“Definitely our mistake” is what Whole Foods Market tweeted after the Internet went bananas last week when the chain was spotted selling peeled oranges in plastic tubs.
The controversy started when Nathalie Gordon tweeted a picture of the oranges minus their skins in plastic containers: “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them,” she joked.
Then, I saw the same thing over the weekend at Erewhon, an indie health food store in Los Angeles that prides itself on being the anti-Whole Foods. But even it’s giving into our obsession with lazy eating, plopping organic peeled oranges into tubs of plastic.
So, what gives? Is peeling an orange really more difficult than prying open those surprisingly sharp-edged plastic containers? Or do we have a problem being overly dependent on perceived problem-solving?
I get it. Time is valuable, and when it comes to eating healthy, most of us could use all the help we can get to do it. I have a toddler and I’ve had to peel more than a few oranges for her over the winter while wishing they could magically peel themselves. I often buy pre-washed lettuce just to shave five minutes off my dinner prepping. Those moments can be crucial, particularly with a hungry and fidgety child bonking all around my kitchen trying to stuff my pockets with Lego people (“Mommy, you need more fwiends!”) while I open a scalding hot oven.
But if we’re going to take Whole Foods, or really, any supermarket, to task over excessive conveniencing, then there are a lot more examples we could point to. Let’s face it: most of what’s sold in the supermarket is excessive; whether it’s the tiny single-serve yogurts, individually-wrapped energy bars, or the 99 million single-serve bottles of kombucha or green juice that may or may not be in my fridge right now. Is it really that difficult to portion out a normal human serving size of yogurt from a big container? Or make our own salad dressing at home instead of paying $6 for a bottle that will only last us a few days?
Yes, oranges in plastic containers are laughably ridiculous, but really, they're an easy target. And you know what they say, when we point the finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing right back at us. Peeled oranges in plastic is funny and sad because our relationship with food is funny and sad, even if we’re “healthy” eaters. Why else would Whole Foods have also been selling $6 "asparagus water" which you could have made at home for like, thirteen cents?
Here’s another example of our snacking crisis: In an effort to keep healthy-ish snacks in our cars for when our ravenous toddler-demon starts demanding snacks (you know, 45 seconds after she gets into the car just after eating a meal), we found freeze-dried fruits. They’re all over Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, hanging on clip strips and in the checkout aisle and over the baby products. We like that they’re actual fruit with nothing added (just moisture taken away), and unlike a bag of fresh blueberries, they won’t rot and mush all over our car (they do however cast a powdery blue crystalline hue all over everything they come in contact with). They’re portable and storable long-term and have saved our poor starving child from gnawing her own knuckle on more than one occasion. But a bag of these organic freeze-dried goodies at Whole Foods costs about $7, which to keep my daughter from kicking me in the head while I drive, isn’t a lot of money. That is, until I finally looked at the actual servings per container recently. Some are as few as two—two total human-size servings--in a $7 bag of fruit. Granted, we don’t usually allow more than a few grubby toddler handfuls of the stuff, so we get more than two servings for her, but what about a non-toddler buying this as a snack? Is that really reasonable?
We’ve been conditioned to love and seek convenience. Bulk bins are buggy and boring and what are you supposed to do with five pounds of millet anyway? So we opt for convenience in its many, ahem, containers.
Of course Whole Foods should be setting a more sustainable example. Plastic containers are not doing anyone any good, even if we do bring our own tote bags. But until we as consumers get more comfortable doing the dirty work of prepping and cooking and portioning our food, we can expect even the most health-conscious supermarkets to keep doing it for us. Even peeling our fruit. The least we can do is make sure we eat it all up.
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