Somehow in the midst of all the late summer activity I have failed to talk about tomatoes. I have been eating them. And cooking them. In fact, let me back up and say that the main reason I haven’t talked about tomatoes here is because I have been busy hunting them down, like defenseless prey.
This time of year I become fairly obsessive about my tomato intake. I get nervous when my hanging produce basket isn’t stuffed with them. It got to the point where I decided to grow sun gold tomatoes on my front steps just so I could have an emergency back-up stash.
I really love tomatoes.
But not all of them.
Most restaurants and grocery stores (Whole Foods included) carry tomato-like specimens. These tomatoes have been bred to tantalize you, with their perfectly spherical shape and shiny, red coat.
Don’t be fooled: It’s a classic bait and switch scenario.
These tomatoes have been hijacked by science in the name of conformity and capitalism. They have not been bred for improved taste, or nutrition. These qualities have been sacrificed so tomatoes look good after a long trip to your grocery store. Anything not up to snuff gets trashed. Yes, more food waste.
You can thank the Florida Tomato Committee for this, along with their other colluders in the federal government and agriculture. Together, they have done a great job of brainwashing consumers that we must purchase only perfect looking (and not tasting) tomatoes.
Oh and these “perfect” specimens were probably harvested by farm workers who are basically slaves. They work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and get paid less than two cents per pound of tomatoes they pick.
The convenience of year-round tomato availability comes at a hefty price, dear consumer.
The ubiquity of crappy tomatoes also means that most people spend their entire lives eating these imposters. They never have the opportunity to savor the glory of a real tomato: warm sweetness, balanced with a lively acidity, slavery not included.
I want to believe that if more people tasted real tomatoes there would be an uprising. But that probably won’t happen.
The best one can do is seek out locally grown tomatoes. Check out a farm stand, farmers market or a food coop with local agricultural connections. There you will find tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors: green, yellow, orange and purple! And do it quick because tomato season is fleeting.
The best thing to do with a fresh, local tomato is also the simplest. Slice thinly and layer with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil on a baguette. Perfection!
Additional Tomato Tips and Information
Some sellers offer discounts for “blemished” produce. I got three pounds of lovely tomatoes at a local farmers market for half price. The damage to these specimens was barely noticeable, so ask around and you may find a really great deal.
If you must buy tomatoes out of season, or don’t have access to locally grown fruit, make sure they are grown by a participant in the Fair Food Program. These growers have agreed to provide humane conditions and wages for their farm workers.
For more reading on the appalling state of the tomato industry, I suggest Barry Estabrook’s groundbreaking article from 2009, Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes, and his in-depth book on the subject, Tomato Land: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.