An Unnatural History of Orange Juice


McPhee.oranges.1In 1965 John McPhee drove down to Florida during the harvest season, anticipating the opportunity to taste Florida’s famous orange juice at its freshest. When he stopped at a state welcome center promising free Florida orange juice, he was disappointed to be handed a small cup of juice reconstituted from frozen concentrate. Along the highway he noticed a sign for a restaurant which advertised orange juice, the word “fresh” still barely visible after being covered in white paint. And at a motel restaurant surrounded by orange groves, a waitress explained to him that all they offered was reconstituted juice. In 1965, nobody wanted fresh orange juice.  “Fresh is either too sour or too watery or too something,” the waitress explained. “Frozen is the same every day. People want to know what they’re getting.” McPhee wandered through the brave new world of hydroponically grown trees and frozen concentrated orange juice as an outsider—a man from another, much earlier time.  His description of the Florida citrus industry in an earlier stage of its embrace of industrialized processes is a fascinating read today, and it leaves the reader wondering if he had any idea what the next half century would bring. Could he have predicted that in 2013, most Americans would abandon the frozen concentrate, which seemed the height of modern back in the 1960s, and instead embrace something officially called “not-from-concentrate” because they believed–wrongly–it was somehow more authentic and natural, and, well, almost “fresh?”

Graphic from Business Week.

Graphic from Business Week.

Today the biggest American orange juice brands are subsidiaries of the two soda pop giants, Coke and Pepsi. A recent article in Business Week describes the very complex processes employed by soda giants to deliver consistent, “fresh-tasting” orange juice to grocery stores twelve months a year:  “The raw juice is . . . flash-pasteurized and piped to storage tanks as large as 2 million gallons each for up to eight months. Inside the tanks, the juice is slowly agitated at the bottom so it doesn’t settle. A nitrogen gas blanket at the top keeps out rot-inducing oxygen. Batches of juice from various crops and seasons are segregated based on features such as orange type, sweetness, and acidity. In-season juice is typically mixed with off-season juice.” Flavor essences are extracted from rind and pith, then eventually reintroduced into the juice. Coca Cola chemists employ an algorithm they call “Black Book” to ensure that the juices from these older and newer oranges, as well as the flavor essences, are mixed exactly right to achieve perfect consistency in taste.

squeezedThe juices created by these processes appear in the supermarket under brand names like Simply Orange, which touts itself as “honestly simple” and Tropicana Pure Premium, which declares itself to be “100% Pure and Natural.” To be fair, anyone who takes the time to visit Tropicana’s website can watch this video “Grove to Glass: How Tropicana Makes Juice,” and learn how complex the process actually is. But is it deceptive to declare that these juices are “honestly simple,” “fresh-tasting” and “100% Pure and Natural” on their labels? Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice argues that the typical consumer of orange juice believes they are getting something closer to fresh, when they plunk down extra coin for juices that tout themselves as “not from concentrate” and “never frozen.”

Perhaps Americans, caught between the conflicting desires for fresh and natural, on one hand, and convenience, consistency, and “permanent global summertime” on the fresh a perishableother are willingly bamboozled. Or perhaps the very meaning of terms like “natural” and “fresh” are in flux. In her fascinating book Fresh: A Perishable History Susan Freidberg contends that the very meaning of the word “fresh” has changed as we have developed new technologies to keep things from spoiling. Freidberg examines the changing meanings of “fresh” for a range of food products, from fruits and vegetables to milk, fish, and beef. “On the surface, few food qualities seem as unquestionably good as freshness. Dig a little deeper,” Freidberg warns, “and few qualities appear more complex and contested. At bottom, the history of freshness reveals much about our uneasy appetites for modern living, especially in the United States.”

Urban Orchards as “positive graffiti”


Photo by John Hancox, of the Commonwealth Orchard Project.

Photo by John Hancox, of the Commonwealth Orchard Project.

I wanted to share this very interesting piece about the community growing movement in Scotland, which has been working to hand neglected urban lands over to local residents and empower them to turn it into orchards and gardens.  One of the leaders of this movement is John Hancox, whose group the Commonwealth Orchard Project is providing resources and training to help local volunteers plant and maintain community orchards. The author of this piece, Max J. Muir, is arguing that this new interest in community orchards and gardens is one hopeful sign in an era when citizens are increasingly disengaged from electoral politics.  Here’s an excerpt:

Community orchards arise when disused public and private land is turned over to fruit growing and planned and maintained by the local community. Hancox is keen to stress that the significance of Scottish community growing lies mainly in its political dimensions, rather than its environmental ones. What matters is that local people are actively involved in shaping their surroundings, not that they’re shortening the food supply chain and eschewing pesticides. It is a low-cost, low-maintenance way of involving people in productive enterprise, putting Scotland’s vast reserves of vacant land into use.

