Motherhood

An Unlikely Conversation Starter

girl and dog

It’s been a year now. Our family has run out of things to say, and there’s a pretty juicy solution…

Once upon a time, my family went daily out into the world, gathered up stories and observations, and returned to our dinner table to share them. The candles burned low in their glass holders; empty chowder bowls and, later, empty ice cream bowls were pushed to the side; and we sat together talking about physics experiments and music rehearsals, about friendship and work and political canvassing and volunteer gigs. We rehashed and gossiped, fretted and argued and laughed until somebody inevitably looked at the time and said, “Shit.”

Now nobody goes out into the world and there is — and this is a polite way of putting it — less to talk about. My massage therapist husband hasn’t worked in over a year. Our 18-year-old, whom we would typically expect to see only barely, is always home — and the only question more deadening than “How was school?” turns out to be “How was school?” when school is the same place as home. And as for my own day, let’s see: I worked alone. I was in a Zoom meeting where someone couldn’t unmute themselves, despite all the usual pantomimed unmuting advice. I gathered all the dirty mugs and glasses. I delivered a meal to the hospice but was not allowed inside. I gathered all the dirty mugs and glasses again (WTAF?). I jogged with a friend but for some reason that felt related to the way my glasses fog up above my mask, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I was in a Zoom meeting where someone’s cat crept onto her desk and bit a leaf off what appeared to be a jade plant. This last thing is actually good enough to share, and I do. Then we talk about the fantastic television we’ve been watching — Lupin, Killing Eve, Ted Lasso — even though WE ARE WATCHING THESE SHOWS TOGETHER. “Wasn’t that scene great?” we reminisce, even though it was just last night, and we were all there.

Just to be clear: I realize dull conversation is its own kind of luxury. We are housed and healthy and frequently unafraid. And we do talk about the news, too, about the world, about the relentless ongoingness of racism and inequity. But our thoughts and opinions have grown somewhat stale. We’re a little bit boring to ourselves and each other.

Yes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel, and there’s only so much you can say about the light.

Are you ready for the news you can use? Here it is: Whenever someone is shopping or ordering groceries online, I say, “Oh, and get some social fruit.” This means something fancy and shareable — a pomegranate, a pomelo, a regular grapefruit, or even one of those enormous four-dollar tangerines advertised on the back of the New Yorker (which might make you feel like you’re a parody of yourself starring in a mash-up of Candid Camera and Portlandia). Whatever the fruit, we peel and distribute it, and it’s delicious, but also — in a good way — kind of involved and involving. We put on Alicia Keys or Stevie Wonder or John Coltrane, and we pull glittering pomegranate jewels from their spongy white rinds; we peel plasticky membranes from sections of citrus and let the little juice sacs burst on our tongues; we eat in companionable silence, chat idly about this fruit or fruit in general, sing along to the music, or share deeply about our hopes and dreams. (If your teenager has ever confided in you freely while you were shucking corn together, you’ll recognize this last phenomenon.)

Social fruit tends to be more expensive than regular fruit, but think of it as an investment, since what you’re getting is a complete experience. And that experience is shared juiciness. It’s tartly refreshing togetherness. It’s a mouthwatering burst of something that’s not your own selves — and the hope of more to come.


Catherine Newman is the author of How to Be a Person. She also wrote 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage boys.

P.S. Five-ingredient family dinners and our favorite TV shows.

(By Guille Faingold/Stocky.)

  1. Kiley says...

    That was such a beautiful thing to read, and brought back memories of social fruit experiences. I remember telling my Grandma that I wanted to try a mango, an exotic fruit for our family in the 90s, so she went and bought me one. It was such a fun memory I have of her, trying to peel it together, deciding the best way to cut it pre-internet so we really had no idea what we were doing. Recently my brother decided he had to try the Pinkglow pineapple, and it brought back the same warm and fuzzy feelings!

  2. In my house growing up, we would have a very special, social dessert- steamed artichoke dipped in melted garlic butter! We would all share one artichoke, peeling each leaf off and dipping the meaty ends in the butter, and chatting about our days. It was always the best!

  3. Never really thought about this before but we do always buy social fruit. Pomegrates are our favourite and then probably papaya. It is something that we naturally do, gather around the table and spilt the fruit but I never really thought about it before. Mostly I do it because my daughters asked for pomegranate and I take out some seeds for her, she’s 4.. I eat some too. I save a piece for the next day or my daughter suggests we save it for her brother. My husband always asks if I want to buy the pomegrate that is already peeled and all the seeds come in this pre-packaged container. I always say no and he always looks surprised but I didn’t really understand why until now. I think the best part of eating the fruit is the experience of peeling it and dividing it up and taking out the seeds and sharing it, the connection that comes from eating it with others and the process of it all.

