The New Yorker‘s double Food Issue for August 19 and 26, 2002 is a standout issue of the magazine, for me, in many ways – every piece in the mag was fascinating, and one, “The Fruit Detective”, was a nearly perfect reading experience. Others apparently feel the same: MeFi poster semmi highlights the short one-page anecdotes that appeared throughout the book.
“The Fruit Detective” is a profile of a character’s character: David Karp, an ex-junkie ex-Wall Streeter who once produced a Lydia Lunch record and now spends his days in pith helmet, hot on the trail of both the world’s rarest fruit and the deeply sensual, rare experience of eating said fruit.
Simple, straightforward reportage on this eccentric person would have been enough to hold my attention; in the event, John Seabrook’s amusing, carefully crafted prose deepened my reading pleasure by echoing the manic qualities of his subject and by casting reported events in the mold of, among other things, hard-boiled detective fiction:
…Thomas Antel, the landowner, would let us view the plants only from across the road. Karp, clad in his pith helmet, attempted to extract information from Antel about the consortium’s intentions.
“So how are the plants doing?” Karp asked, taking out his notebook.
“It’s a learning experience, David, a learning experience,” Antel said, looking nervously at the notes Karp was taking. “What can I tell you? I wish I could show you the plants, but there’s too much money involved to screw this up.” He rubbed his face hard with both hands, and his mood seemed to darken. “People feel a sense of entitlement, like they can just come down here and see what we’re doing.”
Karp was undaunted. “Where did the breeder get his breeding stock from?” he demanded. “Because they say there are some varieties that taste better than others.”
“They may be right, David, they may be right. Look, I can’t talk about this. There’s some very big players involved in this thing, and they don’t care who gets hurt – that’s just the way it is.”
I loved this piece, giggling my way through it; and when it was over, I wanted MORE!
Lucky for me, Karp’s careful cultivation of his own quirkiness has made him an attractive media target. Here are some Google-found links:
On the Trail of the Fruit Detective, from the Santa Monica Mirror.
The Fruit Detective, apparently a supporting page for a radio show, California Heartland.
the Splendid Table is a Minnesota Public Radio food show, no longer broadcast in Seattle, which I recall enjoying. This link points to transcripts of Karp’s appearances on the show.