As COVID-19 drags 2020’s health crisis into winter 2021, I feel as if we’re all cruising on a long voyage into the unknown. Sort of like centuries-ago seafarers sailed the oceans, or like polar adventurers plodded across trackless ice.

We all face a future of uncertainty not unlike that faced by explorers of yesteryear.

But at least our diet includes more fresh fruit than was available to Sir Ernest Shackleton or Captain Bly. Most of us ingest plenty of vitamin C, which means we won’t suffer from scurvy.

Scurvy is a disease caused by a severe and continuing deficiency of ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C. Early symptoms can include generally feeling unwell, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea. Late symptoms can include swollen and purplish gums that are prone to bleeding, loose teeth, bulging eyes, severe and easy bruising, and scaly dry skin.

The onset of scurvy symptoms depends on how long it takes for a person to use up their limited stores of vitamin C. The human body doesn’t make vitamin C. If a person ingests absolutely no vitamin C, the average onset of symptoms is about four weeks.

If you’ve heard of the condition, it probably was in relation to afflicted men working on sailing ships before the Industrial Revolution. Scurvy still exists in the world, though it’s quite rare.

People can suffer from scurvy if: they embark on a crash diet that excludes entire food groups; they go on a very restrictive diet in an attempt to manage an allergy; they suffer an eating disorder; they are unable because of age or mental state to monitor their diet and they don’t receive adequate care; or they completely neglect their diet.

Contrary to my first guess, neither margaritas nor screwdrivers provide sufficient vitamin C to ward off scurvy.

Science shows that good natural sources of vitamin C include liver, kidney, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwifruits and mangoes.

Mangoes have been in the news the last couple of weeks, at least in agricultural circles.

  • The National Mango Board reported that, despite the health crisis, U.S. mango consumption grew in 2020. Mango consumption typically rises 3 to 4 percent a year. It will grow by 5 percent or more by the time 2020’s final figures are in, the group said. Average consumption was about 3.5 pounds per person higher in 2020 than in 2019.
  • Guatemala exports more than 80 percent of its mango production to the U.S. It also exports to England, France, the Netherlands and Spain. Guatemala has been increasing its land area planted in mangoes at a rate of about 10 percent a year. Mango consumption in nearby Chile has been growing, so Guatemalan growers hope sales there will climb.
  • Australian mango production peaked in December. Heavy rain in some Queensland regions made harvesting difficult.
  • As of mid-December, Cambodia had in 2020 exported nearly a million tons of fresh mangoes to foreign markets, with an estimated total value of $470 million. Cambodia’s fresh mangoes mostly go to the European Union, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Farmers in the Maharashtra region of India plan to join forces and brand the mangoes they grow as “Maha Kesar.” The fruit they grow there reportedly is slightly smaller than mangoes sold under competing brand names, so farmers are trying to increase average fruit weight before marketing it within India or for export. The idea of creating the new brand arose during the COVID-19 lockdown period as farmers shared nine webinars and social media group discussions. They also plan to create multiple Mango festivals to promote the fruit.

In other fruit news, demand in China for pineapples (which also are high in vitamin C) is growing by more than 40 percent per year. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of pineapples, followed by the Netherlands and China. China imports pineapples mostly from Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. China also began importing pineapples from Costa Rica in 2017.

Maritime explorers, and the shipping expeditions that followed them, introduced tropical fruits to the peoples of the north. Nowadays, getting vitamin C is as easy as hitting up the local grocery store for lemons or mangoes.

During long Michigan winters, oranges seem particularly appealing. More so, I think, than a steaming plate of boiled spinach with a side of fried liver.

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