  4. tamara says...

    I think, regardless of the last collective year of our lives, (if i hear the word “unprecedented” one more time i think i will puke), that spending more time talking to one another in person (and more time together a the table) is a beautiful thing, and if it’s fruit that gets us there, then more power to the fruit! (as Jimmy Buffett says, there’s a little bit of fruitcake in every one of us!) Let’s take a minute to stop comparing and judging one another. Haven’t we women stalled and suffered enough with that mindset? Let’s change the narrative…and change the outcome for all of us.

  5. So, I completely misunderstood this essay the first time I read it, and thought “social fruit” was a metaphor for “juicy gossip.” Meaning, when we leave the house and go to the store we should bring back a story — something we observed or overheard or learned while we were out.

    I had to re-read it again to understand and I LOVE the idea of actual, literal fancy fruit to share. But I like juicy gossip too, so maybe next time I go to the store I’ll bring back both! LOL.

    • Shannon says...

      I definitely thought the same :) I like both ideas!

  6. Tara Bennett says...

    I feel like maybe we could all just meet each person where they are. It’s not a competition. Everyone has had their own struggles and no one struggle is more valid than the other. Empathy is sometimes the hardest thing but also the most important. Xxoo

  7. I really enjoyed this post. There are times that my husband and I have long periods of silence during our miles-long walks or dinner might be a quiet one. We talk about things from a latest TV episode too. Just the other day I brought up Behind Her Eyes and how I was awake in the middle of the night worried about the concept of mental influence and traveling in my sleep. And he responded with specific points about the last episode. Sometimes, we just don’t have that much fresh content.

    I am so very grateful for all of my good fortune during this difficult time. But, I might need to pick up some social fruit soon.

  8. Maria says...

    KELLY SAYS…
    Caitlyn, it seems like Maria bringing up a different, less-covered to death perspective and pointing us to that experience. Is this bothersome to you?

    MARCH 23, 2021 2:15PM /
    CAITLIN SAYS…
    Kelli,
    I don’t think the pandemic is a competition to see who’s suffering more. Regardless of whether or not some people are sick of hearing about it.

    MARCH 23, 2021 4:25PM /

    Kelli – YES, exactly. I fully stated Catherine knows she’s speaking from a pojnt of privilege, as am I – were’ both well employed! There are PLENTY of both white and blue collar workers, working, out in the world right now. I am not complaining in the least – it just seems as though all the stories i see/read are about those stuck at home, and NOT about those out there dealing with the pandemic AND working outside the home. I know full well from friends and family dealing with working from home, home-schooling, etc. it just seems – or maybe feels? – like that is the only position being expressed. What about all the police officers, firefighters, teachers, doctors, grocers, retail workers, etc. – actually, especially those blue collar workers – risking themselves because they MUST work outside the home and don’t have the luxury of working from home. It’s not a criticism of Catherine, or anyone else for that matter who happens to have the luxury to work from home – it’s merely – where are the other stories of the rest of us? Merely how I felt reading it. It’s not at all about who’s suffering more – just more like, why does it seem we’re only hearing (mostly) from those working from home?

    • Maria says...

      Apologies – I was following along with Caitlin’s quote and called you Kelli rather than KELLY (and couldn’t directly correct my post). As a former teacher – that is an atrocious faux pas! Kelly, thank you for understanding where I was coming from, it is most appreciated!

  9. Quinn says...

    This was a lovely read! I can relate – my husband has been buying pomelos, papayas, mangoes, and various varieties of grapes and oranges lately. It makes for a lovely, slow-paced dessert with our two kids. I also insisted on candlelight when the days were shorter, which made it feel a little bit magical.

  10. ronny says...

    I think probably Sumo Citrus. They are truly the most delicious orange-like citrus I’ve ever had and only available Februaryish-Aprilish. sumocitrus.com

  11. florence says...

    My dad used to buy strange fruit all the time, as he is naturally a curious person. He would come home with a pineapple (which was fancy to us in the 80s) or a coconut. My mom would roll her eyes and ask how we open the coconut… a hammer and nail was pulled out as he attempted to break open said coconut. I must have been seven or so, but I still remember tasting my first fresh coconut… disappointed in the weird water and rubbery white insides, lol. I love coconut now though! I should do this with my kids.

