Pre-peeled Oranges and Owning Your Ignorance

Whole Foods caught flak for selling pre-peeled oranges in little plastic containers. Someone took a picture, and Twitter went nuts. Whole Foods immediately capitulated and took the product off shelves.

One professed reason for opposing pre-peeled oranges was that they were environmentally unfriendly. By removing the peel and putting it into a container, Whole Foods is duplicating effort that nature already put in to make the peel in the first place.

Grocery stores, however, sell lots of things in packages.The only stuff not sold in packages are the fruits and vegetables, and even these are often put into plastic bags offered free with purchase. My wife often tries to buy them without bags only to have cashiers grumble with annoyance at having to handle four individual apples instead of a single bag.

If you open a package of food, you will often find more packages. Candies come individually wrapped within a larger bag. Cookies and crackers are packaged in sleeves within a larger box. Bottles of all types are often stylized to look interesting rather than maximize the volume of product they contain. In fact, manufacturers often reduce the amount of product within a package while maintaining its overall size (and therefore price) as a way to increase margins.

Marks says consumers rarely notice things like the tapering of ice cream containers, cereal boxes that get thinner, or jars that now have concave bottoms.

The only thing that comes to mind that truly embraces a utilitarian ethos within the typical grocery store are bags of flour. And even those are often smaller than they need to be and thus wasteful.

But to my knowledge, no one complains about individually wrapped candies, even though we might be better off if they were done away with altogether. Oranges are healthier than 90% of what else is in the grocery store, and at least in my household, the peel is indeed a barrier to eating them.

This leads me to think it’s not the packaging itself. It’s the principle of the thing. The picture was an invitation to join in on some get-off-my-lawn smugness that isn’t even available to those complaining about bottled water. You don’t have to care about the environment to mock pre-peeled oranges. You can just feel smug about how lazy people are.

But then, someone pointed out that pre-peeled oranges are actually quite useful for those who have disabilities or arthritis. It boggles my mind that this was a surprise to anyone, but it was. And if satisfaction felt by being outraged by something on Twitter is topped by anything, it is by being able to say, “well, actually” in reply.

My thesis, however, isn’t that this is just another example of the outrage/reverse-outrage cycle, though it is that. Rather, it’s an example of the treachorous pitfalls of opinion-having. Thousands of people who had never thought about very much about oranges decided that seeing a picture of a peeled one in a plastic container was sufficient information for them each to have very strident, judgmental opinions on the subject. There’s no invitation within the Twitter app to find more about oranges. The path that is paved most smoothly is the invitation to retweet. Even replies are comparatively burdensome.

peeled orange photo

Image by Jangra Works Pre-peeled Oranges and Owning Your Ignorance

The problems are narcissism, incuriousness, uncharitability, and arrogance. If I cannot instantly deduce the reason for pre-peeled oranges, then corporations and consumers have erred alike. If I cannot guess at the purpose of something, I will accept the purpose suggested to me. Additionally, I will assume it is the laziness and greed of others. And any assault on my judgment must be defended, however silly it makes me seem after the fact.

When I peruse my own record here, I can’t help but notice my most deeply embarrassing posts stem from that same narcissism. Narcissism is what has permitted me to have an opinion without having done sufficient research.

Luckily, I’m learning. When I saw the pre-peeled oranges, I thought “I dunno, maybe that makes sense to someone” and moved on. This is not due to any special intelligence. My reaction could be taken as a copout — an unwillingness to take a stand.

At least in this case, however, that unwillingness served me well. I was humble about my own knowledge of oranges and peels and why people might like pre-peeled oranges. And the result was that I didn’t unconsciously promote ableism. Maybe the problem isn’t outrage addiction after all.

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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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71 thoughts on “Pre-peeled Oranges and Owning Your Ignorance

  1. I don’t fully agree. I think we are in love with righteous indignation but this seems like a bad example. Many Whole Foods shoppers, rightly or wrongly, do have firm opinions on plastics use. I get chopping up melons and placing it containers. Peeling an orange seems excessive though


    • Your lack of full agreement is outrageous. I must take to the telegraph lines about it.

      Its nice to have strong feelings, but in the end a peeled orange is a small, small thing. Maybe it seems goofy, but it’s still a tiny thing. And of course after a few seconds thought about people w/o use of their hands it seems like a nice idea. They already have ready to eat carrots,candies, cookies, condoms ( okay maybe that is slightly different), sandwichs and salads in bags.


    • Whole Foods always had a problem with this. The store always attracted middle and upper middle class educated professionals as their main customer base. Most of these people possess liberal leaning opinions. The founder of Whole Foods has politics that go in the opposite direction of a many of his customers. This hurts him some times.


    • I promise you that 99% of the people buying organic coffee from Whole Foods didn’t MEAN to burn down the fucking rainforest, despite buying coffee that was directly responsible for considerable destruction of the tropical rainforest in Peru.

      I promise you that.

      People who buy from Whole Foods are in general an ignorant bunch. Perhaps that’s just coffee, but I doubt it.

