I never thought I would write a blog post about a fruit I seldom eat, but I also never thought that Twitter would nearly blow up over… oranges.
Whole Foods, an American grocery chain generally marketed to the upwardly mobile and/or environmentally conscious recently stocked pre-peeled oranges wrapped in plastic. The backlash on social media was swift: Who is too lazy to peel their oranges? And all of that plastic CAN’t be good for the environment… right? Whole Foods then issued a statement that the product was a “mistake” and they pulled it from their shelves.
In response to – if not defense of – this product, many people with illnesses or disabilities that make peeling and cutting fruits and vegetables a painful challenge (if not impossible) chose to use this as a teaching opportunity. I’ve written a bit about social media activism, and while an argument can be made that much of it might seem angry or whiny, I found the tone of this particular activism was more informative. It brought to the consciousness things I’ve never considered myself, because I’ve been blessed with two steady hands that make cooking and food preparation a generally (though not always) safe life skill. But what if I had limited dexterity or severe joint pain? What if I had to worry about coordination or seizures? I don’t live with these things, and that’s a blessing, but many people do… and many have articulated that products like this are accessibility needs, not wants.
Leaving aside the general price-points of high-end markets, I’ve enjoyed the general tone of this conversation, at least the respectful bits that discuss the seeming gap between environmentalism and access to healthy food. Whether Whole Foods put this product on their shelf, or another grocer somewhere else, the topic will continue to be brought up in various incarnations. What is the difference between pre-peeled oranges packed in plastic and pre-sliced mushrooms packaged the same way? No one bats an eye about that. How about personal servings of yogurt, pre-shredded salad mix, or juice boxes with plastic-wrapped straws? Many of these foods are considered “convenience” foods, and no one can argue that they aren’t as environmentally friendly as buying that big tub of yogurt or that large carton of juice. Convenience in and of itself isn’t always bad, especially if it makes life easier and healthy food more easily preparable for everyone. No one seems to bat an eye at these “convenience” foods as much as the oranges, perhaps because they are portable and self-contained right off the shelf. But I, for one, may never think of them the same way again. What if I couldn’t peel my own orange, for whatever reason? Would I have to try and hide my “convenience” food purchases for fear of being judged as not caring for the environment? Would I, as others have suggested, have to call someone over to my house to peel my apples for me if I get peckish in the middle of the night? Thanks, but no thanks…
The discussion that this little fruit has brought may never go away completely, and it’s not an either-or debate. The suggestions have been swift and numerous to intersect convenience, attainability, and environmentally friendly. Suggestions ranged from simply pointing out that there are worse or different ways of being poor stewards of the earth, to suggesting that some of the cost of pre-packaged food can go into research and development for more environmentally friendly containers and wrapping. None of this is a one-sided debate, because it is like comparing… well, apples to oranges. If I walk to a grocery store and buy some pre-packaged food, am I leaving more of a carbon footprint than someone who drives to the grocery store and buys all of their products in bulk? There are no easy answers to these questions, but the conversation is worth having. I may not be a card-carrying environmentalist, but I like to do what I can for the planet. And if someone wants to buy a pre-packaged salad, for whatever reason, it’s nobody’s business but theirs. Besides, if you want to raise a stink about plastic-wrapped vegetables, what about the plastic bag of chips in your shopping cart?