Where does your orange juice come from?

As we groggily sit down to breakfast while reading or watching the day’s news, few of us stop to consider where the oranges in the juice we drink each morning came from. However, Florida’s Naturals Growers juice co-op would like to change all that. The company first came to prominence with a series of folksy ads featuring a helpful farmer in a sunny grove placing a carton of orange juice into the eagerly outstretched hand of a mother reaching out through her grocery store’s refrigerator section. Early in 2012, the juice co-op debuted an aggressive new ad campaign to replace the neighborly image they had previously cultivated pitching their product as being “As close to the grove as you can get,” with a somewhat paranoid question addressed to the public at large: “Where does your juice come from?”[1] This new tone dispenses with the friendly emphasis on the direct connection between growers and consumers in its previous ad campaign, and replaces it with a challenge that puts the juice drinker on the defensive, wondering: do I know where my juice comes from? Should I care?[2] This marketing strategy casts aspersions on the ingredient sourcing practices used by the company’s direct competitors by implying that the use of juice from oranges grown outside of the United States is un-patriotic, imperils national food security, or takes jobs away from American orange growers.

The Florida’s Naturals co-op website features a “Where does your juice come from?” quiz which allows visitors to the site to guess which of three brands of orange juice does not use imported orange juice. The correct answer is, obviously, their own. However, when onhttp://www.floridasnatural.com/our-juices/know-your-juicese clicks on the pictures of the competitors’ juice bottles, the images flip over to show the back view and zoom in on the items’ country of origin label (COOL), a requirement that dates back to the Tariff Act of 1930 and, in a rather interesting turn of affairs, is overseen not by the Food and Drug Administration, but by U.S. Customs. The “Where does your juice come from?” ad campaign appeals to the latent xenophobia or isolationist tendencies of Florida’s Naturals’ consumers by manipulating the visual proof of their competitors’ compliance with U.S. law, the country of origin label, against them. The zoomed-in pictures of bottles of Simply Orange and Minute Maid Orange juice feature a red circle drawn around the words “US/Brazil,” whereas the image of the carton of Florida’s Naturals Premium Orange juice depicts the tagline “Product of USA” framed by a miniature American flag. The flag conveys patriotism, a sentiment denied to the other two companies even though they combine the juice from U. S. grown, as well as Brazilian, oranges in their bottles.[3]

This implication is made manifest even more explicitly once a visitor clicks on the “correct” choice of Florida’s Natural Premium Orange juice. Not only does the question repeated at the top of the page, with the words, “GROWN ONLY IN THE U.S.” visually depicted in bold orange all caps, but the textual “answer” that follows this question, which is already framed on the left side of the screen by an image of the orange juice carton, proudly declares: “Florida’s Natural premium orange juice uses only oranges grown right here in the U.S. / All of our oranges are grown by U. S. Farmers in Florida. And only Florida.” This emphasis on the orange’s “native” grown status casts aspersions on the “foreign” grown oranges blended into the brand’s competitors’ orange juice, thereby implying that this alimentary intermixing of orange juices of different national origins is, at worst, unpatriotic, and at best, a “diluted” inter-Americanism resulting from trade policies like those codified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tellingly, the ad campaign says nothing about the nationality of the workers who harvest the orange crops in Florida. While the orange juice inside the package may have all been grown in the United States, the likelihood is that foreign nationals harvested it, whether they are in the country as part of the guest worker program, or they work without documents.

