Orange Juice: Not the health drink we thought it was

I love Orange Juice.  I mean, I really love it. I could drink a glass a day for…ummm…lots of days in a row before I got tired of it.  Then I’d have to take a day off from it.  But then I’d be right back to it.  And I’m not talking about any of that crappy pulp filled OJ. I don’t want to drink/eat my OJ. I want to drink it. No pulp.  I mean zero.  Like, if there was a way to get negative pulp in OJ, I’d get it (I say this bc I’ve encountered so-called pulp free OJ that had some leftover pulp at the bottom of the jug…blech).  Waaaaay back in the faraway times of my youth (I was born in 1975) when frozen, concentrated OJ became a thing, I recall my parents would buy it.  Let the OJ thaw out, pour in a pitcher, and fill the container with water three times and add to the concentrate.  Unfortunately, back then, they didn’t make pulp free OJ.  So I was the kid whose mother would come downstairs on a Saturday morning laughing as she watched me straining the pulp out of a pitcher of OJ.  It took a while, bc the strainer wasn’t that big. Plus, all it takes is a little bit of that nasty pulpy crap to fill up the strainer.  But I didn’t care. I was going to get my OJ and there would be NO pulp.

Unfortunately, the health benefits of Orange Juice-fresh, from concentrate, sitting on the shelf for over a year-may well be exaggerated:

The post-war American Dream was an image of domestic serenity in which the national talent for creating labor-saving technology was realized. Americans were eating better for less money and in less time. “Fresh-frozen” orange juice was concentrated health stuffed into a can and its only preparation requirements were thawing, adding water, and stirring. In Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America, Harvey Levenstein argues that such convenience foods became an essential part of the post-war housewife’s duty to build a healthy and happy American home. In 1952, the American Can Company advertised that frozen orange juice had saved housewives the equivalent of 14,000 years of “drudgery” that year.

Only housewives were spared excess ‘drudgery’?  There were no stay-at-home husbands back then? You mean Leave It To Beaver  was really an accurate portrayal of suburban America in the 1950s?  Golly Ward, and here I thought that was BS propaganda that portrayed a mythical, yet idealized middle class family. I always figured that if you scratched the veneer of that perfect all-American family, you’d see American Beauty.  My gast…it is flabbered.  Really really it is.

Alissa Hamilton points out in Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, that with the rapid growth of convenience foods a larger question emerged around the very notion of what normal food was: processed or untouched? People ate one alongside the other without thinking too much about it. In the 1950’s, chemists developed more than 400 new additives to aid in processing and preserving food (taste was an afterthought, at best). Canned meals, powdered foods, frozen seasonal and exotic produce were now readily available year-round. Women’s magazines extolled these “new” foods and their miraculous time-saving attributes. But the idea that something processed could also be “fresh,” was provoking questions. By 1960 the FDA was becoming concerned with the misrepresentative “fresh” labeling of commercial orange juice. Not only was it far from fresh, but sugar and water were being added. Federal standards and regulation ensued.

If it’s not juice pressed from the orange itself, I think labeling it ‘fresh’ is…not accurate.  I imagine any libertarians reading this are shrieking in horror at the last sentence in the above quote too. Valhalla forbid the government set standards for food products to avoid false labeling and to ensure that the product being advertised is the same product that is purchased. You’d think the free market would be truthful on its own, but I guess the magical hand of the invisible market had not gotten around to that yet.

Frozen concentrated orange juice remained the breakfast drink of choice until the mid-1980’s when technology finally got closer to quenching consumer’s thirst for fresh-tasting juice with the creation of reconstituted “Ready to Serve” juice. Portraying orange juice as practically fresh-squeezed was now the primary pursuit of marketers, like this Tropicana commercial with the enticing “squeeze me a glass” jingle. In the 1990’s “not from concentrate” orange juice hit the shelves and blew everything else away. Rather than vitamins in a can, we now had freshness and purity in a carton.

Note that reconstituted “Ready to Serve” OJ still isn’t fresh OJ.  Truly fresh OJ would be juicing an orange (and then straining the pulp if you are a normal person…like me).  Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that makes “Ready to Serve” OJ not so fresh.

But as Hamilton details in her book, there is practically nothing fresh or pure about it. Most commercial orange juice is so heavily processed that it would be undrinkable if not for the addition of something called flavor packs. This is the latest technological innovation in the industry’s perpetual quest to mimic the simplicity of fresh juice. Oils and essences are extracted from the oranges and then sold to a flavor manufacturer who concocts a carefully composed flavor pack customized to the company’s flavor specifications. The juice, which has been patiently sitting in storage sometimes for more than a year, is then pumped with these packs to restore its aroma and taste, which by this point have been thoroughly annihilated. You’re welcome.

I don’t recall asking for that favor, but thanks…I guess?  Seriously though–now I wonder what unprocessed commercially produced OJ would taste like.  Or maybe I don’t.  The article doesn’t really make it sound appealing. Anyone want to try it out for me and let me know?

Recently there has been a series of lawsuits against PepsiCo, Tropicana’s parent company, disputing its “all-natural” labeling, in part because of Hamilton’s exposure of industry practices. Meanwhile, growers plan to roll out a marketing campaign to address some of these health concerns by promoting drinking smaller glasses of juice. “The industry is trying to revive its healthy reputation against all odds,” says Hamilton. “Not only is orange juice heavily processed, but it’s straight sugar which today people recognize as contributing to obesity and diabetes.” Hamilton admits that orange juice is low on the FDA’s list of priorities, but theBritish government is taking action by calling for a tax on fruit juice and warning consumers that it has as much sugar as Coke and should be consumed sparingly. In the meantime, though the acidosis scare may be long forgotten, most of us still like to think we can find health in a glass of orange juice—at least more health than in a can of soda. Maybe that classic breakfast isn’t so balanced after all.

The lesson in all of this is that if you’re going to drink OJ, make sure it has no pulp be aware that what you’re consuming isn’t as healthy as you thought it was. Limiting yourself to a glass every now and then (don’t ask me to define what time frame is meant by ‘every now and then’; I’ll chuck pulp at you), while consuming more water than other beverages, is likely to be best for your body (til the day they tell us water is not as good for our bodies as we all thought).

Orange Juice: Not the health drink we thought it was

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