I had this interesting experience recently when it came to a certain fruit. In the past year or two, I started to see a lot of people saying they didn’t like honeydew. It started with hearing people say, jokingly, “Does anyone really like honeydew?” or “Why is there always honeydew? Nobody likes it, nobody eats it,”
Truth was, I’d never really had strong feelings on the subject. When I’d first discovered honeydew, I certainly was fond of it. While this opinion is now unpopular, so much so that it still gives me pause to come out and say it…I may have even preferred it to cantaloupe. It was new to me, and sweeter, often softer, not as complex maybe, but also not as potentially funky — you often do end up with funky cantaloupe that seems just this side of rotten, I think, but honeydew is never like that. Sometimes I’d buy honeydew at the store, but it was often more expensive, or I couldn’t tell if it was ripe, so then I’d still go for cantaloupe, but that didn’t diminish how much I genuinely liked it. When I’d encounter it on a fruit platter, I was more likely to choose it than almost anything else, except strawberries (because, you know, strawberries!). In other words, I knew honeydew had its flaws, but I still genuinely felt good about it.
But then I started to see that a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect don’t like honeydew. In the mainstream press, I noticed that The New York Times was saying, flat out, as if it were fact, that “Americans don’t like to eat it.” While the article evenhandedly pointed out that when honeydew is ripe it is quite good, it then went on to use this as a basis for arguing that it would actually be good for honeydew if people stopped serving it, because “A reduction in melon quantity may mean an improvement in melon quality.” At first that statement shocked me a little in its direct advocation of honeydew restriction, but since this was The New York Times, I started to consider that maybe this and other articles had some good points, which I hadn’t taken fully enough into account. It was often harder to find a really good piece of honeydew than cantaloupe. There was also a lot of underripe and overripe honeydew out there, for sure, and while the same could be said of cantaloupe, overripe honeydew definitely broke down faster, because it was so soft and sweet already. Maybe it really was being used on the average fruit platter as filler, or for color, not taste, as so many claimed. A large number of people did seem to leave it on the plate, implying that many, perhaps most, seemed to think they’d rather not have fruit at all than have honeydew. Then I noticed in the media that some people were saying even more surprising, less veiled, negative things, like “’I despise it,’" and “’don’t let it get near me,’” or that a “friend” of the author would “pick out any pieces of fruit that have even touched honeydew in a fruit salad because the taste ‘lingers on the other fruit, and I just can’t handle that.’” The more I read these opinions, though, the more they started to sound normal and acceptable to me. This became even more true when I started to see that, among a small subset of very intelligent and witty voices in the popular culture, some that I really admired, this dislike of honeydew had become such a given that the fruit was becoming the target of jokes. Bojack Horseman has a running joke about it being “garbage fruit,” and eviscerated it (literally) on its Instagram feed. As if to prove that millennials and people generally up with the trends recognize the inferiority, even hateability, of honeydew, Buzzfeed has had a few pieces on the subject, also joking about it being “garbage,” and even going so far as to make an entire video about the shared experience of hating it, with a theme song whose refrain is “Fuck honeydew, there’s nothing good about it,” and where, as a final punchline joke, a guy gets thrown out of a restaurant for saying he likes it.
As all of these ideas seeped into me, consciously or unconsciously, I found myself no longer wanting to eat honeydew. I even started to feel like there was something shameful in liking it. I mean, I did genuinely also like cantaloupe, I told myself. Maybe I really did like cantaloupe better. At its best, in a perfect world, did a good piece of cantaloupe beat a good piece of honeydew? I started to feel like maybe it did. After all, if so many people – tastemakers, even – made that assumption, acted as if it was obvious, why shouldn’t I just give in and agree? The day arrived when I was looking at a breakfast buffet one morning at catering, when there was only honeydew left, no cantaloupe, and I found myself thinking, “Maybe I just won’t have any fruit at all.” I knew everyone around me was thinking the same thing, because there was the honeydew, glaring at us all from the platter, sickly green. Nobody wanted it.
