melted_snowball: (food)
[personal profile] melted_snowball
Alissa Hamilton's Squeezed is a book about processed orange juice.

What's to know? Orange juice, after all, is "100% orange, pure and natural".

Actually, much of what's to know is available right on Tropicana's website, which kind of blunts the claim of the book that they're trying to lie to you.

Anyhow, what is to know? Well, both pasteurized orange juice and concentrated orange juice, if you created them in the obvious ways, would taste awful. So in both cases, what happens is that a quantity of fresh juice or of orange oil is added to them; both concentration and pasteurization destroy these flavour components.

Also, ready-to-serve "not from concentrate" brands turn out to be pasteurized twice: once when they're juiced and placed into huge chilled OJ tanks, and once when they're to be put in cartons or bottles. This means that the "less processed" image of this kind of OJ is totally bullshit. Once upon a time, it was actually a little better: they were frozen straight after being juiced, and then pasteurized right before being bottled.

Another funny situation is that the "Florida" image that Tropicana and Minute Maid cultivate is increasingly bullshit: the actual juice processing plants, including those in Florida, are owned by Brazilian companies these days, while Tropicana and Minute Maid are largely marketing companies. (This is not, one notes, much different from the state of affairs for pet foods; after the melamine-in-pet-food scandal a couple years ago, one of the surprising facts is just how many different pet food companies Menu Foods made pet food for.) Anyhow, most American juice manufacturers are starting to use Brazilian concentrate (or pasteurized not-concentrate) in their production of OJ. They don't have to actually document the quantity of this in their label; they can just say, "from the US, Brazil and South Africa" or whatever.

All of this is vaguely interesting, but the book enters some weird rhetorical flights of absurdity, which gets tiring. Not just the one I posted about a few days ago, but she also waxes at length about how much consumers want more of a connection to all of the steps in their food's processing. I don't really think that's so; probably some do, but others still enjoy their Twinkies, thanksverymuch.

The book ends with a big jeremiad about how awful it is that citrus farming in Florida is losing out to the state being a giant condo community for retirees, and how terrible foreign (Brazilian, in this case) food is for US society.

This really amuses me, because of course, Floridians, until the Brazilians started selling more, used to supply the world with lots of its OJ. So, um, is international trade in foodstuffs only a good thing when it's exported, not imported? Oh, okay. Good to know.

Really, orange juice, like any other commodity is manufactured and standardized. We shouldn't be surprised that international trading partners enter into the process of producing it, and that as a consequence of that, it becomes less possible for people in the First World to make a living producing it. In fact, we should be surprised if that didn't happen.

A couple of other thoughts about OJ. First, I know people who prefer reconstituted OJ or pasteurized OJ to fresh-squeezed. I'm pretty sure my mom does, in particular. Do you?

And second, it does interest me that juice oranges are worth something like $3/bushel to growers. I don't want to think about how much more I pay for them when I buy them here and juice them in my food processor.

Oh, and it should be clear, but don't waste your time reading this book. This could have been an okay Harper's article of 5 or 10 pages, but 200 is way, way too much.

Date: 2009-07-28 03:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"she also waxes at length about how much consumers want more of a connection to all of the steps in their food's processing"

Strikes me as perhaps being the product of an echo chamber effect. Maybe that's more true in some regions (hers). But I don't think that's *really* the case even here, and out east that kind of talk is just the sort of thing a liberal rabblerouser from Ontario would come up with to begin with, and we don't take kindly to rabblerousers around these here parts unless they're OUR rabblerousers. Albertans would say they're already close enough to the moocows thankyouverymuch. I don't know what BCers think.

I certainly don't care much. I have enough other things to care about.

Date: 2009-07-28 03:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*nods* I still think it's funny how much one globally manufactured good (food) seems to matter more to people in terms of how it's produced, marketed and processed, while so many others don't. But she is right that it does matter to some people. But I think the echo chamber is almost entirely class-based, not geography-based.

Date: 2009-07-29 12:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think it makes sense for us to care about the steps in our food's processing. When we eat, whatever it is we're putting into our bodies literally becomes part of our bodies. I think we grossly underestimate the degree to which that affects us. Modern culture for many of us has taken away so much of our control over how we meet our basic needs. Knowing what steps went into our food's process gives us back some of that control, or at least gives us the illusion that we are reclaiming some of that control.

At least, that's my theory of the day. ;-)

Date: 2009-07-29 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, that's true. I think it's at times a very false control, though. (And again, it's also frustrating to me how awful the author of this book found the current situation with OJ: really, orange juice that is pasteurized, stored, pasteurized again, and that has orange oil added to it? It's not nearly as worrisome as, say, CAFOs.)

Date: 2009-07-29 06:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, I understand that it's important.

I also understand that I have about fifty kajillion other things that are equally important, and so I've chosen to not care as much about this sort of thing as those others.


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