moldy cantaloupe and moldy mary

the grand legacy of cantaloupe (drawn with Procreate)

I never liked eating cantaloupe. It’s akin to a filler TV episode within the main plot of fruit salads. Something about the taste of this orange-fleshed melon I find inexplicably repulsive. 

Yet, cantaloupe is my favorite word. Although its flavor is leagues below muscat grapes or golden kiwis, can any other fruit be accredited for spawning the most widely used antibiotic in the world?

Before the Second World War, researcher Mary Hunt fatefully discovered a mold strain that would adequately yield penicillin— on a moldy cantaloupe in a grocery store. I find it fascinating that with the help of a blighted cantaloupe, enough penicillin was available to treat every injured D-Day soldier. This miracle drug would eventually save countless lives from bacterial infections and various diseases.

My brother has a penicillin allergy. Thus, I find it equally riveting that if he contracts Salmonella from his excessive rare steak consumption, penicillin will not save him from diarrhea or abdominal pain. 

Scientists Alexander Fleming, Ernest Chain, and Howard Florey would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for their discovery of penicillin. Mary Hunt would be another female figure excluded from the male-dominated narrative of science.

The word cantaloupe reminds me of the beauty of chance, that something excruciatingly mundane could yield unfathomable wonders. It reminds me of the unsung heroes in history like “Moldy Mary,” and of my brother, who has the most unfortunate allergy in my book. 

My adoration of cantaloupe runs deep—except, of course, if it’s on my plate. 

– julie

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