A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

For the love of George M's oranges.....

Yesterday evening I was languidly watching, as one does, Newsnight (BBC 2), wondering who was going to be on 'Newsnight Review' (luckily it was Bonnie Greer, whom I admire greatly), when up popped good-old George Monbiot to deconstruct the latest conspiracy theories about the current G7 summit. After a couple glasses of semillon, I have to confess that the G7 fades into a stream of only vaguely-apprehended consciousness. But on this occasion, I found myself focusing sharply, neither on George, nor on his undoubted words of Savonarola-like wisdom, but on a most delectable bowl of oranges so tastefully positioned on his table. All was set off by a delightful rustic jug of flowers. The screen seemed to transform itself into that most exquisite of nature morte, the 'Still Life with Oranges and Walnuts' by Luis Meléndez (1716-1780), which hangs in The National Gallery. What luscious, juicy, orangey-oranges they were too, deep, deep orange in colour! I could have died for the love of three of them!

But then a series of dark queries slowly formed in my sluggish brain. Where had they come from? Spain, as in the still life? South Africa? Israel even? Not, I frowned, from a Florida Bush, from the Evil Empire? Yet, surely (the oranges looked so good!), they would have had to have been flown or shipped in from somewhere warm and balmy, and then taken by long-distance lorry to some distribution point, and then sold on, eventually to land, so perfectly, on George's most gorgeous table? Were they organic, I mused? Or waxed? And what of the air miles, the road miles, the problems of trade, and those carbon dioxide emissions? George would not approve of this! Was it the BBC 'sexing up' the image?

Or, were these very kings of fruit grown here in one of those wonderful Victorian or Edwardian orangeries, like that by Lutyens at Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset? But, again, what of the energy involved and of the emissions? Or, indeed, with all this jolly 'global warming', perhaps George was thrilled to be able to grow them himself on a small bush in his house, or on his patio? But shouldn't we buy produce from those places with a natural competitive advantage?

Ah! Of course, yes. I suspect they were fair-trade oranges - 'Orange Aid' even! Or, perhaps George (or the Beeb) just forgot that oranges are not the only fruit. I'm sure George could explain.

Still, those oranges play on my mind, even on this bright, sharp morning - just think what they symbolise: trade, aid, empire, conquest, kingship, luxury, - nay the very history of the world.....

..... The sweet orange was probably native to sub-tropical China and Southeast Asia. Our word is derived from the Sanskrit. The Arabs were the first to mention citrus in their writings. The Moors brought the fruit to Spain, where it was highly esteemed medicinally and even in religious services. It was planted in Versailles in 1421. Columbus transported oranges to South America in 1493, and by 1587 Cuba was covered with them. Later, Spanish missionaries brought the precious fruit to California, establishing the first orange groves in the 1700s.....

And now, from somewhere in the world, there they were, beautiful, rich oranges, squeezed together on George's table top. It's known as globalisation, George. The world is orange.

Philip, off for a Kentish apple. "Pippin, Merry! Care for a second breakfast?"

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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