Disclaimer: Any mention of the squeezing of lemons refers to the actual squeezing of actual lemons. Unfortunately, as I wrote this post, both Robert Johnson and Led Zeppelin kept popping into my head. I apologise profusely for any offence caused should you be a prude like me. Feel free to blame the 2 naughty Roberts for dirtying up the phrase…
In 1997, U2 embarked on their Popmart World Tour. The costumes and stage for the live show were extravagant and bombastic, all meant to be a satire on consumerism and its how its effects are cheapening our society. Although I was too young to attend the concert, I distinctly remember hearing someone on the radio describe how the band had made their entrance by emerging from a giant lemon.
From U2 to the grocery aisle
Flash forward 21 years and I’m cruising down the grocery aisles with my trolley. I’m stopped dead in my tracks, my expression souring suddenly, as my eyes happen upon a giant bag containing tiny sachets, each holding exactly 15ml of “Fresh Lemon Juice”. You would have been forgiven for thinking that the disapproving look on my face was a result of drinking the contents of that entire packet. While bottles of the stuff have existed for years, this particular packets-within-a-packet version was a step too far for me.
Have we really allowed ourselves to become so brainwashed by a world of so-called convenience that not only can we no longer perform the simple task of squeezing a lemon, but seemingly we can cannot measure the resultant liquid either?
The price of convenience
Lemons are possibly one of the most handy foodstuffs you can find in the kitchen. They come in a wonderfully thick skin which requires no special treatment or packaging to keep its contents from spoiling before they get used. They last in the fruit bowl, as is, for what seems like forever. In years gone by, the production of lemon juice possibly went a little something like: Lemon is picked. Lemon is transported to store. Lemon is bought. Lemon is cut and squeezed as and when required. If you needed a little juice, you squeezed gently. If you needed more, you squeezed harder.
Perhaps I’m naive, but this seems like the most logical and cost effective way to get this tiny, delicious citrus into our food.
In a typically human way, we’ve managed to complicate this process somewhat. Nowadays the juice is squeezed out of the fruit on our behalf. Once outside of its natural container, some sort of preservative needs to be added to ensure it doesn’t spoil. It’s then repackaged before being shipped off to a place we can buy it.
No longer just paying for the “pick and transport” method, we now have to factor in the cost of the processing, additives and packaging too. There are the health costs attributed to the addition of the various preservatives and not forgetting the environmental costs of copious amounts of single-use plastic generated by this pre-bottled (and now pre-sacheted) product. We need to factor in the taste difference between the fresh and the processed too.
Beyond the humble lemon
It’s not just lemons either. Pre-mixed spices and sauces have been on the market for years. More and more meat seems to be coming in tetra-pak boxes. For those who break out into a cold sweat at the thought of biting into a fruit that looks like it’s just dropped off the tree, fear not – it can now be bought neatly pre-sliced. There are also the ever present pre-packaged meals gracing the fridge and freezer sections of the grocery shop.
Don’t get me wrong – I am fully aware of how limited our time is. Office hours might state 9 to 5 but factoring in traffic, for many it’s more like 7 to 7. Add in after-hours business dinners, double-booked social engagements, almost forgotten deadlines, nagging kids, howling pets and sheer exhaustion among myriad other normal life stuff… We could all certainly use an aid or two to assist us in our time-pressured existences.
But in exchange for flavour, our health and the environment, how much is all this convenience worth in the long run? If we think about it, convenience tends to be rather inconvenient in more ways than one.
I think U2 were definitely onto something back in ‘97. Indeed, what better way to illustrate how convenience and consumerism have slowly eaten away at our ability to perform tasks as easy as squeezing the juice from a lemon. It’s up to you and me to opt out.
Well, when it comes to lemons, at least!