Canning of food was a recent, and expensive innovation and refrigeration was in its infancy; but Jaffa oranges were big business.
If 90% of the population across almost all of the world were engaged in agriculture it was because subsistence-plus farming was still a primary economic force. Markets in food have existed for millennia but depended first on local sustainability.
The emergence of industrialisation may have been tipping the balance in places such as London, Liverpool, Boston, and Paris but the people who worked those engines still needed to be fed. The new-fangled machines could do more, more quickly and with fewer workers. Producing much more, and much more cheaply was good for some, but newly unemployed men also had families to feed. And Jaffa oranges were already big business.
On the new railways perishable foods could get to markets further afield much more quickly and command higher prices than locally. But the greater part of the world didn’t yet have railways. And what was the point of producing larger quantities of food if all it did was depress the price or rot? What was needed was more mouths to feed, but only if they could afford to be fed. And if I could sell at a higher price 50 miles away, why not nearer home.
The relationship between technological development, better public health, improving understanding of the science of medicine, education and public policy evolved on an uncertain and erratic trajectory. The beginnings of our ‘globalisation’, hindered and helped by our apparently voracious appetite for conflict. And Jaffa was exporting oranges.
In the American ‘Wild West’ stockmen fought with farmers. Slavery was recent history, and more than half the world had never seen any kind of engine not powered by a horse, an ox or the wind. The Western traveller could look down with supercilious eye at the dusty peasants on streets and fields from Rio to Caracas, from Senegal to Cairo, from Baghdad to Bengal and Calcutta to Shanghai. Spices travelled well, occupied little space and commanded a premium price; and Jaffa oranges were doing good business.
Most of ‘America’ didn’t exist and that which did was generally empty. So too, Canada and much of South America and Africa existed as continents, but nations with today’s national boundaries for the most part did not. Sure there were tribal boundaries, some of which emerged to form the nations of today. But the frequent and ongoing conflicts demonstrate that the boundary settlements had little to do with the reality of people’s tribal or geographic affiliations. And Jaffa oranges travelled well.
People alive in 1850 would hardly recognise the world of 1950, it wasn’t the same. Where most had worked the land for themselves or, more likely, an elite few, the New World contained trains and planes, motor cars and buses, and factories belching smoke as they produced ever more things unimaginable 100 years before. And Jaffa oranges were still big business.
Island people had always known themselves to be a people demarcated, to an extent, by the surrounding water. But lines arbitrarily drawn by the 1950’s did not, for the most part, exist in 1850, even less so a half-century earlier, including in Europe. While Jaffa oranges were still juicy business.
So, Palestine was little different from much of the world, and better than most. Much is rightly made of the corruption and incompetence of the decaying and declining Ottoman Turkish Empire. But ignoring the corruption and incompetence of other early empires – France, Great Britain, Russia, China – leads to false history, where facts become false because, being partial, they mislead. The best lies are always those that begin with a truth.
So, never forget, Jaffa oranges were big business… And Jaffa was Palestinian; until …