What follows is a silly attempt to explain what constitutes a comparative essay or what my K-12 teachers used to call a “compare-and-contrast” essay. I assign a fair number of these in my classes, and I wanted to have an example to show students what such an essay might look like.
In colloquial English, it is common to liken comparing two different objects to comparing apples and oranges. This a curious expression because the two share three common characteristics. First, apples and oranges are not only food, both are tree fruits. Second, along with the banana, they are among the most common fruits consumed in the United States. You can almost certainly find them packed in a lot of schoolchildren’s lunch boxes, if contemporary parents still pack a lunch for their children. Third, the two fruits are about the same size, which might be why they are so commonly eaten: on school lunch trays, in the brown-paper bags of blue-collar tradesman, and on the desk of a white-collar worker.
In this essay, I will compare apples to oranges to determine what specific differences exist between apples and oranges. I will use five criteria to evaluate their differences: their color, their shape, the edibility of their skins, their taste, and the different climates in which they are mass produced and harvested.
First, the color of each fruit is significantly different. An orange bears the name of its color: orange. After evaluating many different oranges in a variety of locations, oranges appear to come in just one color. In fact, the richness or the paleness of that orange is often a visual signifier for its freshness, its juiciness, and its sweetness—qualities that are reasonably subjective and relative to the eater’s taste.
Apples, on the other hand, can come in at least two colors: red and green. Within each color, there are some variations, indicating the different varietals of apples that are available at most grocery stores and at farmers markets in regions, such as New York, where apples grow aplenty. However, despite all these varieties, there are no apples that appear orange, and no orange appears in red or green colors. The skin color alone is a determining signifier of whether an apple is an apple and whether an orange is an orange.
Second, the shape of the fruits are also different despite being reductively described as round. First, oranges are almost perfect spheres. They are commonly packaged and displayed at stores in a fashion where orange fits in the crevice between the other oranges, as illustrated below. This allows one to evaluate the orange by a glance.
This is usually only possible with perfectly round objects, such as tennis balls.
Apples, on the other hand, do not have this exact same shape. While they are mostly round, their differing shape makes it difficult to evaluate in this fashion. You can see the bottom, the stem, or the body of the fruit, but picking one requires picking it up to evaluate the color, firmness, and whether it has suffered bruising.
Edibility of the Skin
Third, the skins of each fruit are also different. The apple skin is very commonly eaten, except perhaps by some picky schoolchildren who had a parent peel their apples before packing them in a lunch box. According to a study by Kelly Wolfe and Rui Hai Liu, a food scientist at Cornell University, an apple skin contains a lot of important nutrients that provide multiple health benefits, which one does not get from eating a peeled apple.1
An orange peel however is largely inedible. It is tough in texture and bitter in flavor. Not only that, the only sources that seem to recommend eating orange peels are a few online quack doctors with questionable credentials and motives. For example, Dr. Mercola advocates eating orange peels because, he says, the peels “may prevent histamine release,” “cleanse your lungs,” and “improve oral health.” However, let’s not forget that he has drawn a lot of controversy for advocating medical practices that fly in the face of conventionally acceptable practices and may harm public health, such as criticizing vaccines.
Fourth, the taste of these two fruits are considerably different. While taste is largely subjective, an apple is noticeably sweeter than an orange. An apple has a prominent sweet taste with a sour aftertaste. An orange, on the other hand, has a mostly sour taste although one certainly savor its sweetness along with that bitterness.
One way to evaluate each fruits sweetness-versus-bitterness is to examine their use in pie recipes. I compared two pie recipes at the Taste of Home website, and you can see how apples largely provide their own sweetness in this apple pie recipe:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 6 to 7 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large egg white
- Additional sugar
The sweetness of the pie comes from the added sugar, but mostly from the natural sweetness of the apples.
However, the orange pie recipe in this popular website recommends making a frosted orange pie with not only more added sugar but also adding frosting to offset the bitterness that inhere in most oranges.
Finally, the climate where each fruit is grown can vary significantly. In the United States, apples are mostly grown and exported from two states: New York and Washington, two states with relatively cool climates. Apples also peak in the autumn and are usually harvested in the months between August and November.
Oranges, on the other hand, are grown in warmer climates, and the two US states best known for growing and exporting apples are California and Florida. The harvest period is also a bit later than it is for apples. Oranges are harvested in the winter months after the apple harvest has concluded.
In conclusion, apples and oranges, among the most commonly eaten fruits in the United States, share many similarities but as I’ve compared above, they also bear many specific differences that make them assuredly different. It’s no wonder, then, that we have that aphorism about apples and oranges. In recent months, the cable news network CNN has run a series of ads as part of its “This is an apple” campaign. The ad takes aim at President Trump’s attempts to discredit the press as “FAKE NEWS” when it criticizes him and his policies:
This is an apple. Some people might try and tell you that it’s a banana the ad. They might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put BANANA in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.
The ad plays on the common sensibility of most (but sadly, not all) that there’s a difference between an apple and a banana, much like we now assuredly know there are at least five differences between an apple and an orange.
Kelly L. Wolfe and and Rui Hai Liu, “Apple Peels as a Value-Added Food Ingredient,”
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2003 51 (6), 1676-1683. ↩