Rotten Tomatoes: By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

State fruit - Tomato
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It is the Walmartification of the Vegetable Kingdom. In our effort to maximize efficiency (not to save energy or motion but to maximize for the single bottom line of profit) our agri-biz industry has worked hard to provide us with “cheap” tomatoes in the dead of winter.

And while Big-Ag has succeeded in getting the price down, the cost is very high. Here, as in so many future decisions humanity must make, we have to take into account the true and total cost of our $5 tee shirt from WallyWorld or the taste-free picked-green 30 cent mealy-pink styrofoam orb we use in our December salad.

There is a difference between PRICE (what I pay) and COST (what we pay, and this includes the entire waste stream, the linear extraction of nutrients from the soil and into the oceans , the impact to the places where we mine, log or manufacture, and the energy and water footprint of everything we consume.) A true accounting in the “new economy” will look beyond price to cost.

Barry Estabrook does just this in his recent Tomatoland, a book based on this article. It exposes the food’s full COST–to the soil, to the people who plant, till and harvest these shippable but barely edible and un-nutritious fruits, and ultimately, to those who only look at the price WE pay at grocery store cash register.

Meanwhile, our Amish Paste heirloom tomatoes are coming on nicely, in spite of the darned tomato blight. With regard to the blight, see this article in Mother Earth News by Floyd County’s Barbara Pleasant.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’ve read a review of Tomatoland elsewhere, and it was highly thought of. Your description of winter tomatoes sure is accurate. Yuk.

  2. yes, again…
    I once watched a TV programme about food imports and what struck me most was that people in water-poor countries not only export their crops to us in the west but also, shockingly, their water, since most of the ripe food is composed of water. I forget the figures but the number of litres of water per package of food was pretty high.

    One thing I loved about being in Brittany was the seasonality of food. In few stores will you find strawberries in winter or satsumas in spring. Of course this had a downside, endives and celery became a bore after a while for instance but, on the plus side we always knew what season we were in

    Added to that the French prefer to eat food grown in France.
    I like that…