“Positive graffiti” is Hancox’s term for it: when people are able to materially alter their environment through their own efforts, rather than relying on governmental institutions to impose a specific conception of what the public space ought to look like. It’s this inclusivity and empowerment that makes community controlled spaces different from those designed and laid out by the council, or allotment plots. Though individual allotments do typically provide creative fulfilment to those fortunate enough to have the use of one, that reward is essentially private. Community agriculture brooks a radically different notion of shared space – as an environment open to the exercise of direct and consensus-based control over its design and purpose.

Interest in this form of political engagement is growing- Hancox estimates that there are over 500 community orchards now operating in schools and on disused plots of public and private land in Scotland, plus tens of larger community farms in ForresFairlieAngusGlasgow and elsewhere, as well as intermittently active groups more overtly aimed at challenging traditional property rights – such as the Glasgow Guerilla Gardeners. Nor is this trend rooted only in agriculture: Scotland’s Hacklabs – “community-operated physical spaces where people with common interests can meet, socialise and collaborate”- in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Findhorn offer skill-sharing opportunities and community use of costly tools and machinery, thereby democratising access to high technology and education.

I love this term “positive graffiti,” to describe one way people materially improve their environments, even when at times it involves challenging or ignoring ideas about “private property,” which might otherwise restrict their opportunities to take an active role in making their own communities more liveable spaces. I am also intrigued by the parallels between Scotland’s urban orchards, some on privately-owned but neglected urban spaces and John “Appleseed” Chapman’s efforts to establish apple tree nurseries on the lands of absentee land speculators on the American trans-appalachian frontier. To some extent, both present modest challenges to the status quo at moment when property law was a barrier to building strong, healthy communities.

I urge you to read the entire article, and to check out the Commonwealth Orchard Project’s blog. Scotland’s COP is another example of the ways that the simple act of planting fruit trees is helping to create a healthier, more democratic world.

William Kerrigan is the Cole Professor of American History at Muskingum University, and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which tells the story of the old world apple in America, from its arrival half a millenium ago to the present.

Wildflowers or Apples? Can’t We Have Both?


city fruit logoA recent Op-Ed in the New York Times castigated advocates of urban gardening as “greedy,” and “short-sighted,” arguing that the recent trend of planting orchards and edible plants in cities is a threat to wildflowers and the pollinators who depend upon them.  Mariellé Anzelone is the Executive Director of NYC Wildflower Week, and she seems to think that urban orchardists, rather than asphalt parking lots, concrete freeways, and contaminated brownfields, are the real threats to native pollinators.  In advancing this argument, Ms. Anzelone relies heavily on an old nativist trope, describing most fruit trees as “imported,” and thus, we are to conclude, bad and environmentally harmful.  Yes, it is true that peach, pear  and apple trees–and some plum varieties–have only been in North America for four to five hundred years, as has the European honey bee, one of the primary pollinators of these trees. “Most commercial fruit trees, and food crops for that matter, hail from other ports of call,” Ms. Anzelone reminds us, and declares that “A monoculture of exotic imports offers little nourishment for our wild neighbors” as a specific variety of fruit trees will only be in bloom for a short time each year.

philly orchard project 2 colorThe problem with Ms. Anzelone’s argument that urban orchards and food forests are “monocultures” is that it doesn’t much resemble reality, and she could learn a great deal by visiting these sites and speaking with their volunteers. Organizations like the Philadelphia Orchard Project aren’t exactly planting acres of “monoculture.”  These modest-sized orchards typically incorporate a variety of fruit and nut trees and berry bushes, with each variety blossoming at different times, thereby offering pollinators an extended feeding period.  The Boston Tree Party’s “urban, decentralized orchard” is really just pairs of apple trees dispersed throughout the city. Seattle’s new Beacon Food Forest, currently just 1.5 acres with aspirations to grow to a total of 7 acres, explodes with edible plant diversity.  In fact, most urban orchards contain gardens of other flowering plants as well.

portland fruit logoAdvocates of urban orchards and gardens and the champions of wildflowers are in fact natural allies, not enemies.  Both are deeply interested in the health of pollinator communities. Urban orchard organizations are staffed primarily with committed volunteers, and are not profit-driven affairs, seeking to maximize short-term production without regard to long term environmental health and sustainability.  The kinds of people involved in them share the same values and perspectives that most champions of wildflowers do.

