OJ for breakfast: a look at history

The Baltimore Sun

I can't drink cold orange juice first thing in the morning, but I am curious as to when and where this practice began.

Drinking orange juice at breakfast is a peculiarly American custom, one whose story recalls those quintessentially American values: marketing and technological innovation.

In his just-published book, Citrus: A History, retired chemistry professor Pierre Laszlo recounts the providential hookup of the California Fruit Growers Exchange (an organization that was later to become Sunkist) with advertising copywriter Albert D. Lasker.

In the early years of the 20th century, oranges were consumed principally as fresh, whole fruit. In 1916, when California growers were stuck with an overabundance of oranges, Lasker came up with the slogan, "Drink an orange." This, according to Laszlo, was the moment at which juice consumption began to outstrip fruit consumption.

In the aftermath of the 1918-19 worldwide flu pandemic, consumers were developing a heightened awareness of healthful foods, and orange juice was known to contain two hot nutritional properties, calcium and vitamin C. According to Andrew F. Smith, editor of The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, "prior to the 1920s, most Americans didn't consume a lot of orange juice. By the 1930s, it was the second-most-popular breakfast drink after coffee."

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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