001 award winner for the best recipe using dried plums. It's a "California Dried Plum & Granola Napolean Over Soft Ripened Brie" by Wolfgang Harau of West Palm Beach, Fla.
Although it sounds yummy, I suppose they were right to give Prune Burgers a go with schoolkids first. There might have been a reaction to Napolean over Brie, no matter the ingredients.
I also noticed the USDA has cited, in its ongoing attempt to redistribute the nation's wealth through school lunch programs, the need to buy surplus supplies of goose and bison. I don't know, but that may explain the "surprise" in Pizza Surprise.
I also suggest, when it comes to marketing, the folks at Sunsweet have a decided advantage.
They market chocolate-covered prunes ($32.95 for a five-pound box) under the name "French Kisses."
While that may not appeal to fifth-graders, the rest of us are beginning to get hungry for dessert.
Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.
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