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 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
thanks for reading this to save your dear readers the effort!

I wasn't inclined to read it because I didn't expect to be surprised.
So it's this processed drink (much like my milk, I'd argue, except that they add orange oil), which tastes good to me, has some vitamins, and bears some relationship to the fruit. And it's not "fresh from the grove", it sits around in big vats for a while first. Oh, the horror.

If they want to tell me that it doesn't actually contain any vitamin c, or is likely to be contaminated with weirdshit in addition to the vitamin C(no, orange oil is not weirdshit), etc, then I'd probably be more shocked.

Date: 2009-07-28 01:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I think the analogy to milk is pretty much right.

And indeed one of the things that's missing from the book is basically, "okay, so OJ is a heavily processed agricultural commodity. Is it any different from any of the other 'pure'-ish commodities I eat? Is it more processed than milk for drinking? Or flour? Or canned tomatoes?" I still don't know. I know, in part from [ profile] chickenfeet2003 that all milk products result from first separating milk into its constituents and then re-assembling them, so "cream cheese" is no more "cheese made from cream" than is "whole milk" whole.

I do think it's interesting that, say, 100% pure OJ can have tangerine juice or seville orange juice in it, up to 5% each (they're there for colour and flavour balance, basically), and there was another round of "natural flavour is just artificial flavour produced in the most inefficient way possible" as well. But no, the story isn't especially special.

(The vats are fucking huge, also. 1M litres, say, in facilities that have dozens that large. That's a lot o' oj.)

Date: 2009-07-28 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And now, I have enjoyed a glass of pasteurized orange juice in a carton, thanks to this discussion. Ahh.


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