My darling Clementine
By Jennifer M. Latzke
When I re-tell this story around my unofficial Facebook self-help group, I say it all started innocently when I picked up my first bag of Sun Pacific branded Cuties—those handy easy-to-peel and eat California Clementines—sometime around Christmas last year.
I was on the road, and I’d stopped by a grocery store to get some snacks for the drive. There in the fresh fruit section was a sale on Cuties. And, feeling particularly healthy that day, I bought them. They were simple to peel, didn’t have seeds and didn’t leave a mess in the truck. They were a perfect road trip snack.
I quickly became a four-Cutie-a-day habitual peeler. In no time I was hooked on these sweet and seedless citrus. They had replaced my chocolate cravings, and I was finding myself reaching for a Cutie instead of potato chips at night.
If having a perpetually orange fingernail is wrong, I didn’t want to be right.
And then, April rolled around, and my connection dried up. I searched everywhere. I accosted the stockers in the fresh fruit section of every grocery store looking for that sweet Vitamin C hookup.
And that’s when I was re-introduced to the concept of “seasonally available.”
You see, Cuties and other knockoff brands of Clementines, Navels, Valencias, Minneola Tangelos and similar seedless mandarin oranges are only available from the fall through the spring. And, unlike other items in the fresh fruit aisle, there are no imports to take their place. Only canned mandarins. Once the fresh season is done, that’s it.
All this got me to thinking—well, once I got over my disappointment and my withdrawal symptoms subsided—how spoiled have I become as a U.S. consumer? Talk about your #firstworldproblems.
Not once did I question that there would be a season for my favorite citrus fruit. After all, we have all sorts of fruits and vegetables available virtually year-round. Thanks to improvements in production and packing methods, as well as the import and export markets, we here in the United States can get almost anything at any time that is convenient to us. Provided we’re willing to pay the cost.
It was only a few generations back that advancements in commercial canning methods made food safer to store and safer to eat year round. The first frozen dinners—which really did taste like cardboard—came right about the time my grandmother was raising her teenage children and holding a job outside of the home. My mother remembers when botulism, salmonella and listeria were food safety threats to putting three meals a day on the table for her young family. I can remember buying bread at the store and having it last only a couple of days before it got mold spots on it at home.
Today, though, I can walk up and down the frozen food section at my grocery store and select all sorts of food items, and the quality will be guaranteed to be just as good as the fresh versions. Using natural additives, today’s commercial bakeries have improved the shelf life of their breads. And the safety of all our food is vastly improved over that of my grandmother and great-grandmother’s eras.
All it took was the absence of one little orange ball of sweetness to remind me that we truly live in a blessed era of food availability.
So, until the fall when we meet again, happy trails, my darling Clementine.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.