Weather to Waste?

If a cold spell kills a crop, is it food waste? Spurred by the California orange freeze, someone asked me that question this week. I’ve been pondering this “If a tree falls”-type puzzler ever since.

First, let me say that I’m focusing on food that is squandered due to human decisions. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore this sad news from a waste perspective. Unfortunately, most of the media reports do so. The articles I’ve read on the topic focus on how the freeze will affect individuals’ and companies’ bottom lines. Business trumps all.

The L.A. Times’ lead was dollar-oriented: “Orange Prices Rise as Supplies Plunge.” Meanwhile, a piece by the BBC speculated that the price of an orange will triple (from $0.50 to $1.50). And the BBC reported:

While Florida grows more oranges, these are mainly used to be turned into juice. Since California plays a small role in that market, juice prices are unlikely to see any change.

While that’s good news for an avowed O.J. drinker like me, media reports fail to ponder the larger question of wasted crops. Perhaps questions like those aren’t the domain of newspaper or broadcast journalism. But I’d imagine the issue would arise in some form. Not that I’ve seen. 

What’s more, efforts to salvage oranges from the freeze seem to be half-hearted. The L.A. Times reported from a packing facility in Ventura County, Calif: “Only a few sorters were working on what was left of fruit picked before the cold snap hit last week.”

Adverse weather–be it droughts, hurricanes or freezing temperatures–has always caused waste. To a certain extent, it always will. But I’d love to see some reporter ask what happens to all these frost-damaged oranges and tangerines. Are they composted or sent to the landfill? Not to mention, how does this cold snap (The L.A. Times’ phrase, not mine) affect the growers.

While this freeze is a waste of money, it also squanders other resources–the labor of planting, the oil to fertilize, and, yes, the food that will never be. Let’s hope the growers compost these frozen crops. That way, this year’s oranges aren’t a total waste–they’ll help make next season bear fruit.

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