  12. Leanne says...

    My Girl Scout troop inadvertently started doing this too. We started by trying to eat different parts of plants (homemade kale leaves, sunflower seeds, carrots etc.) and then graduated to “fancy” varieties of typical lunchbox fruits (Cotton Candy Grapes, the apples with the pink flesh). Years later I will still sneak in some “social fruit” amongst the typical pretzels and juice boxes. I used to have the girls guess the color of the fruit before slicing it open. Their absolute favorite was the horned melon. (Prickly and yellow on the outside but like bubbly green jello on the inside.)

    • Nicole says...

      I love carrot top pesto and beet greens (sautéed with a little apple cider vinegar). A new to me part of the plant to eat! Little discoveries make life fun.

  13. Audra says...

    This piece made me realize that a lot of women featured on Cup of Jo are independent business owners, freelancers, etc. So there has been plenty of commentary from people who have been staying home and coping with quarantine protocols throughout the pandemic. My fiance and I are both considered essential workers and have been working in an office/in person during the entire pandemic. This comes with its own set of challenges: added stress about being in public/at work, wearing masks at your desk all day, not being given paid time off to reduce capacity in work spaces, etc. It would be nice if you could feature more women who are essential workers, whose lives have been interrupted in a different way than those who’ve had the luxury of self-isolating and getting paid. That’s not meant to be snarky, just an observation.

    • a says...

      agree!

    • Rue says...

      As a university professor, I was remote for the spring and summer, and have been fully in-person since August. Both worlds have been terrible, and both have very distinct and distinctly isolating feelings to them. I’d love to hear more from in-person workers about this experience too!

    • Sara says...

      Yep! I wish I could be bored

    • Danielle says...

      Yes. Agree. I have so many feelings about being a “healthcare hero” in the midst of all this. On the one hand, I’m thankful as an extrovert to have a job that means I continue to go out and interact with the public. On the other hand, I am so weary of being present in these spaces, of trying to protect myself and others (sometimes against their will). I’m thankful to do a job that is personally fulfilling. I’m exasperated by the paltry appreciation in the form of free T-shirts and signs outside of my hospital when what I really want is PPE that doesn’t give me sores on my ears, a place to safely eat a sandwich, to not be treated like a pariah when I drop my dog off at the vet because of my job. I feel guilty over the frustrations when I think of people like my hairstylist, who didn’t earn an income for months and those who have been laid off, isolated, unable to work. I’m overjoyed at ongoing vaccination efforts. I’m disgusted by friends and acquaintances who dismiss the seriousness of it all.

    • Julie says...

      I completely agree!

  14. tamara says...

    hi i just clicked on the “21 rules…” essay and O.M.G. (made my eyes sweat a little, hahah)

    i am mom to 2 men, aged 26 and 23. those rules were all mine and they all worked. and they are all true. literally almost nothing i could add except for 2 “tiny” ones: under the huge header of “respect women” i said in the loudest words possible: “DRUNK MEANS NO.” and under the “moderation rule, “no drinking and swimming”

    • Catherine says...

      Can you specify the title of the essay? was it on COJ?

    • tamara says...

      hi it was your essay, “21 rules for raising teenaged boys”. so spot on and wonderful!

      i’m a relatively new COJ reader. so when i see an author i like and i see that there’s “more” archived, i read through.

  15. J says...

    I used to secretly hate eating most fruit (always messy! sticky fingers!) until I read a piece by Simon Hopkinson in which he explained (and I paraphrase) the corporeal shivers he got watching anyone peel an orange with their claws and I felt seen and vindicated in my hidden belief that I should carefully peel cut most fruit into dainty bite sized pieces before I have to eat it.

    I would like to share with CoJ readers the absolute game changer that is the Victorinox tomato knife. They are fiendishly sharp, take years to go blunt, but because they are serrated they feel less likely to slip and take the ends of your grapefruit juice covered fingers off.

    Also perfect for taking in your hand luggage on the Eurostar when you are going to Paris so you can have cheese picnics. (Ok I did get pulled aside by security, giving my husband a heart attack, but when I explained it was for cheese they smiled and waved me through.)

    Best of all: available in the UK for a mere fiver. Buy one now, or better, buy multiples and also give them to everyone one you know :-)

    • Rae says...

      Excellent & practical advice J as I too prefer my fruit sliced for easy, non-sticky eating. Thank you!
      Can’t quite wrap my head around train or plane travel yet but I suppose I will get there.