      (Just in case you’re wondering, I know a commodity trader who also moonlights as a buyer for Trader Joe’s. And he’s friends with someone who trades coffee for a livin’).


      • It just seems to be a matter of where we draw the line at that point.

        I mean, I sometimes buy hot dogs on the street (usually for Mayo). That entails the provider to take the dog out of a package and place it in hot water for a few minutes. I pay $2-3 for this service when a pack of those very same hot dogs goes for about $5 for 10.

        Ultimately, criticizing the convenience others are willing to pay for seems like getting worked up over nothing. Is the waste an issue? Yes. But as Vikram points out, these are far from the most wasteful product on WF’s shelves.


      • And adding the tictac flavoring back in!
        “Fresh squeezed” orange juice in the middle of summer is a bit of a mutant thing, when you think about it.
        They fresh squeeze the orange juice in February, and give it to you around August.
        How’s that for odd…


  2. Oddly enough, my father was working on a project just like this (actually apple slices if I remember) when he was still a professor. It was his last research project when he had to retire (heart attacks.) This exactly the kind of research that a phd in genetics with a focus on Pomology gets you.


  3. Does everyone get the same top reply on the original Twitter post as I am seeing now? It’s pretty awesome.

    If not, some woman asked to use the Tweet in an article. Nathalie Gordon says yeah, great, please share the final article. And the woman does. Here’s the article:


  4. Whoa whoa whoa.

    So the peeled orange thing is a real thing. But what about us folks that want the lemon peel or the orange peel, no white pith please, for our booze flavoring activities? I’d love to be able to buy a pound of lemon peel so I can pop in into the vodka when making lemoncello, rather than peeling 50 lemons myself first. WHY HAS THE MARKET NOT PROVIDED FOR ME?!!?? You know why? “Cause of all you damn outraged, narcissist people, missing the concept that my time is worth more doing something else than peeling lemons! Now you’ve gone and ruined this business concept and I am back to peeling my own damn lemons! Curse you!


  5. Having thought a bit more on this, here is an angle I’m not sure you explored quite as deeply as I’m going to now (which is totes cool, as you tackled some really important angles)…

    You tackled the, “These people totally failed to see why this isn’t the outrage they believe it to be.”
    You tackled the, “These people are zeroing in on the environmental straw that might break the camel’s back and ignoring all the rest.”

    And aptly so…

    What I want to talk about is the worst case scenario: Let’s imagine there are people in the world who are really so lazy that they are willing to pay an extra 50-cents or dollar per orange for the luxury of just peeling back a pull tab instead of peeling the whole thing.

    So fuckin’ what? How many of us pay for one luxury or another that offers little more than a slightly easier path? You don’t have to like it. A firm eye roll is probably appropriate. But outrage? Really? Why? So some jackhole is lazy? Who the fuck cares?!?! Hell, his laziness is creating jobs. Wahoo!


    • I believe that it is tied in with the whole Whole Foods aesthetic.

      You walk into a Whole Foods and, immediately, you know that you are in a progressive grocery store. Grind your own cashews and make your own cashew butter. Exotic cauliflower variants. Organic bacon. Asparagus water.

      Well, as I am sure you remember, the asparagus water caused quite a stir.

      My own personal response to the (overpriced!) asparagus water was, paraphrased, “freakin’ people. Freakin’ Whole Foods. Freakin’ Whole Foods people.”

      So it was with asparagus water in mind that I first saw the pre-peeled oranges. “Freakin’ people. Freakin’ Whole Foods. Freakin’ Whole Foods people.”

      Knowing that there are people out there who probably wouldn’t even be able to eat an orange unless someone else peeled it for them softens my “freakin”s down considerably. I am pleased to know that they have options that they didn’t have before.

      But my first thought wasn’t the people for whom Whole Foods was opening the orange door.

      It was of the freakin’ people who would pay six freakin’ bucks for freakin’ asparagus freakin’ water.


      • Oh, I think that is a reasonable response. Like I said, I’d give a pretty aggressive eye roll to the pre-peeled oranges. EVEN if I knew they were very helpful to some segment of the population, a voice in my head would say, “Some jackhole is going to buy that just because he thinks oranges are difficult.” And I’d say that while remembering that the only reason I’m in the Whole Foods is because it is in the same complex as the boys’ doctor and the doctor’s office doesn’t validate parking but Whole Foods does if you buy $10 worth of stuff so if I buy exactly $10 worth of stuff I’m really getting it for $7 because I’d be paying that $3 for parking anyway so I’m not really paying Whole Foods’ prices.

        Hell, I might even go a step further and snap a pic and post it on my Instagram (30-something followers) and Facebook (100-something friends) and maybe even use the amazing new eye roll emoji.

        So maybe I’m part of the problem? But the outrage machine feels a little different. Like, why waste your breath, your time, your energy getting so worked up because of some jackhole who thinks he’s too good to peal an orange? I mean, fuck that guy, but fuck that guy by laughing in your head and moving on, right?


