Why does drinking juice seem to go hand-in-hand with childhood? Ever since I became a parent, I’ve noticed that orange juice is everywhere that children are – play groups, nursery schools, birthday parties, and post-extracurricular activities. For some reason, it’s assumed that children should always drink orange juice because "it is healthy and contains vitamin C.” Unfortunately, that is a serious misconception. Juice of any kind is not particularly healthy, and contains as much sugar as a can of soda, which is the last thing children struggling with obesity or diabetes need in their diets.
I read a very interesting article in The Atlantic about the history of orange juice and its rise in popularity over the past century, and learned that it is even nastier than I thought. Orange juice does not deserve the reputation it enjoys as a healthy drink, nor should it be part of the ‘balanced breakfast’ that we’ve been taught to recognize. Far from being fresh, the so-called “freshly squeezed, not-from-concentrate, homestyle” orange juice that consumers buy in cartons or Tetra-Paks is often more than a year old.
“Almost everybody drinks orange juice and is misinformed about what it is they are drinking,” writes Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice. The only way orange juice can taste the way it does is thanks to “flavor packs,” the citrus industry’s latest technological development:
“Oils and essences are extracted from the oranges and then sold to a flavor manufacturer who concocts a carefully composed flavor pack customized to the company’s flavor specifications. The juice, which has been patiently sitting in storage sometimes for more than a year, is then pumped with these packs to restore its aroma and taste, which by this point have been thoroughly annihilated.”
Yuck. This is yet another example of how the food industry has convinced consumers that a processed product is somehow better than its original source. There’s no reason why people can’t stick with water for hydration and enjoy a freshly peeled orange for flavor and a dose of real vitamin C. But that combination doesn’t have the same glitzy, empty health claims that a carton of orange juice does, nor does it have that sugary sweetness that our taste buds love so much.
It seems the rest of the world is catching on. Orange juice sales are at their lowest point in fifteen years, according to the Florida Department of Citrus, and even the British government is calling on a national fruit juice tax. I ditched orange juice a while ago when I realized that waxed paper cartons are not recyclable in my town, but now I’m happier than ever not to be feeding one-year-old, lab-created ‘flavor packs’ to my kids at breakfast. They deserve healthier food than that.