  16. Amy says...

    my housemates and I recently bought every Lindt chocolate block you can buy and did a taste test: which one is 68% cocoa, 95% cocoa, 75% cocoa, 70% smooth, 70% regular? who knew there were so many chocolate conversations to be had!

    • Andrea says...

      That is such a GREAT idea! I am going to do that with my boyfriend….:)

  17. Jessica says...

    My husband and I own and run a produce store in Portland. A *very fancy* produce store in Portland.

    If anyone wants seasonal recommendations for “social fruit,” I’ve got the following:

    Compare grapefruits: Whites like Mellow gold & oro blanco, pinks/reds like rio star and valentine pummelo.

    Identify that mango! Mangoes are usually sold under anglicized names – “honey” or “francis” – but they have names from their country of origin. Get a few, and look it up!

    Eat a green strawberry: It’s a *rough* time to start trying new fruit, because spring hasn’t really had time to get going in most of the country. But strawberries will be here soon. In April you can often find green strawberries at the farmer’s market. Try slices of local strawberry in various states of ripeness. Would one be good for a salad? Would under-ripe (slightly!) make better jam?

    Just some suggestions.

    • Heather says...

      LIKE.

    • Jessica, I live in Portland! What’s the name of your store? Would love to buy some social fruit from you :)

    • Sequoia says...

      May I please have some grapefruit recommendations? I never ate them before my son was born but now I love them, and just don’t know as much about them as foods I’ve always loved. I like Texas ruby red because they are tart and sweet and delicious. Truly like natures candy. But the others I’ve tried are bitter, even when fully segmented. We did a test a Berkeley Bowl (massive selection) recently and it was a disappointment.

      Also what’s the name of your store, I’m sure I’m your target customer and I love to shop with you on my next trip! (You know after vaccines and what not)

  18. Angel says...

    What is this $4 tangerine on the back of the New Yorker? Has any of COJ readers tried one?

    • Jess. says...

      I don’t know which tangerine Catherine is referencing, but @nickcho_ (#YourKoreanDad) on Instagram tried some very expensive ones (it’s in a reel where he’s wearing a teddy bear sweater), and he’s the loveliest. His verdict: worth it. :) xox

  19. Alexandra says...

    We just had this exact experience. On a whim at the grocery store last week I picked up kumquats. Having only the memory of eating them once or twice as a child, I completely forgot how truly sour they are on the inside. I couldn’t wait to give one to my sour-loving 4yo and HE couldn’t wait to give one to my husband when he got home. We’ve now gone through three absurdly priced clamshells of kumquats and honestly our newfound love of them has dominated all of our recent food-related conversations.

  20. Maria says...

    I love Catherine’s writing and while I understand the sentiments in this piece, it most definitely comes from a place of privilege – as she duly mentions. Believe me, I get it – staying at home day in and day out when you are accustomed to being out in the world is a drag BUT … so, so many more ARE out in the world, working as usual, in these very unusual times. My husband is an essential worker so absolutely nothing changed in his work life except for more stress/drama and wearing a mask. I was furloughed for 10 weeks and then rushed back into work – so much to catch up on! – and then dealing with my work as usual, except for doing so while trying to stay safe, socially distance, wear a mask all day, etc. We too, are living through this pandemic from a point of privilege as well – we’re both still well employed. I guess after a while I have just grown so tired of reading oh so many pieces about “everyone” being trapped at home, the boredom, how they wish they could travel, eat at restaurants, hang with friends, etc (I’d like all those things too btw). when the reality, a LOT more of “everyone” is probably working, out in the world, and with the added stress of exposure. /end rant, haha.

    • Kate says...

      I totally feel you, Maria. I was fortunate to be able to change jobs this summer so I could work safely at home. But I often think of people who are still going into offices, or grocery stores, or hospitals (like my mom, a previously-retired nurse) and it’s business as usual, except with added layers of stress and risk. These workers are essential, but forgotten.

      We also don’t hear from the people who own and work at restaurants, or gyms or salons and other businesses which have been open and closed and open and closed again over and over. It must be exhausting and SO stressful. How are they coping? How are they paying their bills? How are THEY doing?

    • rachel s says...

      my husband and I have been working this entire time, and I’m so grateful!! I can’t imagine being at home everyday all day!

    • Caitlin says...

      So she just shouldn’t have written this? Because it’s different from your experience? She notes that she’s aware of the privilege of staying home.

    • Lainey says...

