The Price Look-up Project: PLU I, PLU II, PLU III, PLU IV, PLU V, VI
Stickers on fruits and vegetables are officially known as PLUs or price look-up codes. Initially, in the 1990s, they contained bar codes only to facilitate inventory control. Soon, logos and URLs were added. A PLU code now turns a banana or a lettuce head into a “value-added vegetable product.” The 1400 PLU codes in circulation around the world today symbolize the globalization and the commercialization of basic food commodities. A simple piece of fruit is now a brand. Is this a good thing? nh
PLU VI – Thawing bananas
In 2019, I noticed a sticker advertising a product other than the company marketing the fruit or vegetable on which it appeared. This next generation of PLU codes ends this project and makes it official: a raw fruit frequently fed to babies and toddlers is but an advertisement vehicle.
PLU V – Shelf Life
N. Heule, Apple, bronze, 2018, with PLU codes Red Delicious
PLU IV – Still happy?
la Orana Maria, 1891 (detail)
Paul Gauguin (1848–1903)
Oil on canvas 113.7 cm x 87.6 cm
Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY, says on its website: “Gauguin […] describing la Orana Maria in a letter of March 1892: ‘An angel with yellow wings reveals Mary and Jesus, both Tahitians, to two Tahitian women […] with bananas on the left. I’m rather happy with it.'” Concept copyright 2017 © by Nandy Heule. Trademark PLU code ™Chiquita.
Ia Orana Maria, 1891 (detail)
And here are Adam and Eve, 1526 (detail):
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Medium: Oil on panel, 117cm x 80 cm
© The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
PLU IV: Presentation1
My family was introduced to stone fruit when my Oom Hans, a Unilever executive working in Brazil, brought home some Onyx items for his sister, then living in Holland.
PLU II: Who wins?
Mixed media. Banana, bamboo stick, thread, PLU code. Music credit: re-mix Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Erik Satie. Copyright © 2017 by Nandy Heule
PLU codes are a simple but powerful example of capitalism’s unrelenting attempt to categorize life itself into marketable entities we can label, price, and enter into consumer supply chains. As demonstrated by this video, PLU codes outlast the food they claim by a long shot. PLU II intends to humorously critique the capitalist commercialization of food, art, and just about anything else that sustains the mind, body and soul. (And, for the record, a young friend of mine recently sent me some pictures to show how his beautiful, dark compost pile was littered with little PLU code stickers.)
PLU I: Sticker doll
Mixed media. Cloth, pre-fabricated mannequin doll on wood stand. PLU codes (collected in 2012-2013 in Canada, England, The Netherlands), kitchen plastic wrap, kitchen foil, buttons.
Copyright © 2016 by Nandy Heule
Initially, I used my microwave to display my growing fruit sticker collection. When it broke down (unrelated to the PLUs), Sticker Doll was born. The mannequin intends to enforce the commercialization of food into branded products. The mannequin is covered in plastic wrap to preserve the stickers.