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You and Your Terrifying Orange Juice

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Confession! I do not drink much orange juice. I don't ever buy those giant, brightly-colored cartoon jugs that look like caricatures of life, those carefully-molded plastic things covered in scripty fonts and clip-art trees and pretty, hyper-saturated oranges made to look as if your own exploited Mexican laborer picked them five minutes ago and squeezed them into a drinking glass just for you, and then died.

I imagine if I lived in a different part of the country, had a few unruly kids and cared only for the price/convenience matrix most of the country lives by, I would, like millions of Americans, buy giant tubs of "All Natural" and "Grove-Made" and "Sunshine-Licked" and whatever else the misleading label claimed, thinking it fine, good enough, hey, the kids like it and who has the time to worry about juice?

I most certainly would not know that something like Simply Orange, which sounds so chaste and humble, is actually a creepy, Frankenstein-ian creation of the Coca-Cola corporation, and the manufacture of Simply Orange is one of the most ginormous, technologically-advanced, hyperindustrial processes you can imagine, and that this anything-but-simple process is sort of terrifying and miraculous and sad, all at once. Thanks, BusinessWeek, for enlightening/depressing me all over again. You rock.

This much we know: Few humans on earth fully grasp the scale and scope of America's dystopian industrial food production systems anymore, much less how those mega-systems are bleeding over to the rest of the world and changing not only what and how we eat, but how we think about food -- or rather, don't think about food, as the manufacturers and government bodies surely prefer.

Thoughtful books, awesome documentaries and Michelle Obama aside, only a fraction of Americans still have any idea where, how, and via whom our heavily-processed, factory-sanitized food hits the store, much less how harmful or degenerative most of those ingredients and processes are, which is exactly how venomous industrial farming leviathans like ConAgra, Cargill and Monsanto want it. Same as it ever was? Yes. Only much, much worse.

Here in Medialand, facts and figures prance on by via terrifying headlines, giving the finger to your better sense. Example: Did you know the meat industry still consumes a staggering 80 percent of all antibiotics in America? Or that industrial farms injected nearly 30 million pounds of it into your meat in 2011 alone? It's like the federal deficit, deep space or the sheer quantity of hate the Koch brothers have for everything you love: "Brain unable to process, just hope we don't die." That's all you get.

Nevertheless, the "America's heartland" myth prevails. Witness, please, the hilarious Funny or Die spoof of that saccharine "So God Made a Farmer" Dodge pickup truck commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. Try to count all the levels of shameless, sepia-toned bulls--t pandering in the original. Behold how the beloved family farm (which still exists, but barely) is but a crumb to be swallowed by heavily subsidized Big Agra, all to better help the Coca-Colas of the land make their factory-churned, algorithmic juice.

The wisdom is simple enough: You should not, common sense says, be able to buy a bottle of "fresh" orange juice all year round, in either Los Angeles or Alabama or Chicago, and have it taste exactly the same everywhere. Such bizarre uniformity is deeply antithetical to the gorgeous mess that is human existence, with its endless variables and dissimilar locales, not to mention those pesky things called "seasons."

Of course, we're way past that now. The fast food industry, population growth, industrial farming, and the wonders of chemistry have all colluded to convince us that sameness and uniformity are not merely safe and desirable (and profitable), but that to question those quasi-religious qualities is downright un-American.

Just ask conservatives, or the church, or the NRA, or even Starbucks or Yum! Brands: Anything existing outside the comfortable and numb, the factory-produced and the corporation-owned is to be suspect and should probably be deported, burned at the stake or shot, just for good measure. Now shut up and enjoy your Whopper.

Besides, let's face facts: There might be no way to feed 7 billion rapacious humans without factory farming, genetic engineering, billions of tons of pesticides, inventing violently-unnatural ways to maximize yield, strip out nutrition and engineer our experiences just so things like orange juice look, taste, feel, pour exactly the same everywhere. This is the argument. It's quite persuasive. It might also be partly true. Sort of.

But then again, not really. Here's the rub: Deep down, we know that sameness equals death. Conformity numbs the soul. Forced consistency kills the spirit, ingenuity, snuffs the very spark of why we are here.

Witness shopping malls. Witness those lifeless slabs of big-box stores every 15 miles off the freeway. Witness cruise ships and chain restaurants and the soul-numbing hell of Disneyland. Spend a significant amount of time in any of these places and watch your anima shrivel into karmic gristle.

It's not enough to say that we are not the same. That we are not here to look, act, eat, screw like everyone else. That it's all just an ugly illusion, foisted upon us by pale old men in ugly robes and shiny suits, seeking control, power and money.

You must go wider, see the staggering machinations and industrial practices involved in making places and products look, taste, feel the same.

Read the rest of this column by clicking here.

Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. He's also a well-known E-RYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...

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