      Maria, same scenario in our household. It’s an interesting point you make about how most people haven’t actually been at home bored for the past year. There’s definitely a bit of a class assumption I find among folks; if everyone you know work a white collar job, it’s much more likely that you’re working remotely. Among my friends with a mix of jobs, it’s probably 60%/ 40% in-person vs. home. It would be neat to hear more voices on what it’s been like for folks like us working in-person throughout the pandemic. Not medical workers – not because they’re not heroes, but it’s been done – but government workers, food service workers, day care providers, office managers, infrastructure workers, etc.

    • carla says...

      Staying home feels like a civic duty if you can do it, even if privilege is implied. I have been home working part time with my three kids doing virtual school for over 12 months, my eldest has special needs. It is actually quite tough but I figure if we can, then it is a good idea to do it. Less people out, therefore decreasing the risk of spread. But it is its own kind of struggle, mental health, social crisis, loss of sports teams etc. I think all the experiences are worth talking about, including the struggle of being in lockdown long-term with a family.

    • Kris says...

      I agree! I love this piece so very much AND I’m longing for a different perspective. I’m also privileged and grateful to work from home, as is my husband and the majority of our friends. It seems as though the stories of our time may be told by those who are at home and able to tell their story, while the rest of the world is working double-time to stay safe while delivering essential goods/services. I’m hopeful that once we can all breathe a little easier, pun intended, these stories will start to surface in higher frequency. While I wait for that moment, though – I will be buying a fancy piece of “social fruit” to liven up the dinnertime conversations. :)

    • Kelly says...

      Caitlyn, it seems like Maria bringing up a different, less-covered to death perspective and pointing us to that experience. Is this bothersome to you?

    • Caitlin says...

      Kelli,
      I don’t think the pandemic is a competition to see who’s suffering more. Regardless of whether or not some people are sick of hearing about it.

    • Jodi says...

      I agree, Maria. Sure, Catherine can share whatever she desires! But the extent of ~complaining~ in this article was frustrating for me to read, and felt like a poor read of the room. As other readers mentioned, there has been more coverage in this blog on the boredom of staying at home than the added stress of being in-person. For me, it’s all about context, and moderation, and those two things together bring about thoughtfulness, which is what feels missing for me here :(

  21. Jenny K says...

    Just here to say how much I love you, Catherine Newman.

    • Annette Olson says...

      Me too, Catherine Newman. Loving you from Santa Cruz. Regardless if you are unemployed or working more than ever, everyone’s world has gotten smaller and can benefit from social fruit.

  22. Holly says...

    My Asian MIL talks so beautifully about her family’s after dinner fruit traditions in Hong Kong. Her father would peel fruit and dole it out to those at the table. She can do the one-neverending-peel thing with an Asian pear or apple (amazing!) and introduced me to pommelos and an easy technique for sectioning grapefruit and oranges so they are just juicy pulp and no skin. One time she made an actual little basket out of an orange peel for my boys! Can’t wait to be able to share our table with my in-laws again so these traditions can be passed on to my children.

    • em says...

      I don’t have the all-in-one magic peel skill she does (deep respect), but I can affirm that the plate of cut fruit is a love language in many asian families <3

    • Christian AE says...

      As an Asian child who was born and raised in Canada, sometimes I found myself wondering why my parents never used words of affection like families did on TV. What I didn’t realize was that the gesture of cleaning, peeling, and cutting up fruit for us to enjoy together was one filled with the kind of love, attention, and care I thought I was missing. I remember when I was little, my lolo and lola would ALWAYS peel grapes (!) for me and my sister. A green apple was cut into uniform pieces and sometimes sprinkled lightly with salt to cut through the tartness. God forbid their peeled oranges, grapefruits, and pomelos had any leftover pith on them before splitting the sections among our family members.

      I had no patience for this when I went to university, so I feel I almost never ate fruit while I was there. Now that I’m older, I make an effort to eat fruit as part of my diet. Sometimes, when I have the patience for it, I’ll spend the time to reeeeally peel that orange in a way that would make my family proud. My lolos and and my lolas are long gone too, but I think of them and miss them deeply every time I have fruit for dessert.

    • EmBed says...

      Have read any books by Elena Ferrante? Because in her book The Lost Child the narrator’s children are always begging her to “make me a snake! ” with the fruit peel.

    • jules says...

      Not Asian, but my grandmother baked every day. That was her love language to us. She could peel an apple in 2 perfect spiral, never looking down. When I think of her I often think of her at the kitchen table, “visiting” with me while she peeled about to make the most delicious pie. I took her sharpened-to-a-sliver knife when she passed on. Love you Gran.

