Last week, the Twitterverse became enraged after advertising copywriter Nathalie Gordon posted a photo of pre-peeled, plastic-packaged oranges.
“If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them,” tweeted Gordon in a post that soon went viral. To make matters worse, these decidedly unwhole fruits were being sold by the grocery chain Whole Foods.
As American consumption of fruits and vegetables continues to lag behind recommended amounts, companies selling prepared produce are hoping that skipping steps like peeling, cutting or chopping will make people more likely to buy their products.
Twitter users accused people of being too lazy to peel their own darn oranges.
But for a whole segment of people with mobility issues, pre-prepared foods are a lifesaver, says Jennifer Hacker, a woman with peripheral neuropathy and poor grip strength. “I have stopped cooking anything I have to chop or slice first,” she says, because the pain is so bad.
Without pre-prepared fresh foods, Hacker says she’s relegated to the frozen foods aisle for her grocery shopping. She could also choose the syrupy, sweet canned citrus or overcooked, tinny green beans.
Pre-prepared foods do cause waste, both in making them and packaging them for sale. The uncomfortable question these products raise is whether a disabled person’s access to fresh foods can be reconciled with reducing environmental waste.
Hacker understands the knee-jerk reaction of able-bodied people to the peeled oranges, but she says she became angry when Internet users began to attack people with disabilities for wanting prepared foods.
“I had people on Twitter tell me that I had gotten along without peeled oranges before,” Hacker says, and that she should be able to continue to do without. “I had another person tell me that I should just ask someone else to peel an orange for me.” Hacker says she can hardly call a friend to come over and peel fruit when she gets the midnight munchies.
Just hours after the orange photo went viral, Whole Foods tweeted that the product was a mistake and pulled it from the shelves: “We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.” (Though the next day the chain shared a punny photo of peeled oranges in Mason jars, making the product’s ultimate fate unclear.)
The humble orange may seem like a strange candidate for pre-peeling but, as Hacker points out, it’s no different from bagged salads, shelled seeds or baby carrots.
Kim Sauder, who is a Ph.D. candidate in disability studies, suffers from limited hand dexterity.
In her blog, “Crippled Scholar,” she writes that “Preparing food with limited mobility is both hugely time consuming and potentially dangerous.”
It’s irrelevant whether the product was actually designed for disabled people, Sauder says, because “things that are accidentally accessible are marketed and available to everyone and are thus likely to be more easily available.”
As for the cost of pre-prepared foods, Sauder writes that “it is easier to budget for the extra dollar or two that prepared fruits and vegetables are going to cost every couple weeks than the dozens or hundreds of dollars buying adapted cooking equipment will cost upfront.”
She says she doesn’t want to see “people throwing disabled people under the bus because they’d rather get rid of a product than figure out a way to deliver it sustainably.”