The Fruit Hunters

30 Nov

Have you ever tried a fruit with cotton candy-like insides, one with skin like a reptile or one that mysteriously changes sour flavours to sweet? I haven’t–sadly–but I’m obsessing over such delicacies after seeing a new Canadian doc called The Fruit Hunters last weekend. It’s adapted from Montreal Adam Gollner’s bestselling book of the same name. Here director Yung Chang tells me about his amazing orchard discoveries, everywhere from Saskatchewan to Hawaii to Borneo.

What were the most mind-blowing fruits you tasted in the making of this film?

There were so many. The ice cream bean is a fruit I tried in Hawaii. It was a giant thing that you’d unzip down the centre. Inside, it had what was like fluffy cotton candy stuffing.

And the Burmese grape: a tiny little round lychee thing. You have to crack it open, and inside is a fleshy globule like a marble. Pop it in your mouth, and it explodes.

I had the snake fruit in Bali: It has the texture of a leathery reptile, and inside it has crispy garlic-like cloves, and it’s so sweet.

Which of those fruits would you like to see readily available in Canada?
Many just wilt if they travel—they don’t have the texture and skin to withstand the journey. But I would love to see those Burmese grapes and the ice cream bean arrive on our doorsteps.

Also, I wish we had more varieties of those fruits already in grocery stores. In Canada we grow apples that are pink-fleshed and many kinds of strawberries and blueberries that you can’t get in supermarkets.

We have the haskap berry, which is being touted as the next superfood. While we were working on the film, we went to Saskatchewan to meet the breeder who created the best tasting haskap berries in the world.

Persimmons are wonderful too—you have to eat them when they’re ripened to the point of overripe. They get so sweet and delicious, and they’re very sensual. If I eat one alone, I tear it open with my hands—it gets messy, and you have to dig into it like an animal in a jungle.

Did you discover any revolutionary fruits?
The miracle fruit. It originates from Cameroon. It changes the taste of everything sour to sweet. You can eat one before sucking a lemon and make it taste like lemonade. It could change the way people with diabetes eat.

Which of the characters in The Fruit Hunters made the biggest impression on you?
I was very moved by Richard Campbell and Noris Ledesma. He’s an American; she’s a Columbian native living in Miami now. They’re professional fruit hunters who collect, cultivate and preserve rare varieties of mangos, durians and other tropical fruits. They have a kind of Noah’s ark of fruit back in Miami.

They’re supported by the Fairchild foundation, and they travel the world collecting varieties then give them back to farmers in different countries. Their goal is to preserve diversity. We traveled with them to Bali to look for a rare white-fleshed mango.

What were the most dramatic moments of shooting?
Filming in Borneo with one of the last of the Penan nomads. We walked with this elder and had him show us the fruits he eats in the jungle and how he survives. To know his island was being destroyed by development and monoculture, was a real shake-up for me.

What’s happening is mass industry is stripping the jungle and replanting the area with these palm plantations. This kills the land and wildlife because no nutrient grows on the base of the jungle once those trees are planted and grown.

The government counts the palm plantations as forest, so they say they’re rejuvenating the jungle. From above, it still looks like green coverage, but it’s basically killing the land.

Is this film a call to action?
Maybe not so overtly, but one thing I wish is for every audience member to walk out of the theatre and want to go fruit hunt on their own and discover the seductiveness of fruit… to go to Chintown and pick up something exciting.

The Fruit Hunters is also a celebration of our connection to nature. We know we have problems with climate change, but we also have the potential to be happy about fruit and celebrate it. Fruit can give us a sense hope.




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