  23. Suzanne says...

    I know so many people have made the same comment about Catherine Newman over the years, but she’s just amazing and is one of my favorites. She nails it every time in such a beautiful way. She’s my writing hero!

    • Rae says...

      Agreed Suzanne. I am always so excited to see a new essay of hers!

  24. Angela says...

    I now feel excited to eat the lovely but long ignored grapefruit in my fridge as it is a social fruit!

  25. Nicole says...

    I just love this, as well as everything Catherine Newman writes. I am home with three little ones, and my husband is working from home, so the news is rather (and yes, thankfully) dull around here. Sweet idea.

  26. ashleyjhabib@gmail.com says...

    This reminded me of Fanny Singer’s memoir, when she wrote about Alice Waters pulling out a bowl of fruit and a paring knife and slicing juicy bits for everyone around the table after dinner.

    • Kathryn says...

      I’d love an example or two of the questions. Thank you!

  27. Allie says...

    My partner and I have taken to buying a fancy new cheese once or twice a month, then eating it in a bath together. The catch is that our tub is tiny and we are tall, so it adds a dash of sheer hilarity as we try to origami our limbs together without throwing out our backs. Anything for cheese.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg that’s so much fun!

  28. K says...

    is that why i notice more and more exotic fruit subscription services?

    reading this post echoed the cadence of peeling and biting into sweet tart fruit (in my mind, a sumo orange). thank you for the starburst feeling!

    • Kate says...

      I haven’t seen the fruit subscriptions! But I recently subscribed to Tokyo Treat (and then upgraded to Sakuraco) just to have something new and exciting to look forward to (anything to mark the passage of time..) and it’s the closest semblance to travelling I can currently pull off!

  29. Michelle says...

    One weekend not too long ago, I went to a new grocery store with a wonderful produce section, and I decided to make it tropical fruit week at our house. I bought a papaya, dragonfruit, mango and star fruit. Each night, I googled a video about how to properly cut and serve one of the fruits, and my 5 and 7 year old bravely tried each new fruit. The kids were most excited about dragonfruit. For the tiniest moment in time, I felt like I was winning at parenting.

    • Holly says...

      Love this.

      I bet you are winning at parenting more often than you think.

  30. I thought the suggestion would be to get a dog haha! That’s what we did (a husky mix puppy) and he provides us with endless conversation. We mostly worry about every little weird thing he does or talk about poop :P But the fruit idea is great too!

    • amelia says...

      Ha ha, I did too!

  31. Laura says...

    Well this is beautiful. *Adds social fruit to the shopping list.

  32. LindyO says...

    Loved this. Definitely put sociable fruit on the list. Thanks for sharing.

  33. A curious one says...

    I struggle with the idea that there is less to talk about during the pandemic. This suggests that life (and conversation about life) is what you do, not who you are. Usually, the two are so mixed up together: this is who I am and this is what I do, and here’s what I have to say about what I saw and did today. However, the inverse of this logic is that if you are unable to do things, you have less to talk about. Many people before the pandemic, and certainly as a result of COVID find themselves living with illness that inhibits them from being able to “do,” yet there is lot’s of conversation to be had with those living (surviving!) with illness. I think when we feel that we have less conversation because of the ways the pandemic has restricted our ability to do things, we have an opportunity to explore why our culture values talking about and valuing doing, producing, and all things other than being and our interior lives. In the words of Toni Morrison, “You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”

    • E says...

      Thank you for expressing this. I never really understood why people enjoyed talking about their day with others. I have never cared nor remembered what someone had to say about an event per se, but what they felt or realized during an experience have always stayed with me. I am equally amazed at what one can perceive during an amazing once-in-a lifetime experience as well as the epiphany one has reading about a chain of events in another part of the world.

    • Laura says...

      I am giving this a standing ovation!!! I feel the same.

    • CL says...

      wow, this is so poignant and captured what i was feeling too after reading this. thank you.

    • Karen says...

      I really relate to this – well articulated, thank you.

    • Denise says...

      Thanks, this is so true. I appreciate your perspective. I live alone so I don’t suffer with conversational boredom much but my family are the pinnacle of this idea. They love to even hear the list of chores I accomplish, I guess to validate my personal use of my own time? Or maybe they feel more accomplished hearing that they’re related to someone so accomplished at doing chores? I don’t know. lol “I washed dishes, and did laundry, and I finally got the boxes in the closet sorted…” The truth is I sat and stared out the window for hours on end and watched it rain and thought about things. But this is so unproductive to the listener and I feel shame to admit such hours of unproductivity lest I be judged to be lazy. Which I’m not. Something more to think about.

