Monday, November 1, 2010

Thoughts on an Orange


Here in Manhattan, on my daily walk to work, I pass a number of fruit stands and sometimes I grab something for breakfast, generally an apple or banana since they are very on-the-go friendly, but on occasion I'll get wild and go for the labor intensive orange.  Today something caught my eye that I had not taken notice of before.  The orange I purchased had a...
sticker stating it was from South Africa.  Here I am purchasing fruit from a local street stand in New York City, assuming I'd be getting local produce, little did I know, these adventurous fruits had traveled from all around the world; apples from Chile, oranges from South Africa.  Now I know New York is a global city, but it seemed a little indulgent to need oranges all the way from Africa.  Even as a supporter of local produce, if you get passed the fact that we don't grow oranges in New York, what's wrong with Florida, California, or Texas, supposedly the largest orange producing states in America?  I paid $0.50 for this orange, but was that $0.50 sale worth the 8,000 mile trip all the way from Cape Town to New York City?

Although, I am a proponent of local food, there are certain obvious issues that arise such as what to do if you live in an area that cannot produce certain foods.  What if you want pineapples or bananas and you don't live in the tropics or you want apples or oranges and they are out of season?  Some believe you should just be patient and learn to love the fruits and vegetables that are available to you during each season, but many others feel that it is okay to import produce from other states or countries where these items are in season.  There is also the more pressing issue of fuel usage and wasted resources.  Digging a little deeper into my orange's past, I found out that in the spring of 2000, President Clinton signed the African Growth and Opportunities Act into law.  This act was to help promote organic economic development in Sub-Saharan African countries by reducing American tariffs on goods imported into the United States.  The idea was by making trade flow more easily between the United States and Southern Africa, these African countries' economies would grow, lowering unemployment and further assist developing African nation's rise out of poverty.  I like the idea of assisting with trade instead of assisting with monetary aid because building businesses is a much more sustainable way for a country to grow than just accepting handouts.  Although the success of this program is hard to measure according to the support, criticism and corruption I've read about, one thing is certain, about 48% of all foreign oranges are imported from South Africa, making them the largest foreign supplier of oranges in the United States.

Although I am starting to see why this orange came from South Africa, I am still not sure exactly how I feel about it's trek across the Atlantic.  Besides for the labor and fuel costs associated with shipping fruit almost 8,000 miles, we also have to consider the environmental costs.  It is hard to measure the exact effects on our atmosphere, but scientists and engineers have been working to create energy systems that are self-sustaining and require no wasteful pollution.  The Atlantic online recently had an interesting article about Lonnie Johnson, the famed inventor of the super-soaker, who has been working on JTEC, a thermoelectric energy converter, that he believes can make solar power our most efficient energy source.  I think I would be much more willing to support imported foods from abroad if I knew they were being transported using the same energy source as the orange.