i get a lot of crap email. i spend a portion of my day hitting the delete key and filtering through to the stuff that is even remotely relevant to me. occasionally i get a few forwards from family, and occasionally it saddens me to see how ignorant and racist they are. rather than think too long about how these ignorant and racist emails reflect on the family that sent them, i choose to ignore them and move on.
today, however, i got something that seriously blew my mind.
one of the general themes of the racist brand of forwards i get is that outsourcing or getting any kind of products from abroad hurts our country. (we’ll set aside, for a moment, the socio-economic implications in how our economy would really be crippled if we stopped importing products altogether, suffice it to say that we’ve been importing ever since the first pilgrims jumped on the boat from England.) therefore, it’s no surprise that the title of this email is “DO IT YOURSELF, AMERICA.”
So here is an actual excerpt of the email, first paragraph:
I WAS BUYING FOOD THE OTHER DAY AT THE COUNTRY MARKET. ON THE LABEL OF SOME PRODUCTS IT SAID FROM CHINA. FOR EXAMPLE THE” OUR FAMILY” BRAND OF THE MANDARIN ORANGES SAYS RIGHT ON THE CAN FROM CHINA I WAS SHOCKED!!…
it then proceeds into a rant about how we should be producing our own food rather than importing “inferior” products from abroad. really? mandarin oranges? from china? you don’t say.
a quick glance at etymonline — the online etymology dictionary — will reveal that the origin of the word mandarin refers to a Chinese official. the usage of the word Mandarin, as in Mandarin Chinese, came about by referring to the specific dialect used by officials and educated people, i.e. the Mandarins. the mandarin oranges were so named because their color resembled the color of the robes worn by…Mandarins.
wiki’ing “manarin orange” casts an even harsher light on the ridiculousness of the above statement. in the middle of the article is a chart showing the top 10 countries producing mandarin oranges. not only does the united states not even rank on this chart, but the number one producer of mandarin oranges? china. really? really.
so, let’s summarize: mandarin oranges are named after mandarins, which was a type of chinese official, because the color of their robes resembled the color of the fruit. the world’s largest producer of mandarin oranges is, no surprise here, china — by a significant margin. to beat a dead horse, and because the united states wasn’t even listed in the top 10 countries producing mandarin oranges, i tried to find out where dole — one of the u.s. alternatives the email suggests — gets their mandarins. dole’s own website says that their mandarin oranges are actually japanese satsuma oranges. i wonder where those come from.
the thing that gets me isn’t the us-vs.-them mentality, or the racism inherent in the belief that products from China are, by their nature, inferior. it’s the fact that this argument was started over mandarin oranges. not just any oranges, mandarin. which are, by default, chinese. i mean, it’s in the name — not of the brand, but of the fruit.
i’m glad we have a president who is an intelligent black man, and i’m glad he’s selected a woman from a poor puerto rican family — whose father didn’t speak english — to be a supreme court justice, if, for no other reason, than because it forces people to confront others with a different heritage — one that’s obvious by their physical characteristics. but we, as a wired culture, need to be responsible about the information we digest. not only is it easy to perpetuate blatant lies and twist information, but in our digital culture it is just as easy to publish those falsehoods to a wide audience. if one didn’t already know, it would take maybe five minutes to learn that mandarin oranges come from china, and maybe then the moral outrage about chinese mandarin oranges would be diffused somewhat. i’m not against favoring local producers — in fact, i buy local foods if and whenever possible. but just because it comes from another country doesn’t mean it’s tainted. however, i encourage people to read labels, buy fair trade products, buy local, buy organic — these things are good not only for you as a conscientious consumer but for the environment, for the workers plowing the fields, and for your body.
meanwhile, i’m less interested in the fact that mandarin oranges were imported from china and more interested in why dole chose not to publish the fact that their “mandarin oranges” were actually satsuma oranges, and where they got their oranges from.
in doing research for this post, i stumbled across GoodGuide, a searchable index that publishes information about how producers rank in terms of health, environmental impact, and the working conditions for their employees, which looks pretty freaking awesome, and makes deciding what to do with the information printed on labels much easier and gives it a context in comparison with other manufacturers. i think the next wave would be an iphone app or a handheld device that you could take into the store with you, scan a barcode, and then pull up all the relevant information about that product laid out like what this site does.