Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tropicana

Reduced Price Tropicana
I don't usually buy carton OJ--or any other drinks for that matter. But, my local grocery store had reduced prices on a few cartons of Tropicana orange juice on July 2--the store would be closed on the 3rd and 4th and the cartons expired on the 4th. And like many Americans--even food-choice conscious Americans--I like cheap food. "This will make a great smoothie addition," I thought to myself. My friend Rachael frequently makes smoothies with berries, orange juice, and yogurt--and on hot days (like all of July in most places in the US), a smoothie and other raw/cold foods sound much better than actual cooked food that requires standing over a hot stove or grill, or turning on the oven.

Back of Tropicana Carton
It wasn't until I got the carton home I read the logo print on the back of the carton: "16 freshly picked oranges squeezed into every carton." Well, my if this doesn't create a cozy image? I conjure up someone picking my oranges and hand squeezing them into my carton (though perhaps not through the little pour-spout hole). If I don't think too much about it--and to be sure, the marketing execs would prefer I didn't,--then I want to buy this orange juice. Not from concentrate. 16 oranges for my 8 servings. Seems like a good deal, and oh my, that zipper looks like it's just sealing in a plethora of oranges! And oh my, on the front, I can see that it's just like sticking a straw into an orange (something I definitely did as a kid--never as satisfying as I wanted).

But wait! I live in the midwest. There aren't orange groves nearby, exactly. And who is picking my fruit? And who's packing my juice? Marissa, over at We*Meat*Again asked today for us to think about our food choices in terms of workers (and I'm extending that invitation to you). I'd already started to do that when I read her blog post--but I hadn't started my research. Let's talk first about plant safety standards. Fair Warning just published this article, the first in a series about OSHA and safety conditions, in which Tropicana is a major target. Granted, the incident mentioned is from 2005--but it has last effects on the featured man, and he is not alone in workplace injuries.

As far as oranges go, 1 out of 3 oranges grown commercially in Florida goes to Tropicana. Who picks those oranges? Migrant laborers, some of whom are working illegally in the United States. What do they earn? $0.80 per 90 pound bag. Orange harvesting is moving toward mechanization--but the problem with that is that the machines will also harvest the unripe fruit on the trees. This fruit is meant to ripen the following year and this means lower future yields. These workers are exposed to broad-spectrum pesticides and fungicides, which can cause a host of medical problems. Of course, advocates such as The Crop Life Foundation, and its research unit, the Crop Protection Research Unit which describes itself as:
The Crop Protection Research Institute (CPRI) is a research unit of the CropLife Foundation. Established in January 2004, CPRI is a non-advocacy research organization focused on the economic analysis of agricultural pests, pest management, and pesticide use and regulation in the United States.
argue that without fungicides, specifically, we'd get 50% less orange juice from Florida. You know what? I might be okay with that. I probably don't really need orange juice--or oranges--in the midwest, no matter how much I enjoy them. And, I should probably pay more for them.

In case you've missed the news (I did), Tropicana is switching from wax-coated cartons to clear plastic bottles. This comes in response to "positive costumer feedback" about wanting to see the juice. In many communities, these bottles can probably be recycled. But given concerns about cancer-causing chemicals leaching from plastic, about landfills, about the cost of recycling plastics the environmental implications are hard to overlook. If you want to see the juice you're drinking, it seems to me like the answer is simple: buy a juicer and some oranges. Valencia oranges, if you like the taste of "fresh" Tropicana orange juice. Growing up, this is almost exclusively how I consumed orange juice. There's something satisfying about squeezing those oranges, about watching the juice fill the glass, about the scent of oranges in the kitchen for hours afterward. But, maybe that's just me, and the supposed luxury of time I was afforded.

During my research on this, I found a book called Squeezed: What You Don't Know about Orange Juice. Not something I've read, but something I would consider reading--or at least skimming. At the very least, I want to learn about the flavor packs employed by Tropicana (parent company PepsiCo) and other companies. In the mean time, I've got my unethical orange juice to ponder (and drink).

1 comment:

  1. Yet another reason why fresh-squeezed orange juice is best. Of course, only using Floridian oranges in Florida. :)

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