Consuming Nature: Fresh Fruit, Processed Juice, and the Remaking of the Florida Orange, 1877-2014

2014-08-01T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Robert Hutchings
This dissertation complicates popular and academic perceptions of
agribusiness as a hegemonic and environmentally destructive force. Using Florida’s
orange industry as an example, I focus on the life cycle of oranges—their production,
distribution, and consumption—and the interrelated activities of the people involved
in each stage. I argue that agribusiness is heavily dependent upon and constrained by
the attitudes and behaviors of different groups of people within and outside the
industry, and, because all of these interactions revolve around a commodity subject to
the whims of nature, that nature ultimately sets the parameters of the agricultural
enterprise.

During the first half of the twentieth century, distributors of Florida oranges
exercised their influence over the people in the production stage by transporting and
storing fruit according to their own cost-benefit analyses. In the process, they often let
fruit spoil at producers’ expense. Consumers exercised influence through their buying
power. Their decision to buy or not buy was rooted in assumptions about quality,
novelty, and exoticism, and these assumptions often more closely matched
Californian growers’ environmental realities than Florida growers’.

As a consequence of these two forces, Florida growers viewed the 1945
development of frozen concentrated orange juice as a technological fix to joint
environmental and market dilemmas. The juice was an enormous success with
consumers, and growers responded by exponentially expanding acreage. Yet, the fix
was ultimately a mixed blessing for growers. Juice processing companies, most of
which were owned by large national food corporations, took over the orange industry
and transformed growers into de facto employees. Equally significant for both
processors and growers was the fact that frozen juice necessitated constant
refrigeration to prevent spoilage, leaving them more reliant upon distributors than
ever before. It was also very capital intensive and thus they were more reliant upon
consumers than ever before as well. As a result, although Florida’s orange industry
became a multi-billion-dollar entity, the shift to frozen orange juice paradoxically
amplified rather than mitigated growers’ and processors’ struggle to make nature
profitable.