Back in the bad old days, oranges were frequently given as Christmas presents. Why? It wasn’t because people hated each other and frequently gave away trivial gifts to show their disdain. It was because, in temperate climates, oranges were expensive.
It’s easy to forget, in our modern world of globalized food supply-chains that oranges are native to tropical climates (along with most fruits). A long time ago, before the world was connected in the way it is now, it was difficult to transport oranges from tropical climates all the way to temperate climates before the fruit spoiled. Nowadays with lower transportation costs, as well as refrigeration, most people don’t think twice about buying oranges, even as far north a place as Denmark, where I will be spending this Christmas.
My meandering thoughts on oranges have caused me to reflect on the state of the modern world, and the culture that has evolved with it. If you transported an average family from the turn of the century into today’s world, they would be flabbergasted with what our modern technology enables us to do. Sure, by about 1900 globalization was effectively in place, but only a very small portion of the population was able to enjoy its spoils – tea and silk from Shanghai, and rugs from Rajasthan. Most of the world’s population was only beginning to feel the effects of industrialization – in particular, industrialized food production leading to more stable food supply.
My point, is that we take much of these advances in science and technology for granted. Theater workers (in Australia at least) still say “chookas” to each other, because before the advent of refrigeration, the humble chicken was a delicacy and could only be afforded if one was playing to a full house. Not only do we take technology for granted, we place no importance on the understanding of the underpinnings of how it came about, or indeed how it works.
This is a problem. Without an understanding of where our food comes from, people won’t understand our limitations in terms of how we interact with our environment. People forget how much transportation is involved with bringing us food, and thus fail to make the connection between energy prices and food supply. People don’t understand how truly urgent the problem of climate change is.
This holiday season, while we all indulge ourselves in what is hopefully very good food, I hope we spare a thought for the story behind it. I was very impressed with the clarity with which the story of stuff project presented the impacts of modern manufacturing processes. Perhaps sometime in the not-too-distant-future, someone can do the same with the story of food. After all, not only does everyone need stuff, everyone needs food. Moreover, without stuff… we’re just poor people, but without food – we’re dead.
I hope everybody enjoys their festive season. I also hope everyone takes the time to appreciate their food, especially those oranges.
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