People love to make fun of Whole Foods. It makes sense—the Austin-based company sells silly things sometimes; they have goofy ideas about what might lead people to visit their stores; and sometimes they just stick asparagus stalks in water and then sell it for $6 as “asparagus water.” So when people started hating on Whole Foods over the weekend for the pre-peeled oranges they were selling, it sounded like more of the same: a store that people nickname “Whole Paycheck” overcharging for a product that people have been enjoying just fine without their help for centuries. Silly Whole Foods!
If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them. pic.twitter.com/00YECaHB4D
— Nathalie Gordon (@awlilnatty) March 3, 2016
Nearly 100,000 people have retweeted the tweet from advertising creative Nathalie Gordon calling out the absurdity of selling a fruit that comes in its own peel in a plastic container. The pressure from people who recognize that it looks silly caused the company to immediately reverse its position. Within hours of Gordon’s tweet, Whole Foods apologized and promised to stop selling the peeled oranges in a plastic container.
@awlilnatty Definitely our mistake. These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.
— Whole Foods Market (@WholeFoods) March 3, 2016
All’s well that ends well, right? As the Today Show put it, Whole Foods was successfully shamed into dropping the product, while the crunchy lifesyle site Global Citizen declared that “it looks like this whole Internet activism thing is here to stay.”
But there’s another side to the self-righteous mockery of Whole Foods selling pre-peeled oranges, which is that people with disabilities like arthritis, Parkinson’s, and other conditions that limit the amount of dexterity they possess in their hands can actually really benefit from things like pre-peeled oranges. While someone like Gordon can look at a plastic container with a peeled orange in it and see waste and unchecked laziness, someone who hasn’t been able to eat oranges in a few years because they can’t peel them might see an opportunity to enjoy a healthy and delicious snack again.
A blogger who writes at Crippled Scholar who has cerebral palsy explained that perspective on the issue in a post that summarized the sort of responses that they saw on Twitter when they tried to explain that, far from being wasteful, pre-peeled oranges actually improved life for people who can’t otherwise eat the fruit.
[A]rguments I got were,
Peeled oranges have a shorter shelf life so how convenient are they really?
This is true and it indicates just how much planning has to go into living while disabled. I have to plan my meals around the fresh produce I buy more strictly that others because I buy some things precut. This can be inconvenient but it pales in comparison to being forced to rely more heavily on canned or other processed foods that have a longer shelf life. My disability doesn’t disappear just because a whole head of cauliflower will last longer in my fridge than smaller prepared florettes.
Peeled oranges are certainly going to cost more than unpeeled and isn’t that a barrier?
Also true but here’s the thing, being disabled is expensive and costs for accessible products can be prohibitive. It is however 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 up front.
It’s striking that, when faced with a disabled person saying “this product has merit for me,” people who only developed an opinion on the idea of selling pre-peeled oranges moments earlier felt the need to argue about it. It’s certainly reasonable, if you don’t know anyone who has trouble doing things like peeling an orange, to see a product like that and ask, “Are people really that lazy nowadays?” But when you’re reminded that there are people who have challenges that you don’t, and that those challenges make something that seems silly to you actually useful to someone else, it’s strange to keep arguing.
@toni_snark You've survived this long without them you will continue to do so.
— Ssss (@realtinydancer) March 5, 2016
All of this is especially curious because Whole Foods sells plenty of other fruits and vegetables in plastic containers. Look at the refrigerated wall at any Whole Foods—or most other supermarkets—and you’ll find pre-cut pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, and more all for sale, all stuffed into a plastic container.
Like oranges, those fruits all come pre-wrapped by nature. There’s no need to bring plastic or a surcharge into the transaction if a person wants to enjoy a delicious pineapple—they can buy it and cut it up at home themselves, or maybe find a handy rock to smash open the outer layer to consume the tasty fruit within. Applying enough pressure to a watermelon rind with your thumbs will crack that sucker open without any tools, and then anybody can simply dig in and eat up the delightful red flesh with their bare hands.
The difference, mostly, is that peeling an orange—for people whose hands work the way that human hands were designed to work—is maybe a two on the inconvenience scale, while getting to the tasty part of a pineapple or a cantaloupe is more like a six or a seven. We can all understand the utility of buying pre-cut pineapple—how else are you going to eat it on your lunch hour?—but oranges just seem super lazy and wasteful.
Ultimately, though, the difference is just one of perspective: For some people, peeling an orange isn’t much easier than cracking a cantaloupe, and clinging to self-righteous jokes about laziness and Whole Foods’ hypocrisy when confronted with that isn’t a great look.