Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice
By Alissa Hamilton
Yale University Press, 2010
Ever stop to think why we drink orange juice in the mornings? Or why we don’t simply peel actual whole oranges throughout the day to quench our thirst? What exactly is the difference between marketing terms like “pure orange juice,” “concentrate,” “not from concentrate,” and “gently pasteurized”? Also, just how far back did food industry giants begin misleading the consumer about orange juice, and how do they continue to mislead the public today?
Squeezed, by Alissa Hamilton, addresses these issues as well as presents an investigative history of Florida’s orange juice industry, its deceptive marketing practices, and some of the current global and competitive forces that have radically transformed an industry from what once was a locally grown product into a commodity that now most likely comes from Brazil. Along the way, the reader learns about the early concerns by regulators as well as the very sophisticated marketing and science that go into maintaining ignorance about a seemingly uncomplicated product that is instead a full-blown factory-processed chemical creation.
Oranges probably first originated in Southeast Asia and are thought to be a hybrid of a pummelo and a mandarin. The citrus fruits were cultivated by the Chinese as far back as 2500 BC. Arab traders introduced the orange to Europeans and from there the earliest Spanish explorers would eventually plant the first trees in Florida.
Just like so many other “advancements” in food processing, orange juice can be traced back to the days of World War II, when hundreds of scientists were researching ways to provide soldiers with improved forms of condensed food. This individual, daily combat food ration became known as the Army’s “K-ration,” which would ultimately lead to the invention of orange juice concentrate in 1948.
Florida’s orange growers at first welcomed this new technology as it not only returned more profits, but also created a new market for their excess production. Soon thereafter, sales of “chilled” orange juice also began, along with significant investment in advertising. From the beginning, employing trusted celebrities would prove a great marketing succcess as Bing Crosby was hired in the 1950s to convince the homemaker that squeezing oranges was a waste of time, and in the 1960s, Anita Bryant represented the “all-American mother” who proudly provides a “wholesome and nutritious” product for her family.
Over the next fifty years and continuing today, the consumer has been deliberately misled as to the purity of orange juice with many of the following marketing phrases: “pure and natural,” contains only “100 percent pure squeezed orange juice,” “made from fresh hand-picked oranges,” “nothing added, nothing taken away, only oranges.” As Squeezed reveals, commercial orange juice is none of these things!
In what would become an ongoing battle between the FDA and marketers of orange juice, questions about how the juice was being adulterated first arose in 1956. In 1961, thanks to the FDA’s Standards of Identity Act of 1938, a lengthy public hearing would begin to inform both regulators and consumers about the industry. One notable quote that almost seems impossible to believe given the venality of today’s FDA, was from the then FDA Commissioner, George Larrice, who declared, “The consumer has a right to know what is in his food.” By this time, however, it is estimated that over twenty-five thousand scientists were employed by the food industry that had already introduced over seven hundred food additives into the food supply.
Manufacturers would also spend a large amount of resources in efforts to convince the consumer that commercial orange juice was not only as pure and nutritious as home-squeezed orange juice (close your eyes and you probably can recall the straw coming out of an orange depicted on the packaging), but how inconvenient it was simply to peel an orange.
In fact, commercial orange juice is very high in sugar, contains less vitamin C than an actual orange, and is low in fiber and other nutrients. Prior to the early 1900s, before the Florida orange growers organized and launched a campaign to market their surplus crop, the only people who drank orange juice were Floridians who had a tree in their backyard!
Hamilton also details just how orange juice is stored for up to one year in tank farms: pasteurized, deoiled, sterilized, deaerated, loaded into aseptic tanks, then later brought out, blended with flavor packs, and reheated. Refined orange oil and orange essence are added to simulate “freshness.”
The actual constitution of a “flavor pack” involves a great deal of chemistry and has nothing to do with the sun-kissed citrus plucked in full ripeness from a tree that marketers would conjure in your imagination, and instead has everything to do with a chemist’s lab. These “flavor packs” are manufactured by chemical fragrance companies and are necessary to return flavor and aroma into the inert product since the original taste and aroma were destroyed in storage and processing. These flavor packs do not even have to be derived from Florida oranges; the extracts can come from countries using banned pesticides, for example. Orange oil is fractionated into several components, each of which is isolated, and then recombined in different proportions when added to the “juice.” Chemicals such as ethyl butyrate, the most frequently used artificial orange flavoring and perfumery solvent, is very commonly added. These flavor packs are labelled under “natural and/or artificial flavors.”
Just reading the descriptions of these manufacturing techniques should destroy the innocence of the average orange juice consumer and alter forever the way one looks at a glass of “orange juice” greeting one at the breakfast table. Not unlike the dairy farmers of recent past, Florida orange growers are finding it more profitable to sell their land to condominium developers than try to compete against global competitive forces. Unless it is springtime in Florida, the odds are that you are drinking, at least in part, orange juice that comes from Brazil in cargo ships that have the capacity to aseptically store seven million gallons.
While this book is very informative, it dedicates a disproportionate amount of pages to a unique 1961 FDA hearing, “Matter of Orange Juice and Orange Juice Products; Definitions and Standards of Identity.” On the other hand, for those who are industry and policy junkies this section is perhaps one of the more insightful descriptions into the inner workings of the system.
In the end, Squeezed does not particularly focus on the health aspects of orange juice, or whether or not orange juice is good for you, but rather on how long the industry has been misleading consumers about the authenticity of its product, and their indifference to a food product that has become so ubiqituous in the American diet.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2013.