One more echo between the anti-importation rhetoric of the orange juice ad campaign and contemporary political discourses surrounding immigration as a dire problem in need of reform is the website’s emphasis on the company’s primary affiliation as that it maintains with the state of Florida, rather than with the entire United States.[4] While the company’s brand has always touted its connection to the Florida orange industry, which is overwhelmingly dedicated to juice production rather than whole fruit consumption as is California’s, the conflation of “U. S. Farmers” with those producing juice fruits “in Florida. And only Florida” comes at a time when individual states have taken steps to try to mitigate what they perceived was the negative economic impact of undocumented immigration through local legislative measures like Arizona (SB 1070), Alabama (HB 56), and Indiana (SEA 590).[5] The New York Times reported that in 2009, 48 states had passed either legislation or resolutions opposing illegal immigration in some measure. While the state law passed by Arizona and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer (SB1070) was by far the strictest at the time, Alabama soon passed legislation that surpassed it and provided the template for similar immigration measures in other states including Mississippi and Missouri, according to National Public Radio, who has called described the trend as part of a Southern political strategy meant to make life so uncomfortable and difficult for undocumented people that they would leave the states that had enacted such laws, either to return “back home” wherever that might be or move to states with less restrictive policies. That logic at first appeared to have worked in Alabama, where thousands of undocumented laborers as well as legal immigrants who feared the local climate was becoming too intolerant of their presence left the state. The news media broadcast powerful images of crops rotting in the fields and on the trees because there were no workers to pick them during the spring and summer harvests immediately after strict laws were passed in Alabama and Georgia, among others. Lax enforcement of the laws, as well as court-blocked elements meant that laborers returned for the fall harvest, according to Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback.

Key provisions of the Arizona legislation were struck down by the Supreme Court in June, 2012, with Chief Justice, John Roberts, siding with the majority decision in affirming that the power to enforce the nation’s immigration laws rests with the federal government, and not with individual states. The Supreme Court struck down the most stringent portions of the laws passed by Arizona and other states with similar provisions in their immigration legislation, those which would lead to profiling of anyone who looks “un-American,” even as it authorized local law enforcement to check on the immigration status of persons detained on suspicion of having committed a crime.[7] That decision caused a ripple effect across the nation, but especially in other Southern and Southwestern states, who either amended their own similar legislation or else decided not to bring similar bills to the floor. In light of such legal reversals, enforcement of such restrictive anti-immigration laws has been lax, and laborers have returned to the fields thereby facilitating the uninterrupted flow of the American food system.

In the aftermath of such efforts, a larger menace has arisen that threatens the orange harvest more than the possibility that all undocumented workers would leave the state: citrus greening disease caused by bacteria spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. The United States Department of Agriculture has dedicated a whole page on its official website to update the public on what the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is doing to combat this threat. The first part of its efforts is to educate the public about what citrus greening is, but the rhetoric it uses to convey the extent of the peril facing the domestic citrus industry plays into what I am arguing is the larger xenophobia that pervades the American citrus industry:

The bacteria that cause HLB[Huanglongbing]—three species of Liberibacter—probably originated in China in the early 1900s. In countries where the disease is endemic, citrus trees begin to decline within 5 to 8 years after planting and rarely bear usable fruit.

First detected in Florida in 2005; by 2008, it had been identified in most of the citrus growing counties in the state. Despite everyone’s best efforts, HLB now literally threatens the survival of Florida citrus and is a potential threat to the entire U.S. citrus industry. (www.ars.usda.gov)

The federal government has responded swiftly, funding both research and containment efforts. The Associated Press reports that the citrus greening has been spotted in California as well, though in a very small scale, thus truly underscoring the potential impact of this infestation on the citrus industry. The team of scientists working to find a solution for dealing with HLB is made up of experts from all over the world; according to the USDA website, one particular collaboration between ARS scientists in Ft. Pierce, Florida and colleagues from Japan and Viet Nam focuses on trying to understand how interplanting guava with citrus may prevent the spread of HLB. Globalization has now become synonymous with environmental degradation, and the free movement of capital, products, and foodstuffs around the world negates one of the chief engines of biodiversity and ecological health, which is isolation. This logic shows how an element of isolationism and paranoia can slip into the rhetoric of locavorism and health food movements. Ideas of ecological health and hygiene can take on the forms of eugenics, which drove the immigration debates up to and beyond the Second World War.

