July 14, 2018

Low Hanging Fruit and Other Phrases Related to Fruit Picking

We have had a bountiful year in many ways, but the cherry harvest is among the most fruitful I can recall. I’ve indulged myself with the time to fill our freezer with cherries destined to become pie next winter.

I find myself thinking of all the phrases we use in common language that must have originated to describe aspects of fruit picking. Mankind has been picking one sort of domesticated fruit or another for thousands of years. We have written record of one Lucius Licinius Luculus bringing a cherry to Rome from Anatolla in 72 BC. One might wonder whether this is where the term luscious comes from. Or lucky?

Any sensible harvester will start with “the low hanging fruit.” That is the fruit one can reach easily standing on the ground. With our dwarf Montmorency we have a game. Who can pick a full pie’s worth of cherries, that’s a quart minimum, without moving your feet. This year at the peak of the harvest that wasn’t hard to do. Eventually though one has to resort to using a ladder. Though technically not a tree ladder, our 6’ stepladder has worked out just fine. Once up on the ladder, the fruit within easy reach is what one would call “easy pickings.” Once those are gone then you have to “reach for it” and then there are those high and lonely cherries that are a “stretch.” As mentioned we have a dwarf tree and luckily need not worry about getting “too far out on a limb” but in past years, I’ve had adequate experience to understand the phase.

This term “low hanging fruit” seems to be growing in popularity of late, or maybe I’m just more aware of it. People use it in all sorts of situations where there is no fruit that needs picking and nothing to put up for your pies.

I’m going to start using it with patients in creating treatment plans. People have a thing, a psychological quirk perhaps of mistakenly thinking the more effort required to do something the greater the response. I’ve been making lists in my mind as I loiter amid the cherry branches of what the low hanging fruit would be if we are talking about prevention of cancer recurrence.

Exercise seems to be useful across a range of cancers. Studies to date show that a solid routine of regular exercise lowers risk of recurrence for various cancers, perhaps as much as 30% to 40%. Not bad for something that many people find pleasant or even fun to do! Even if it isn’t fun, exercise beats chemotherapy and is something you could do regularly for years. Chemo isn’t and is rarely as effective.

Speaking of fun, eating can be fun, especially if you take the idea of following a Mediterranean diet to the extreme and not only mimic the eating patterns and foods found in those Mediterranean countries, but also mimic the slower pace, the obligation to enjoy company while eating and the notion that meals should be enjoyed and food savored. There is more extensive evidence that supports the idea that a Mediterranean diet has anticancer effects than for all other diets put together. There is no comparison. What is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it anticancer? It’s probably no one specific thing but olive oil, nuts, and various phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables remain prime suspects.

There are compelling theories that periods of fasting or sharply reduced caloric intake may be good for us, but few people consider this ‘low hanging fruit.’ It’s more like being out on a limb and stretching for a lone cherry up high. What is easy picking though is simply extending the length of your nighttime fast; more time between dinner and breakfast. Once in the habit, this hardly counts as effort at all.

Sleeping in the dark and avoiding bright lights before bed may be especially important in avoiding breast cancer. Whether this turns out to be relevant in other cancers is still up in the air. I seem to recall some data suggesting benefit in prostate cancer as well.

There are a few obvious things that perhaps we don’t need to mention. Cessation if one smokes, weight loss if overweight, controlling blood sugar if diabetic. We could call these “no brainers,” if instead of thinking about fruit trees one was obsessed with zombie movies.

Keeping up with vaccinations may someday be proven to belong on this list. Our medical doctors are always nagging us to get them and we resist. Vaccines may not do much to protect us against specific infections while we are undergoing chemotherapy, as the immune system is so beat it doesn’t dare to respond to the vaccine. But before or after chemo, vaccinations are deeply insulting to the immune system and it takes offense. In particular the chemicals that are called adjuvants may be what perks up the immune system. These are the chemicals that remind us of what is pumped in oil wells for fracking - nasty, toxic stuff. If we are lucky, that offended immune system notices a stray cancer cell and takes a disliking to it. Basically, vaccines may trigger a vaccine-like reaction against cancer. One would be very lucky if that happened. It’s not about avoiding the flu. As I said, this is a new idea and I don’t expect many patients to take me up on this suggestion.

The thing I’ve liked best about cherry picking this year is trying to find the words to describe a cherry that is ripe. Certainly one knows it when one sees it, and of course touches it, and more importantly when one picks it. I’ve been looking at the way sunlight reflects off the cherry. In unripe (but hard to tell for sure) cherries, the light reflects off their skin. The interior remains opaque. But in ripe cherries, it seems as if the light is reflecting off a surface beneath the skin, somewhere in the cherries’ interior. Sometimes, in the near magical cherries, it looks as if the light shines through them. I would leave such beauties on the tree, never wanting to pick them, but brute that I am, they are all on the way to my freezer.

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