Is this urban orchard in Philly a threat to native insect pollinators?

Is this urban orchard in Philly a threat to native insect pollinators?

Instead of declaring groups like the Philadelphia Orchard Project, the Boston Tree Party, Seattle’s City Fruit, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, and Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective to be the enemy, organizations like NYC Wildflower Week should be reaching out to them as potentially valuable allies. Certainly urban orchardists are open to learning about and adopting new methods for making their plantings more pollinator friendly, and given the modest size and dispersion of these orchards, it is much easier to make them pollinator friendly than it is to do the same to large scale rural commercial orchards which cover vast tracts of ground. Planting wildflower verges around urban gardens and orchards, and sowing clover or wildflowers in the midst of an orchard are some simple and practical ways of providing food for pollinators over a longer season. And I simply can’t imagine advocates of urban orchards actively working to replace urban wildflower lands with “exotic monocultures.” I would urge NYC Wildflower Week to reconsider their campaign against urban orchard, and instead to reach out to groups like Fruit TreesNY, who I am sure would be eager to work cooperatively to make the city a greener, more pollinator-friendly place.

William Kerrigan is the Cole Professor of American History at Muskingum University, and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which tells the story of the old world apple in America, from its arrival half a millenium ago to the present.

Pequot Orchards


Pequot Hill from my kayak.

Pequot Hill from my kayak.

In the summer of 2012 I had the opportunity to participate in a five week summer seminar for scholars on American Maritime History, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and held at the Mystic Seaport Museum.  In the mornings and evenings I often paddled my kayak along the Mystic River. Rising from the west bank of the river, just across from Mystic Seaport is Pequot Hill, the site where an English force led by John Mason surrounded the Pequot fort atop the hill, set it on fire, and shot anyone who tried to escape. Six to seven hundred Pequots died that day—some warriors, but mostly women, children,

Depiction of the slaughter of Pequots on Pequot hill, May 26, 1637.

Depiction of the slaughter of Pequots on Pequot hill, May 26, 1637.

and old men. When the surviving Pequot surrendered more than a year later, most were enslaved to English-allied tribes or sent to Bermuda. In an attempt to erase the Pequot from memory, the English declared that the word “Pequot” should never be uttered again.

But the Pequot’s story is not just a story of massacre and extermination. It is a story of a determined people who survived an invasion of their lands through both resistance and adaptation. The small nucleus of independent Pequot who survived the Pequot War eventually secured rights to about 3000 acres of land in their ancestral homelands north of Mystic. Some of that land today is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, who have since built a remarkable museum retelling the Pequot story.  During my summer at Mystic, I was able to get to know Jason Mancini, Senior Researcher at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, who is working on a fascinating project mapping the journeys of Indian Mariners.

Depiction of a Pequot Village in the Pequot Museum

Depiction of a Pequot Village in the Pequot Museum

Among the things I learned from Jason (and at the fine Pequot agriculture exhibit in the museum) was that the Pequot were very early adopters of old world apple and peach orchards. In my article, “Apples on the Border: Orchards and the Contest for the Great Lakes,” and also in my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I argued that orchards were a critical part of the European mixed husbandry regime which was in essence a three-legged stool: annual crops (grains), perennial crops (orchard fruit) and domesticated livestock. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Pequots and most other peoples occupying eastern North America practiced a mixed subsistence regime, combining annual crops with hunting and gathering to sustain themselves.

The European mixed-husbandry regime established new rules of property on the

The English brought Red Devon cattle to New England early in the colonization process.