My concern, however, is with the reference to the disease’s origins in China at the dawn of the twentieth century. The timing of the disease’s origins calls to mind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which spearheaded a wave of increasingly restrictive immigration legislation in the United States that culminated with the passage of the 1929 National Origins Act, which eliminated all immigration from Asia.[9] Scientists have not paused on this historical connection or its possible implications in today’s China-phobic political discourse.[10] However, the citrus industry faced a huge setback once before, during what literary journalist John McPhee has called “the great freeze of 1962” when “the leaves all turned manila and fell to the ground. Much of the fruit fell to the ground, too, but a lot of it still hung eerily, and with a macabre beauty, in the trees. They looked like odd Christmas trees covered with bright orange balls” (Oranges 32). McPhee’s evocative description of the disaster sets the stage for a paradigm shift that still affects the citrus industry today. The 1962 freeze was followed by more in the late 70s and 80s, which had the combined effect of opening the floodgates to the influx of Brazilian frozen concentrate orange juice (FCOJ) imports which led to the xenophobic Florida Naturals campaign discussed earlier. As climate scientists Kathleen A. Miller recounts:

Before 1962, Florida had been the world’s primary source of FCOJ. Since that year, Florida’s output has been supplemented steadily by a steadily increasing Brazilian FCOJ production. From the start, Brazilian orange juice processors have focused their energies on producing for the FCOJ export market. (“Climate” 140)

This state of affairs explains why orange juice cartons feature blends of American and Brazilian juices, rather than merely those sourced from Florida. This is not only legal; it has become the norm, with the notable exception of Florida’s Naturals. California’s oranges produce less juice per fruit and, thus, they cater to the whole fruit market rather than the juice industry. The new threat posed by HLB stands to shift the balance of power even further in the international citrus industry, which will likely give rise to more nativist rhetoric.

Notes

[1] My comments refer specifically to the ad campaign found at the company’s main website: http://www.floridasnatural.com/ Web. January 29, 2013.

[2] This line of reasoning feeds into contemporary discussions about food’s carbon footprints and the preference for eating locally raised foods. It also deflects attention away from the hit that orange juice’s reputation as a health food has taken in recent years. Not only have the net carb-phobes disparaged it, but so have the enemies of sugary drinks. Commercial orange juice is a highly processed food trying to cling to their “natural” aura in the context of a market that is quickly shutting out liquid calories in favor of bottled water. Orange juice can never be local in 90% of the country.

[3] 10 ISC 1304(a) and 19 CFR part 134. My info comes from http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074567.htm Web. January 29, 2013.

[4] Ironically, the California navel orange agricultural industry has its origins in Brazil, as John McPhee recounts in his jaunty cultural history, Oranges. He notes that in 1870, an American Presbyterian missionary sent some navel orange trees to the U.S. Department of Agriculture which then distributed the trees for free. An enterprising California housewife took advantage of this opportunity to experiment with a new cultivar. As McPhee tells it, “In 1873, Mrs. Luther C. Tibbets, of Riverside, California, wrote for a pair of trees, got them, and planted them in her yard. Mrs. Tibbets’ trees caught the attention of her neighbors and, eventually, of the world. From them have descended virtually every navel orange grown anywhere on earth today”(11). This brief citrus genealogy demonstrates the dynamic movement of foodstuffs from the Global South (Brazil) up to the North (California) and across the globe. However, American cultural colonialism is still at work linguistically, in ways that downplay or obscure the Brazilian origins of this quintessentially West Coast citrus.

[5] Arizona’s State Bill 1070 is known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” Alabama’s immigration law (House Bill 56) is stricter than Arizona’s. It’s called “Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.” Indiana’s immigration law, “Senate Enrolled Act 590,” was modeled after Arizona’s, and I mention it here since it is what is in effect in the state where I have composed this book.

[6] http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/i/immigration-and-emigration/arizona-immigration-law-sb-1070/index.html Web. February 19, 2013.

[7] For more on the motivations for, and impact of, the Chinese Exclusion Act, see Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program’s webpage “Chinese Exclusion Act.”

[8] China-phobia entered the 2012 presidential campaign with Republican candidate Mitt Romney calling for more retributive economic policies. The Atlantic ran a story analyzing the perceived “dangers” of Mitt Romney’s anti-China campaign rhetoric in February of 2012.

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