Whole Foods and the Pre-Peeled Orange Debacle

Fighting to be Understood: Living with ‘Invisible Disabilties’
May 17, 2016
Life Changing Technology for People with Disabilities
May 31, 2016

Back in March of this year, Whole Foods Market became the center of an internet firestorm when a customer, Nathalie Gordon, tweeted a picture of pre­peeled and packaged oranges with the caption “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.” Snarky? For sure. Correct? More or less. Humorous? Yeah, you can’t lie about that. Warranted? Probably not. Most consumers felt that this was the ultimate bourgeois thing that could be done and the epitome of Whole Foods in one solitary product, calling it “lazy”, but while they were busy firing tweets at the company, others were praising them for a reason that many wouldn’t expect.

Consider disability studies scholar Kim Sauder, who blogged about the product:

As a person with limited hand dexterity, I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food. I actively avoid eating oranges, not because I dislike them (they are definitely tasty) but because I have so much difficulty peeling them. Any attempt to peel an orange is likely to result in an unappetizing mess because I’ve squeezed the orange to hard while trying to maneuver it for peel removal.

I don’t have access to peeled oranges from my grocery store though I’d probably take advantage of them if I did. I do buy pre­cut vegetables all the time because it is more convenient and safer for me to do so. …

Anything that helps make my regular acts of daily life safer and more convenient is always a plus. So I was one of a number of disabled people who pushed back against the wholesale shaming of pre­prepared foods.

Sauder wasn’t alone in her appreciation for the newly accessible product. Others took to Twitter after Whole Foods had tweeted about the products removal saying things like “this is terrible. There are a lot of people who, for many reasons (arthritis for one) would have great diff(iculty) peeling an orange” and “I’m so sorry you’ve decided to do that. I have rheumatoid disease and it’s often impossible to peel an orange,” another wrote.

Sometimes, people are quick to judge something that makes life easier, much like peeling an orange, but don’t forget that there are several other items in the same realm that are pre­cut and packaged. You never hear anyone complaining about sliced watermelon in the produce section of a grocery store or a frozen bag of onions that can help with a quick dinner. These things are never brought up, and sure, it mostly has to do with the fact that Whole Foods does have an unhealthy relationship with plastic, but most people are missing the point. Like Kim Sauder said, if she had access to more pre­prepared fruits and vegetables at her local grocery store, she would probably take advantage of it. The point is giving disabled people easier access to healthier food.

If we take a step back and remove all of the preconceived issues we may have with Whole Foods from the picture you can see what they’re trying to do. Yes, they’ve sold “asparagus water” which was ridiculous, yes, they utilize plastic far more than they should, but at the end of the day, the prepackaged orange is a good thing, even if some people can’t see it. Disabled consumers don’t get a lot of help from grocery stores with foods that come in peels or must be cut, so to have something like this is great for anyone in need.