      • My first “Freaking Whole Foods People!” moment was buying bulk spices and noticing different scoops for the “organic” and “non-organic” spices, and a prominent notice asking us to respect the difference.

        Conventionally-grown spices might contain trace amounts of pesticide. And if you scoop up your organic spices with a tainted scoop, you might get traces of a spice that contains traces of pesticide mixed in with your spice. And then you add a dash of that spice to whatever you’re cooking, and the result is a meal consisting of perhaps one part per thousand of a spice containing perhaps one part per thousand of another spice, which itself contains trace quantities of pesticide.

        While a bit skeptical, I remain agnostic on the whole “organic” thing, but when you’re worried about cross-contamination of your spices, it’s just superstition. Besides, if you’re the kind of person who worries about this, you probably believe in homeopathy, in which case wouldn’t you want the cross-contamination?

        Asparagus water sounds like a twist on pot liquor, but it’s usually made by boiling the vegetables. I can’t imagine that the water would absorb much if you just dumped the vegetables in cold.

        The uncured bacon they sell at Whole Foods is just plain better, though. IMO, the glutamate flavor in cured bacon is too strong, with not enough pork flavor left.


      • I love, love, love Whole Foods. I love every one in every city I’ve been to. I don’t have one in my city, but I am unabashedly a Whole-Foods-person whenever there is one nearby.

        That said, you all basically know me. I’m not the kind of person who is going to look at bottled water of any kind, let alone asparagus water. I’m not going to stop by the homeopathic products and other questionable products, which I’m willing to bet also exist in the grocery stores you frequent. It’s not like your grocery store has ethics that won’t permit them to sell such things. You can like a store as a place to shop even if you don’t approve of every single one of the 20,000 products they sell.


      • Whole Foods exists to make the market I shop at seem relatively non-pretentious. Despite regularly stocking the traditional big three luxury items (truffles, caviar and foie gras). If the “Asian Foods” section had a chill chest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see uni there. But still, at least it’s not Whole Foods.

        I kid. After a Wal-Mart opened in the next shopping district over, it knocked out the “extreme value” Top Foods and forced the “ordinary people” Safeway to get a facelift, so the market I shop at has been forced into a “Whole Foods Lite(tm)” niche.


    • I read somewhere (maybe on OT for that matter) someone point out that a lot of the gimmicky gadgets in TV infomercials with able-bodied actors pretending to be too clumsy to handle a cup of water or whatever, are really products for the disabled.

      A person who can’t hold a knife can cut vegetables with a slap-chop. A snuggie is basically a bathrobe for a wheelchair user.

      The fact that probably 90% of the buyers are able-bodied means that economies of scale make them affordable to the 10% who really benefit by them. It also means that about 90% of the products manufactured get used about twice and then end up in a landfill; not the most efficient way to subsidize the other 10%, but it gets the job done.


  6. You haven’t written any deeply embarrassing posts, Vikram. Trust me.

    I would, though, in the spirit of the post, want to extend it further to give Nathalie a break as well. She may just have been trying to make a joke, not earnestly condemn Whole Foods.


  7. Our culture rewards self-righteousness and technology has given us a world where expressing it to an enormous audience is easier than peeling an orange (or taking a pre-peeled one out of a container).


  8. Ya know, we are often talking about jobs in this country, this economy. Jobs!

    An orange gets picked and packed and unpacked and displayed, etc. Jobs.

    A peeled orange get those and Peeled! An extra job is created, either a peeler or a machine, wich needs service and monitoring, etc. Jobs.

    Much like the container get manufactured and needs a mechanic on the machine and a monitor, and a factory, etc. Jobs.

    Its Keynsian, at the very least. Something tells me the naysayers loved the stimulus.

    ETA spelling of his name.


  9. Ok, the pot cookies I ate a couple hours ago are reallly starting to kick in, so in lieu of the coherent comment I am currently unable to make, I’ll just leave a placeholder.

    Something something Chesteron fences something something


  10. Hey ,

    I’m not up for fighting this out with you, but you’re taking my comment/tweet entirely out of the broader context of that conversation.

    I was not saying that pre-peeled things were not easier for those who would have trouble peeling something. Of course they are and of course I know that.

    I was saying that it hadn’t crossed my mind that those items were out there for a population that would struggle to peel something. The entire reason that Elizabeth’s point got my attention is because it hadn’t occurred to me that Whole Foods might be trying to do right by this segment of the population.


      • In that case, let me clarify – it looked to me like you were saying that I had no idea that pre-peeled things could be beneficial to somebody who would otherwise struggle to peel them. That wasn’t my point. Rather, my point was that it hadn’t dawned on me that a supermarket was putting pre-peeled things out in an attempt to cater toward those populations’s specific needs.

        Shorter Version – I’m not surprised that pre-peeled things can be useful. I’m surprised that supermarkets are actually targeting those populations. (Not that this targeting would be a bad thing – far from it.)


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