A Peach by Any Other Name Is Just as Gross: My Terrible Fear of Fruit

I’ve observed fruit eaters question whether a piece of fruit is perfectly ripe or in fact rotten. This guessing game between food and trash makes me queasy.

Illustration of a hand holding a bitten-into peach

Alyssa Nassner

I lost my banana virginity at 28. 

Until then, I’d managed to make it my entire life avoiding not only bananas, but all fruit. I’m 34 now, and I still cannot tell you what a “good” pear tastes like, or how to get to the inside part of a pineapple. I’ve never had strawberry shortcake. 

I recognize this hang-up with fruit is weird; I’m also aware that it’s a privilege to avoid fruit, or any food for that matter. But don’t worry, I’m not here to unpack that aspect of my relationship with food. No, I’m here to admit that I might like being afraid of fruit almost as much as I am afraid of it.

Overcoming my fear of bananas specifically, or fruit in general, at the age of 28 was not a goal of mine. In fact, I was almost proud of my ability to go through life without ever touching or tasting fruit—like a magic trick. But this strategy and my skills of illusion were compromised when, early into our courtship, my then-Hinge-match, now-husband, Aaron, invited me to a barbecue at his house. In past relationships, I’d soft-pedaled my visceral disgust for fruit. I’d present it as an innocent quirk, like, “Oh you know what’s funny? I don’t like raspberries,” and build from there. That way, by the time we got to the fun, postcoital, go-out-to-breakfast phase of the relationship, and I was panic-wiping a pancake after the orange garnish touched it, he wouldn’t be so surprised. This situation was different. I didn’t have the benefit of time, I already liked him too much, and someone had the gall to grill plantains.

The plantains came out about an hour into the barbecue, just as I was starting to feel confident that I was pulling off “chill and fun.” I was faced with two choices: a) rudely rejecting the wet, slimy slices of grilled banana or b) launching into an explanation of my whole fruit “thing” then and there. Because neither option seemed “chill” or “fun,” and because burgeoning love can make a person do unexpected and extreme things, I then conjured a third option: what if I just ate the plantain like a normal freaking person? So while everyone picked up their plantain and continued talking like their world wasn’t crumbling around them, I ignored the pre-vomit heat under my tongue, speared the last one with a trembling spork, and swallowed it like a giant pill soaked in Dubra. 

One might ask how I got this way, and my response is that I truly don’t know. I do have memories from elementary school, when on the rare rainy day in Southern California, lunch would be moved inside and the smell of cafeteria-grade fruit smeared across tables and the floor would permeate the musty auditorium and I’d be so disgusted I couldn’t eat my own lunch. So that might be it. But if I’m being honest, my issues with fruit started much earlier—to the extent that I cannot remember a time that I ever wanted to eat it.

Fruit was always an elusive currency between me and my mother, and I can now appreciate the comical lengths she went to in order to get me to eat fruit, largely by hiding it in or under other foods, as though I wouldn’t notice. She would also bribe me with dessert or say I couldn’t leave the table until I finished the fruit. That’s when I started to hide fruit in my doll house. She wasn’t too thrilled on the day she found hundreds of ants had moved into my Fisher Price McMansion to feast on a bunch of petrified watermelon slices. 

In spite of my maddening behavior, I was still able to use fruit as a bargaining tool. When I was eight years old, I successfully convinced my parents to let me get my ears pierced by saying I’d start eating fruit wholesale. I do feel bad about not living up to that promise, but at that point I was still hiding fruit in weird places around the house, so I feel like they should have known that deal had no chance of working out. I didn’t always have the upper hand, though. My older brother, who had zero skin in this game of hoping I would grow out of my phobia, would encircle my bed with orange slices while I slept, so I’d be afraid to leave my room.

Illustration of a children's dollhouse with fruit inside, crawling with ants

Alyssa Nassner

One might then ask, “Okay, if you don’t know why you’re repulsed by fruit, then what about fruit is so revolting?” and I’d reply, “I’m so glad you asked.” It’s primarily the smell, then the texture, and then the sight of people eating it. I’ve observed fruit eaters on numerous occasions question whether a piece of fruit is perfectly ripe or in fact rotten. This guessing game between food and trash makes me queasy. When I think of fruit’s texture, I’m reminded that a lot of fruit is inherently wet, and I don’t care for that one bit. This also determines the way people eat fruit. The dripping, stringy, squirty, pulpy mess makes people eat and slurp and wipe their mouth with the back of their wrist in such a grotesque way that I wish I had the audacity to go up to someone eating a nectarine and say, “I think this is a private activity.”

