Spoiled for Fruit

In Costa Rica, they pick mangos green.  Eat ‘em as a snack, with chili and lime.  It’s alright—crunchy, a bit dry, little astringent.  Like tart raw broccoli.

What I don’t get is why anyone would eat something like that when they could wait and have a ripe mango.  Just leave them on the tree—they’ll turn into mangos! Mangos are delicious!  Why would you have a second-rate vegetable instead? That’s like skipping desert and eating a salad.  It’s wasting what could have been a mango.  A mango abortion.

I know I’m just ranting.  I’m from a cold climate, where tropical fruit, especially mangos, are a treat.  I hate to see them go to waste.  But I’ve noticed a pattern in all the tropical zones I’ve been to:  fruit isn’t special.  It’s just too common.  Temperate luxuries like mango, papaya, banana—they grow like weeds here.  Sometimes it’s hardly considered food.  I’ve seen papayas growing on roadsides go unpicked and rotten.  Bananas burned to clear fields.  And coconuts are freakin everywhere by the water.  They’re always available.  You can take them for granted.  That’s something I will never understand.

Then there’s the issue of storage.  A ripe mango will spoil rather fast here.  Eating unripe mango may have come from picking something with a longer shelf life.  Bugs will also get most fruit by the time it’s ripened on the tree, so it may be worth eating it too soon to beat them to the fruit.  Almost any fruit tree here will be surrounded with wasted, dropped fruit rotting in the sun.

Even if a foreign custom is weird, there’s usually a good reason behind it.  Especially when it comes to food choices.  Also common here are cashew trees, but the locals only eat the fleshy pedicel that the nut grows on.  It swells up like a fruit and tastes kind of like peach.  No one eats the seed, which is toxic raw and must be cooked.  Instead, it’s processed for export.  Papayas, too, are not always picked but tapped for the chemicals in the latex.

The Ticos can have their green mango.  It’s not bad, and they have good reasons for eating it.  But I’ll stick to the ripe fruit.  I’ll never get tired of it.  And it’s so common here that I can afford to miss a few unripe ones.  Barely, but I can afford to.  I guess one man’s fruit is another man’s vegetable.

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