Should Supermarkets Sell Pre-Peeled Fruit?

Why a wry tweet about produce set off a debate about packaging, disability, and the environment.

Image via Twitter user @awlilnatty

Fruit, as they say, is nature’s candy. An apple or banana fits neatly into your hand, and comes packaged in its own perfect wrapping, to keep its sweet insides from contamination and the withering effects of rot. This is why consumers have been expressing dismay and amusement over Whole Foods’ decision to sell fruit with the peel already removed, necessitating wasteful plastic packaging.

Last night Nathalie Gordon, a London-based advertising creative, tweeted a picture showing pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers. “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them,” she wrote. Her keen, snarky observation garnered cheers—in less than a day, the line has been retweeted more than 60,000 times.

“Have we gotten that lazy and crazy that we can’t even peel our own orange?” read one reply to Gordon’s tweet. “The insanity never stops.”

The supermarket chain, noticing the backlash against the seeming absurdity of its product choice, was duly chastised, coming back at Gordon with a promise to stop selling oranges in this way. “Definitely our mistake,” Whole Foods’ Twitter account replied. “These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.”

A Whole Foods spokesperson told the Huffington Post regarding the incident, “A lot of our customers love the convenience of our cut produce offerings, but this was a simple case where a handful of stores experimented with a seasonal product spotlight that wasn’t fully thought through.”

I mean, can you imagine? Peeling oranges just to end up using extra plastic, which chokes our seas, leeches into our food, and pollutes our beautiful planet? Ridiculous.

Or is it?

Soon after Gordon’s tweet blew up, the backlash to the backlash began. As Mashable points out, Twitter users began chiming in to alert Gordon and others riding her lollercoaster that many people have difficulty peeling fruit on their own. While this packaging choice might not, in fact, be aimed at those people, Twitter users explained, they still benefit from the convenience of products—ludicrous as they might seem at first—like pre-peeled fruit.

In response to Whole Foods’ announcement that it would stop selling the pre-peeled oranges, one Twitter user pleaded, “Please dont. A lot of ppl with disabilities like arthritis see them as a lifesaver, and don’t appreciate the ‘joke.’” “I'm so sorry you've decided to do that,” another user told Whole Foods. “I have rheumatoid disease and it’s often impossible to peel an orange.”

So surely this exchange of ideas would result in a rational back-and-forth, weighing the relative responsibilities and needs of both marginalized communities and the environment, right? Haha, right. This is some of the discourse that followed:

As someone who both suffers from painful arthritis (my hands hurt typing this right now) and likes to consider himself an individual who gives a shit about the environment, I can really see both sides of the issue. On a large scale, this kind of packaging contributes to terrible habits, a culture that puts convenience before conservational prudence, and the trashing of Earth. On the other hand, can’t we find ways to contribute to a healthier planet that don’t negatively impact the lives of marginalized people? Shouldn’t everybody be able to enjoy fruit? Just because someone is afflicted with a trying medical condition, or born different, they shouldn’t be cut off from accessing fresh produce.

I don’t know what the answer is here. One thing’s for sure, though: Individually packaging unpeeled bananas in Styrofoam trays is probably not helping anyone.

Photo via Twitter user @nikolaibeilharz

Julian Meehan

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