The English brought Red Devon cattle to New England early in the colonization process.

landscape, and privileged the idea of fixity (staying in one place and claiming near-absolute rights to a fixed piece of land) over mobility (seasonal movement to the best sources of food, understanding property as specific land-use rights). In other words, the arrival of the European mixed husbandry regime in the Americas was a classic instance of what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony—when a dominant culture establishes the rules of the game, which all other subordinate peoples must follow. The English mixed-husbandry regime would ultimately establish both a cultural and environmental hegemony over New England; to survive, the Pequot were required to fight for their rights within these new rules.  Jason Mancini recently sent me transcripts of some documents on Pequot orchards which appear to support my view of the important role orchards played in arguments between Native and European peoples about property rights. I need to do additional research to help me contextualize them, but I am offering readers a taste today, and welcome feedback.

cassacinamon

Robin Cassacinamon, early Pequot leader, as depicted in the Pequot Museum.

The documents are dated between the 1720s and 1760s, and chronicle the persistent efforts of Pequot Indians to protect their lands against English encroachment. A document from 1721 was an appeal by “the Pequot Indians Living at Mashuntuxitt (in Groaton)” made by a Pequot leader using the name of the long deceased but revered Pequot leader Robin Cassacinamon.  By the 1720s, the Pequot confronted illegal intrusions onto their land by a rapidly growing English population, most of whom were unwilling to recognize the Pequot’s legal or moral claims to the land.  The appeal chronicled the efforts of Pequot to adopt the European mixed-husbandry regime, and asserted the Mashantucket Pequots’ rights to the land they occupied by both historic claim (“where our Predicessors anciently dwelt”) and by the English doctrine of improvement, which was a central principle of the mixed husbandry regime. For the English, those who did not “improve” the land by adapting it for mixed husbandry forfeited the right to it. The Pequot petitioners noted that they had “improved” the land  by planting both corn and orchards, and “our orchards are of great worth & Value to us. by Reason our Grandfathers & fathers Planted them & the Apples are a great relief to us.” Despite these efforts, it appeared that by 1721 Englishmen from Groton were eager to claim some of this land improved by the Pequot, dividing it in lots and fencing it. The Pequot protested that the English once “Called us brethren: & Esteemed us to be Rational Creatures: but behold now they make us as Goats by moving us from place to place, to Clear rough land: & make it profitable for ‘em.”

In Creatures of Empire, Virginia DeJohn Anderson examines the role European livestock played in the conquest of North America.

In Creatures of Empire, Virginia DeJohn Anderson examines the role European livestock played in the conquest of North America.

Additional records Jason sent along suggest that the conflict between acquisitive Groton English and the Mashantucket Pequot continued for decades, with the Groton men cutting wood and allowing their hogs and cattle to forage freely on lands claimed by the Pequot. In fact, it appears that the Groton English were soon using their livestock as “creatures of empire,” allowing their hogs and cattle to invade and destroy Pequot orchards.  The English response to Pequot complaints about the destruction wrought by their wandering livestock was to argue that the Pequot needed to build better fences. English law at this time did not require farmers to fence in livestock.  Instead, those growing crops were expected to fence them in; owners of marauding livestock were not liable for the damage they did to other people’s crops and orchards.

I am eager to do more research on Pequot orchards and their role in the Pequots’ efforts to defend their rights to their lands.  I hope to write additional blog posts on the subject over the course of the summer.

Create a Fruit Map of Your Neighborhood


One of the many neighborhood fruit maps created by Fallen Fruit

One of the many neighborhood fruit maps created by Fallen Fruit

KPCC in Southern California has a great piece this week on the activities of the Los Angeles-based group Fallen Fruit.  Co-Founded by artists David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, and operating on the old common law idea that taking fruit from the branches of trees overhanging public spaces (sidewalks, alleys, roadways) is not theft, Fallen Fruit has been producing Fruit Maps of Los Angeles neighborhoods.  Rather than using precise google maps, Fallen Fruit prefers to offer the public hand drawn ones which encourage exploration, and they have removed trees from these maps on the few occasions when a specific property owner has complained.  The practice of gleaning fruit from roadside trees has a long history in the United States, and in fact well into the 19th century, most states consider it no more than petty trespass for a hungry traveler to enter a private orchard and pluck some fruit to refresh them.  As orchards were so abundant that much fruit was left to rot on the ground, most Americans understood helping themselves to someone else’s fruit a harmless act.

Fruit mapping is just one of the collective’s many projects, which include the recently planted public fruit park in Del Aire.   Check out a slide show of Anthony Young and Tess Vigeland gleaning overhanging fruit and listen to the interview.  Find more of their fruit maps here.

Fruit Map of Sherman Oaks by Fallen Fruit

Fruit Map of Sherman Oaks by Fallen Fruit