Again, from The Atlantic’s email — this time about seedless watermelon’s share of the market and why advertisements still show slices of seeded watermelon.
Stephanie Barlow, a senior director at the National Watermelon Promotion Board, told me that more than 90 percent of watermelons consumed in the United States today are seedless. The change happened slowly and then quickly: The first seedless hybrid melons appeared in the mid-20th century, but industrial farmers didn’t figure out how to pollinate them effectively at scale until the mid-2000s.
That’s changed how watermelon gets eaten. Seeded melons were best consumed as wedges, with the seeds removed by hand, napkin, or—the traditional method—expectoration. But sans seeds, the watermelon came to enjoy more diverse uses: in fruit salads, in leafy salads, and even on pizza.
The latter recipe is one that the watermelon board suggests in a promotional campaign tied to the release of Disney Pixar’s new animated film Luca, which is set in anguria-loving, mid-century Italy. Watermelon appears fleetingly in the film, when two girls on a balcony can be seen eating it in wide wedges—complete with seeds. A promotional image created by Pixar, not the watermelon board, even shows the film’s sea monsters enjoying big smiles of black-seeded fruit.
Barlow told me that the watermelon board has stressed using only seedless-watermelon imagery in its communications. “But the visual of the seeded watermelon slice prevails,” she admitted.
That’s probably because of the fruit’s symbolic relationship with summertime nostalgia. Luca’s Italian Riviera memories are of a piece with my own from American summer camps. When it comes to watermelons, we eat the fruit, but we also consume the image.