Rename the eggplant, please

"Purple power bombs" would be much more market friendly: More excerpts from the corporate correspondence files of Kenneth H. Cleaver.

By Kenneth H. Cleaver

Published October 24, 2000 11:54PM (EDT)

June 23, 2000

California Rare Fruit Growers Inc.
Fullerton Arboretum, California State University
P.O. Box 6850
Fullerton, CA 92834

Dear California Rare Fruit Growers Inc.:

The crisis of the American eggplant flies in the face of well-sung wisdom about judging books by their covers. With a coat reminiscent of the majestic tones of Rembrandt and Vermeer, the eggplant could not possess a better cover. The crisis facing the American eggplant is its name. Eggplant? This compound evokes fetid aromas of city dumps and genetic debacles fit for a "Far Side" cartoon. Not a palatable image, especially for finicky youngsters trying it for the first time. Is it not ironic that in an age of hyperconsumption, in which the image is master of all it surveys, even the most handsome of vegetables must be reconfigured?

I beg you not to succumb to knee-jerk decisions and adopt the plant's European name of "aubergine." With the growing popularity of soccer and Austin Powers, American culture must safeguard itself from feminizing European influence. At risk of occupying the role of a curmudgeonly critic, I have taken it upon myself to offer several new names for the American eggplant.

1. The E-Plant ©
2. E2K: The Millennial Vegetable ©
3. The Purple Power-Plant ©
4. Purple Power Bombs ©
5. Squash2 ©

Recognizing that the eggplant is not part of my cultural identity or means of subsistence, I humbly offer my analysis. I hope it is of some use.

Kenneth H. Cleaver

California Rare Fruit Growers Inc. responds:

Kenneth H. Cleaver
P.O. Box 810
Bedford, NY 10506

Dear Kenneth:

Regarding your displeasure with the name "eggplant," it surely doesn't conjure up unpleasant images for me. As with so many odd names for things, when you think of why they are called that, it can be most interesting.

Some 15 years ago I grew the "original" eggplant. It was white and looked exactly like an egg. I brought a basket of them to our county fair and every passerby was intrigued by them, especially children.

Colors and shapes have changed, but I like eggplant by any name -- especially the variety from Ukraine called "Diamond." I purchased the seed for it from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. (They probably have the white egg one too.)

Eunice Messner
Fruit Specialist Coordinator
California Rare Fruit Growers

Sept. 15, 2000

National Football League
280 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Dear National Football League:

While baseball may be our "national pastime," the High Holy Day of American sports remains Super Bowl Sunday. While not a football fan, I am a Super Bowl consumer. I enjoy the game as an excuse to get together with friends, drink beer and hold society in contempt. On this most American of holidays, it would behoove us as a nation to utilize our propensity for spectacle and sensationalism to cast light on our many national heroes in the too often irrelevant halftime extravaganza.

I confess that I have a hero in mind: a native son of Terre Haute, Ind., an organizer, writer, pacifist and five-time presidential candidate. Frustrated with the myopia and ineffectuality of craft unions, he founded the American Railway Union in 1893 as a means for railroad workers to gain industrial strength. No stranger to prison, he was jailed for his part in the bitter Pullman strike of 1894, where he learned firsthand how the capitalist state will unleash military muscle to break working-class resistance. I speak of no less a man than Eugene Victor Debs.

Debs is worthy of a halftime show not simply because he twice polled nearly a million votes -- in the presidential elections of 1912 and 1920 -- but because of his ability to Americanize the class struggle. Debs was the only figure on the left capable of uniting the disparate factions vying for power in the working-class movements of the time. Debs enjoyed tremendous popularity with American workers of all ethnicities and regions. His skill as an orator remains unprecedented in the labor movement to this day.

A song-and-dance spectacular, or perhaps Robert Duvall reading some of Debs' famous speeches, would make for educational entertainment between halves. I hope you will give this idea every consideration. While only the working class holds the key to smashing oppression and building a true democratic republic, the National Football League has the power to inspire would-be revolutionaries searching for inspiration and direction between the halves.

Kenneth H. Cleaver

The NFL responds:

Kenneth H. Cleaver
P.O. Box 810
Bedford, NY 10506

Dear Mr. Cleaver:

We appreciate your interest in our plans for the Super Bowl and, most particularly, the halftime show.

We have designed the halftime show over the years to provide entertainment for the fans in the stands and at home. We have avoided adopting any causes or tributes because it tends to become relatively controversial as individuals judge the NFL for imposing beliefs on the public. In the history of the game, the only time we adopted a specific mention was in 1982 during the strife in Poland. Our themes have been centered on worldwide themes involving children when we have adopted one focus.

As a viewer of the Super Bowl, we trust you have viewed the halftime shows and have seen how we have attempted to avoid antagonizing or focusing on any element of the fans of the NFL.

If we change our focus, we most certainly will remember your suggestion.

James H. Steeg
Vice President, Special Events

Kenneth H. Cleaver

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