Watermelon Isn't What It Used to Be, and I Can't Let It Go
Seedless watermelon robs this writer of a sweet summertime ritual. And she’s bitter about it.
I’ve never been a fan of summer. I always say it feels “like regular life, except inside an oven!” I’ll admit, though, that this sweltering season has a few redeeming qualities: I love zooming down waterslides, treating myself to pedicures, and diving into a plate of fresh watermelon. I mean, is there a more perfect food than watermelon? Sweet, spongy, ice-cold refreshing. Plus, it’s such a pretty color, and each slice comes with a built-in handle! As a kid I could eat watermelon until I was waterlogged. And I still could, except that now I’m “middle-aged” and “concerned about sugar intake.”
But that’s not the only thing that’s changed since the late ’70s and early ’80s. Back then, watermelon flesh—whether you bought the fruit from the grocery store, a road-side stand, or a farmers market—was dotted with pitch-black seeds, as big as raisins. Rooting them out felt like a treasure hunt guaranteed to end with a jackpot. Once I’d devoured the sweet melon, I’d roll the smooth seeds around in my mouth for a long while before spitting them onto a juice-soaked paper plate. That ritual alone said “summer” to me.
Then, at some point within the last 20 years, the meaty black seeds began to disappear. Supermarket growers responded to public demand—apparently navigating the seeds made watermelon too high-maintenance, too difficult to eat and to slice for fruit salads—by cultivating a seed-free alternative. Summertime and the eating is easy, I suppose. The old-school seeds faded so slowly from produce aisles, I barely registered their retreat. Until a few years ago, when I began to notice that the watermelon I remembered did still exist, just not at the grocery store.
Instead, I spotted images of seed-studded watermelon on beach towels, tote bags, plastic tumblers, even the iPhone watermelon emoji. Seeing the seeds again, even in such a cartoon-ish form, made me realize how much I had missed them.
And then I got angry.
I started whipping out my phone every time I spotted a watermelon-themed item in the wild. A bean bag chair at Target. A beach bag at the waterpark. A pack of Trident at the supermarket checkout. An accent pillow at Lowe’s. “Mom!” my kids would whine. “Are you taking pictures of watermelon again?” One of my favorites was a pool float displayed in a darkened CVS window. It was lit from below and sinister-looking, like a Halloween decoration.
I began posting photo galleries, along with exasperated commentary, on social media. “Watermelon has not looked like this since like 1978 and this depiction is unrecognizable as watermelon to anyone under age 40...in fact, let’s say age 45,” I wrote on Facebook. “I know there are far more pressing issues in the world but I will die on this hill.”
Why couldn’t I let this go? Because all of this fruit fakery felt like a con, like when you hear a rotary phone ringing but it turns out to be someone’s mobile ringtone. It seemed we had chased watermelon’s seeds away in real life, but kept them around as a marketing ploy, to summon a false sense of nostalgia: A textbook unhealthy relationship.
Surely I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. And my sustained watermelon-truther social-media campaign was my attempt to prove it. But it turned out that few of my followers shared my views. None of them did, in fact. Some even admired the merch I was posting. Still, I soldiered on. Snap. Snap. Snap, the “Watermelon” album on my camera roll expanding by the day, new posts uploading every week.
Finally, I realized that if I am not going to find my people, I might have to radicalize them myself, and it seems to be working. One friend recently weighed in from her beach vacation with a photo of watermelon salt-water taffy that featured familiar black spots. And when I posted a shot of a giant slice of gummy watermelon candy I found at a mall store, my friend Suzanne commented, "Any time I see watermelons represented with seeds, I’m triggered for you."
Triggered for me? Not exactly the raw, from-the-gut rage I was hoping to stoke. But it’s a start. Maybe we’ll get there next summer.