Then I took a moment, stepped back and realized what I was doing: caving in to something with which I didn’t actually agree, just because of what I saw around me as the general consensus. I was actually not listening to my own tastebuds because of things that people were saying. And I said, You know what? Fuck that. Honeydew’s not perfect, far from it, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. It may not be good all the time, no, but it can be damn good. Moreover, if that’s the choice, if that’s what we have at the buffet, am I actually going to not have fruit at all? I sure as hell am not. Because you know where that leads? Scurvy. And trust me, you do not want to get scurvy. I’ve looked it up and it’s nasty, and that is not a matter of opinion, it’s a well-sourced fact. You start to feel weak, then your gums bleed, and your skin, and eventually it can lead to personality changes and even death from infection. Nope, there was no way that I was going to let myself get scurvy – especially because a lot of what people were saying about honeydew was biased opinion, or even just plain lies and misinformation. Honeydew does not cause cancer, in fact, it’s recommended for fighting cancer, but while there are articles about the wondrous, anti-cancer qualities of cantaloupe, as well as using it for gout prevention, acne relief, and weight loss, they only occasionally mention honeydew, which also, as a melon, has all the same properties. All of the cases I could find of salmonella outbreaks? Cantaloupe, not honeydew. And while it’s true that honeydew is not good for your kidneys because it’s high in potassium, so you should avoid it if you have kidney disease, that’s only true to the same extent that you should avoid cantaloupe — so why doesn’t anyone talk about that?! I realized — and it was just amazing to me — how people were overlooking the truth, or the details, in favor of their personal biases and emotions, how easily those emotions were whipped up into a populist frenzy, and how quickly that frenzy had coalesced into a powerful force that drowned out dissenting voices. It seemed like the thing about honeydew was that people just didn’t like it, because that was how everything out there was telling them to feel.
So I went back to eating honeydew, and I owned it. If anyone sees me eating it, or asks, or sometimes even if they don’t ask, even if it sometimes does get me odd looks, I tell them that I like honeydew, plain and simple. Because the truth is that I do, and I always have.
Here’s the key thing: it didn’t take very long, or very much persuasion at all, for me to start thinking that I didn’t; to accept honeydew hatred as, first, just an idea, then a funny joke, and then, way too quickly, the norm. And I’m a smart person. I research, I listen, I think. So why had I doubted my own thinking, my own taste? Why did I so easily let people convince me that my experience was invalid? Why was it so easy to let myself be convinced by the general opinion, or a popular one, or the one that was the loudest and strongest? Checking yourself is good, thinking and even rethinking can be good, but going along with the masses who hate something just because it’s easy, because it seems like the thing to do, is a big, scary mistake.
And that is something that’s going to be very important for us to remember and recognize in the next four years, because, as a country, we are going to be challenged a lot on what we believe. Things are likely to get turned upside-down, or at least start looking that way, and the people trying to make them that way are going to have their own “news” and “facts” to back them up. You know this is true because it’s already happening, and judging by everything we’ve seen so far, that’s nothing to the way we’ll feel once this new government gets to work in 2017. Having the courage to think for ourselves under great pressure is going to matter, a lot. There’s so much misinformation out there that it’s easy to hear and jump on and pass on to your friends — you know you’ve given in to the impulse to post first and fact-check later, like we all have, “because a lot of people were saying it and it just made so much sense" — and must, instead, invest the time to check the source, figure out where the evidence lies, and think. The opinion that is knee-jerk, popular, sounds simplest or cleverest, or is just plain loud enough to drown out everyone else is often the easiest one to believe. Resist. Check yourself. Do the research. Listen to the experience of others, and especially look for that of the minority, the one you might not be hearing because it’s not so easy to find. Form your own opinions carefully, with facts and reason to back them up. Don’t let people bully you into believing you don’t like something you actually do, or that you believe something that you don’t. Or worse, that you just don’t care, or that it doesn’t really matter.
Because that, my friends, is how we all get scurvy.