I’ve never eaten an orange, I’ve never peeled an orange, I don’t drink orange juice, and I’ll never eat anything orange-flavored. But I know for a fact that I hate them. In fact, the sight and smell of an orange makes me nauseated and antsy. When asked why I suffer from this bizarre affliction, I usually lie and tell people that I’m allergic and will go into anaphylactic shock if I so much as touch an orange. I’ve found that it’s far easier to lie than answer the inevitable inane follow-up questions that come with the statement “I hate oranges:” “You’ve never eat one before?!” “What about clementines?” “What about tangerines?” “What about blood oranges?”
For someone who hates oranges so much, I’ve actually never really thought about why—I’ve just accepted it as a part of my personality and have no plans to change that. I’ve always assumed there was a reason somewhere—deep within my brain. So I decided to try and figure out why: I spoke to a panel of allergists, a psychiatrist, and my mom in search of the answer.
The first thing I needed to figure out was if my aversion to oranges was, in fact, an allergy to citrus fruit. My first stop on my investigation was a phone call with a man named Tim Mainardi. Dr. Mainardi is a physician, researcher and educator—meaning he knows a lot about how food affects your body. He’s certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. We spoke at length about my—ahem—distaste of oranges.
“In our own world, we see a tremendous amount of food fear… but typically in patients who have already had allergic reactions,” starts Mainardi. “It comes in a few flavors: the people who fear specific foods, people with severe nut or egg allergies. A great majority of those allergic to eggs or milk actually grow out of it and, at some point—as an allergic—you have to test that.”
He goes on to describe the fear that forms in young children—and even adults—who come face to face with the foods that have sent them into anaphylactic shock. To test if the allergy is still there, Mainardi and his team actually administer small amounts of the food to the people who’ve previously had bad reactions. “When you’re told, over and over, that a certain food is going to kill you and suddenly it’s put in front of you to eat… psychologically it’s scary. That’s one specific food allergy fear, because there’s a reason.”
The thought of being forced to eat an orange is among my top fears. I’d rather eat a snake, provided that snake was defanged and prepared nicely.
Mainaidi pauses, “There might be something there for you—” he says. “Because it’s just the one food—did you have an allergic reaction to an orange at a young age?” I pause to wrack my brain, desperately trying to conjure up anything that could answer my quandry
“No,” I say, “I’ve never eaten had a bite of an orange and my parents don’t remember me ever eating one and getting sick.”
“You know what you have to do, though; eat an orange,” says Dr. Mainardi with a laugh. “Maybe your parents are lying about it.”
I laugh along with him until I recall the time I was 17 and the family cat went missing. I remember waking up one morning and asking my parents where our large white housecat, Fiji, had gone. We looked around the house, but shrugged it off, assuming he’d gone outside. A week later, with no re-emergence of Fiji, we concluded he had run away. I actually didn’t think too much about it until casually bringing up his disappearance a few years later. My parents told me the truth: that Fiji had suffered some kind of major heart attack on my bed and fallen dead to the floor. They scooped him up from my room while I was asleep and buried him in my front yard. So, yeah, my parents sometimes lied to me to ensure my happiness and mental stability.
With that memory fresh in my mind, I went to my psychiatrist (who asked me not to disclose her name) to see if this aversion was in my mind, instead of my immune system. Was there a repressed memory I wasn’t remembering? Was this my body’s brilliant method of saving itself from a potentially life-ending allergy?!
“It’s not a totally unusual thing. I’ve encountered clients who get nauseous at the thought of certain foods. It’s a phobia. It’s a phobia of an… orange. I mean, it’s certainly interesting. Anxiety kind of works like that—if you don’t intervene to work through it, it gets worse and worse and worse. For example, if you’re on the subway and get a panic attack, you start avoiding the subway. And, because you avoid it, you start to associate the subway with fear and it gets worse. It sounds like this is what happened to you and oranges. Your anxiety has probably perpetuated around it, because I assume your parents were just like: ‘you don’t need to eat an orange.’”
I tell her that I actually often have to remind my parents that I don’t eat oranges. On several occasions, they’ve offered me orange-flavored seltzer or orange-flavored candies that I have to turn down and then subsequently explain why. My doctor seems shocked by this—but, let’s be real, these were the people who thought 17 was too young an age to tell me the truth about my dead cat. If something horrific did happen to me, I doubt they’d feel comfortable enough to break the news out of fear of me having a psychotic episode.
“Well, you know what you should do,” says my doctor, “I think you should eat an orange. On Facebook live!”
Frustrated by the lack of answers and empathy, I took to the internet to see if there were any published studies to back up my hypothesis that some people are just scared of fruit for no goddamn reason at all. I find an essay supporting the statements made by both doctors regarding legitimate allergic reactions, triggering food phobias, as well as the eating habits of those suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia. I decide that my last shred of hope relies on my mother and father. I called them up and explain the situation.
“Well,” my mother began, “There was that time when you were a toddler and I peeled an orange for you to eat. You bit into the orange segment and it squirted you in the eye and you were screaming in pain and I had to drag you to the bathroom and rinse your eye with water.”
My stomach dropped to my feet and suddenly my mouth watered like it does when you’re about to dry heave.
“Could that be it? I never gave it much thought because something was always happening to you—like mass vomiting, diarrhea, broken bones, et cetera. It has to be! You were screaming at the top of your lungs and I was terrified that I had blinded you!”
I asked her specify when this was and she says it happened around the age of two, a time where I wouldn’t retain the memory, but the experience would stick around and influence the rest of my life. That must’ve been it.
What really struck me about her response is how spot-on it and by-the-books it turned out to be. I was sure—positive—that my fear was rooted in nothing, and with one simple childhood story, my mother changed everything.
Where do we go from here? Both the allergist and my psychiatrist pushed the idea of finally trying an orange and conquering my fear. But for now, oranges? You stay in your lane. I’ll stay in mine. While I’m not proud of my fear, I’ve come to appreciate my foible. It’s my thing—an ice breaker I can use on a stranger or during two truths and a lie. And you can call me stubborn—believe me, I get it. It’s ridiculous how adamant I am about avoiding oranges, but I’m not gonna do it. Sure, I could actually enjoy the fruit. It might happen… and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
So, what did I learn? There’s no reason to fear oranges. My fruit-in-the-eye experience scarred me and that’s enough reason to continue my stubborn ways. Call me crazy, but I’m just trying to protect a vital human sense. More oranges for the rest of the world, I guess.