    • E says...

      Totally agree, and to anyone who is interested in exploring this topic further, I highly highly highly recommend the book How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell.

    • Alana says...

      Yea — same. I’ve found that I actually have MORE to talk about with my friends, family, roommate, therapist during the pandemic because I’m not really doing anything except for working/sleeping in my house, so we can talk ideas, feelings, thoughts, books, jokes, memories, who-we-really-are, etc. Keeping up with peoples’ agendas is always my least favorite part of friendships anyways.
      Also re: fruit — many cultures, including mine, have a ritual of having fruit as a dessert at the end of a meal, so this kind of “social fruit” thing is built in to every day, naturally.

    • bc says...

      Thank you for voicing this. I think for some it’s habit. I run into this as a single woman with a group of married/divorced girlfriends who have children grown & young and the things that occupy those SOs or kids dominate our conversations. I enjoy hearing what they share, but I have little to contribute on that front and wish our conversations were more about sharing ourselves or our own thoughts on deeper subjects. I do know that I can steer the conversation that way, but it’s not happening organically unfortunately. Btw, I think social fruit is a lovely idea/experience and I must admit to always getting a bag of Mandarin oranges so I have something to “do” to eat my social fruit by myself. LOL!

    • Vera says...

      I don’t think it’s shallow to express that you have less things to do and therefore less to talk about. Maybe you did not mean it that way, but this is what I felt while reading your comment. To me, the most basic conversation while having a meal together is about our day. And this is especially true when you are a parent: one part of this is responsibility (making sure the kid/teen is doing well in their own life), the other part is that it eases you into a deeper conversation. Fruit standing in for everyday topics as a conversation starter — to me, this is what the post is about.

    • Isabelle says...

      Thank you so much for writing this. I love that Toni Morrison quote!! It also occurred to me that a lot of what my husband and I talk about on a regular basis is what we are reading or listening to (radio, podcasts) and the ideas we come across through this. Our conversations are so much richer this way.

    • Heather says...

      I think you give Catherine too little credit. I don’t think she’s saying you have to do things to have things to talk about, or that productivity is essential to conversation. Just right now, during this pandemic, with loads of people dying every day (STILL!) and racism pounding us daily and our return to “normal” including two mass shootings in a week… the circumstances of isolation may make it harder to find as many topics or as much pleasure in superficial conversation, and deeper conversation may have hurt us to the point of emotional numbness. It’s not simply boredom, but hollowness carved out by relentless sorrow in the world around us. Conversation, words, come from a place inside you that is creative and regenerative, and, at least personally, I have found that place empty more often than not this year. It is because of the PEOPLE WE ARE that some of us are struggling to converse.

  34. Anna says...

    Love this one! Just tried Lillikoi (Passion Fruit) for the first time last month – delicious!

  35. Sadie says...

    I highly recommend getting two similar items for dessert for automatic entertainment. We’ve been buying two pints of different flavor ice creams once a month. Then we have something to talk about. Chocolate bars work good too!

  36. Emma says...

    Always so thrilled to see Catherine’s name — this is just as beautiful and thoughtful as expected. More Catherine, always!

  37. Maria says...

    Great writing!!!

  38. Eliza says...

    Always exciting to see Catherine Newman’s name appear! Superb, as usual.

  39. Jill says...

    What a surprising and excellent article to read today.
    Thank you so much!

  40. Catherine Newman, you are a treasure.

  41. Colleen So says...

    I bought some kumquats two weeks ago and was shocked by the extreme tartness of them. It was like biting into a super mega Warhead candy. My mom enjoyed watching me beat the countertop with my hand as I dealt with the sour flavor.

    • Erin says...

      You eat the whole thing! Skin and all! The skin is sweet, the flesh is sour. Together it’s lovely.

  42. Hanna says...

    This is beautifully written, thank you!

    (now I’m really craving a pomelo).

    • Agnes says...

      Same here! Pomelo craving …

  43. Patty says...

    Oh Catherine Newman I love you so. You are writing your own blog too infrequently!! I am thrilled to find you here.

  44. Ellen says...

    So happy to see Catherine Newman on A Cup of Jo again!!

  45. Kate says...

    As soon as I saw Catherine Newman was the author I knew this would be a wonderful read! I have recently started buying myself blood oranges and navel oranges to enjoy and feel inspired to branch out even further. I would love to find and try a persimmon!