I don’t like it when people eat melon or cubed fruit with a fork, and inevitably shake off some liquid before taking a bite. I don’t like the fact that fruit has clothing you disrobe and leave in a small pile. I don’t like that peaches have pits that people suckle on and then leave on the stained paper towel so I can’t focus on anything but the flies finding their way to this corpse. I don’t even like that spoon with the jagged edges people use to eat grapefruit. Speaking of pulpy fruits, I sometimes play a game with myself to see if I can come up with an amount of money it would take for me to take a sip of orange juice (only after the pulp has gathered at the bottom third of the glass and a cloudy liquid rests on top). It’s $49,866.65: I’d do it if orange juice could wipe out my student debt. 

For the most part, I’m in complete control over my exposure to and interactions with fruit, but I’ll admit fruit has caused some issues at work. The first experience where I thought that fruit had the potential to hinder my career was when I worked as an au pair in Paris after college. My duties looking after three children included preparing three meals a day based off a strict weekly menu created by their mother. The day before I started, when she walked me through the menu, my eyes went straight to the word “pamplemousse” (grapefruit) under “Mardi Matin” (Tuesday morning), and I went into a quiet panic, anxiously nodding, “Oui oui.” She then opened the fridge to show me where things were stored, and I saw a cantaloupe aggressively staring back from the second shelf. I managed to avoid serving it for a few days by playing dumb when she asked if I had remembered it was there. Toward the end of the week, the children’s mother could sense something was off and she said one morning before she left for work, “Le Melon, aujourd’hui. N’oublie pas” (The Melon. Today. Don’t forget.) and I spent most of the morning mentally preparing myself. I eventually got through it by wearing rubber gloves, watching a YouTube tutorial on how to cut melon, while holding back my puke.

Years later, I worked at an after-school program in San Francisco. As part of a team-building retreat, someone had the genius idea that peeling an orange with your eyes closed would be a good way to practice mindfulness. I had never peeled an orange and I was not ready to conquer this fear in a room full of semi-strangers with whom I’d just done a Zumba class in the conference room. While everyone else’s eyes were closed, peeling oranges, I looked around the room for an exit strategy, but I froze instead. After they opened their eyes and someone asked why I hadn’t peeled my orange, I said, “Oh, it felt better to be still.” No one questioned that. Thank you, wellness culture of San Francisco.

As much as I’ve tried to hide my fruit phobia (or fructophobia, as it's sometimes referred to), I’ve also found that offering it up is a way to connect with new people. It’s usually during these conversations that I’ve carved out a safe space for people to tell me about their comparably weird relationship with a type of food, or, my favorite, when they admit that they don’t really like fruit. People also like listing fruits in disbelief that I haven’t tried them. “Come on, are you telling me you’ve never had a mango? Shut up. Mangos are sooo good.” I’m often asked to rank the fruits I find the most repulsive. I’ll usually oblige and lead with honey dew, but then get anxious thinking that in omitting relatively less egregious fruits like plums or blueberries, I’m somehow conceding a willingness to eat them. 

Sure, there are times when I wonder what life would be like with smoothies in it, or if I could breathe through my nose if someone next to me is eating one of those plastic fruit cups. I also believe people when they say I’m missing out on some incredibly satisfying and unique eating experiences. But my fruit phobia has defined me as an individual, and people’s acceptance of it has served as an unassuming act of love. 

Soon after the plantain incident, I confessed to Aaron that I had misrepresented myself as a fruit eater, but it felt important to make an exception that night. (It hasn’t happened since.) Rather than being weirded out and confused, he immediately understood this gesture came from a deep and growing crush on him and was flattered. He willingly acts as my fruit bodyguard and isn’t embarrassed when I ask servers at restaurants things like, “I know the description says there’s no fruit, but could you confirm that?” 

A year into living together, though, Aaron did start having secret fruit time. We didn’t talk about it, but one day fruit started appearing in our apartment in a designated fruit bowl on the counter. Because he never ate it in front of me, I decided that letting us and fruit coexist was an act of love I could reciprocate. Sometimes when I come home and kiss him, I’ll accuse him of eating pineapple (again), to which he replies, “Oh, way earlier in the day.”

This beautiful, twisted batch of lies is how I know our marriage will last.