Sunday, October 5, 2008

Viva the orange revolution

According to the publication Grocer, the number of oranges being sold in the UK is falling. Orange sales are dropping by about 2% a year, whereas the sale of easy-to-peel fruit, such as tangerines and satsumas, or naartjies, to South Africans is rising. Writing in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Aislinn Simpson reported the sales of satsumas and tangerines rose 35% and 60% respectively.

Some have postulated that sales have decreased because it is difficult to carry a large bag of oranges about when shopping, compared with a neat little sack of naartjies. Others have commented that oranges are going out of fashion because they take too long to eat and people simply don’t have the time.

Stefanie Marsh, writing in the UK Times, feels it all boils down to the fact that Britons are too lazy or thick to eat oranges. She quotes a survey noting that 7% of children between the ages of 9 and 13 have no idea how to eat an orange. Consequently, Marsh laments the inability of so-called busy parents to pass on the “craft of orange peeling to the next generation”. To help, she provides a useful step-by-step guide on how to peel an orange, worth googling, if you feel your skills are on the wane.

However, I am not surprised to read these stories. I have long thought there is a correlation between oranges and the state of human civilisation and its discontents.

For example, it was the humble orange that facilitated the spread of colonisation with its miraculous ability to prevent diseases like scurvy. It was the orange that allowed explorers to circumnavigate the world, leaving oppression in their wake. However, it was, as is widely known, also the orange that finally overthrew apartheid when foreigners decided to stop eating Outspan oranges as part of the sanctions campaign.

I have also always found it telling that there is no word in the English language that rhymes with orange, suggesting its unique place in human evolution.

Thus, it is only fitting that the orange and its declining sales are the first marker, at least in the West, of the next major social upheaval: the lethargy revolution.

Seemingly, we have enough time to Facebook with friends, order pizza online, text until our thumbs go numb or spend hours playing computer games but not enough time to get to grips with the complexity of peeling an orange. What have we come to?

The orange is being squashed out of the market by the fast-food and consumer culture, which is, in turn, changing our understanding of what food should be. Do you know that, despite all that is said on cereal boxes about their enhanced fibre content, it would take seven cups of cornflakes to give you the same amount of fibre as one orange? Many of the vitamins cereals contain, such as vitamin C, have been sprayed on and are not naturally present.

Sadly, most citrus-related traditions seem to be on the decline. As a boy, I revelled in the ancient long-dead South African tradition of throwing oranges and naartjies at the opposition and players during rugby matches. My transition to manhood was also marked by the imparting of the secret of the abundance of citrus fruit at rugby matches. Oranges injected with alcohol made the perfect undetectable vessel for transporting vodka and had the added benefit of being delicious to eat, making you drunk and providing a good but harmless projectile once the alcohol had been sucked out.

So it is with great sadness that I read of the decline of the orange. I believe the time has come to start a campaign to save the orange. Let us break this cycle of lethargy and start peeling. Oh, unless the oranges are from Burma, China, Israel, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Florida or Iran.

Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, June 2008. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 20 June 2008.