  46. Hannah says...

    Sarah Waldman of “Feeding a Family” suggests citrus as a side for meals in the winter, and it’s something I’ve whole-heartedly embraced, as it makes pizza feel more virtuous 😉 So we’ve inadvertently discovered this and I’ve come to enjoy the companionable chit chat that accompanies sectioning a grapefruit.

    • Heather says...

      Adopting this forever. Thank you.

  47. M says...

    I peeled a pomelo on a zoom call with my wife’s friends some 8 months ago, and it was clearly the best entertainment any of the attendees had had since lockdown started. This is great advice.

  48. Louisa says...

    We have embraced the nightly ritual we call Cheeseplate. It’s about what you think, plus Jeopardy (which airs at 6 pm here). Nothing too fancy – some sliced fruits, some nuts, a modest amount of cheese (often the odds and ends on sale at the grocery – hit or miss!), pretzels.

    Our other trick – did I see it on Cup of Jo? – we bought my 1st grader “Little Talk” for Christmas. It’s a box of conversation starters for kids. Last night we discussed what book we would write if we could. My husband wants to tell the story of how malaria was eradicated in the US. I want to write about why the rainbow has 7 colors. And my 6 year old said she would title her book: “If You Were a Raindrop” and tell the story of the travels of a raindrop. Now we need another year of quarantine to get these written!

    • em says...

      yes to jeopardy! the knowledge tidbits are fun + my husband & I enjoy the bonus of surprising each other with how much (or how little) we know.

    • Corrie says...

      Ooh! I just looked up “Little Talk.” Thank you for sharing!

    • Agnès says...

      that book exists in french at least, it’s called Perlette and it’s lovely… (the adventures of a raindrop)

    • Megan says...

      This is such a delightful idea!

      You should check out the book Little Raindrop by Joanna Gray. It’s basically that exact thing! The story and illustrations are lovely.

  49. Brooke says...

    Love this! We’re big fans of “chocolate tasting” as a conversation starter excuse. We get two chocolate samplers normally reserved for special occasions and take turns tasting & talking about each flavor all week.

    • Amy says...

      my housemates and I recently bought every Lindt chocolate block you can buy and did a taste test: which one is 68% cocoa, 95% cocoa, 75% cocoa, 70% smooth, 70% regular? who knew there were so many chocolate conversations to be had!

  50. Kate says...

    I’m going to print this out and share at dinner tonight <3!

  51. AT says...

    Reading books provides us with plenty to talk about when the day-to-day gets boring.

  52. mb says...

    I thought “social fruit” would mean to engage in a little social interaction so you have a story to tell! But this is cute. Reminds me of peeling pigeon peas around a table as a kid.

    • Lori says...

      I thought the same thing! Getting a sweet and juicy tidbit from the outside world to share later with the family!

  53. Oh, Catherine Newman, you make motherhood so much better. Thank you!

  54. Kay says...

    Thank you for articulating perfectly what I’ve been feeling so acutely in these last several months.

  55. MM says...

    I love you I love you Catherine Newman! Nothing like pomelos and pomegranate geodes to add freshness and levity to these too-thick-too-thin days. Also, many rounds of Would You Rather.

  56. love this! sociable fruit will be a thing in our house now for sure.

  57. M says...

    Beautifully written

  58. Jacqueline says...

    This is so beautiful and reminds me of when I was pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (constant and unrelenting barfing for 40 weeks). All I could or wanted to eat was fruit and grilled cheese. Each week at the market my husband would splurge and surprise me with some strange and delicious tropical fruit. Our friends at the market stand got really into it and each week selected new things for him to bring me. Passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen, you name it, I ate it. They continue to do the same thing now during covid, when only one of us comes to shop (always alone), carefully selecting a fruit for our now 2 year old daughter to taste. We send them videos of her devouring sumo oranges and more.

    • Corrie says...

      I love this story. Thank you for sharing!

    • Mercy says...

      This put a smile on my face. Such a lovely story, thanks for sharing! :)

    • Meredith A. Phillips says...

      Jacqueline, I had the same condition and when my husband would ask what I wanted from store I’d always reply “Some kind of fruit — JUICY fruit.” Once at a Mexican restaurant while everyone else ate food like a normal person I ordered and drank 5 watermelon agua frescas. It was … such a relief to find something that went (and stayed!) down so easy! <3

  59. Agnès says...

    oh that was beautiful to read and something to share and talk about!