15 May 2010

The Tomato Diaries

News Flash: People don't eat their veggies!

I think a big reason why people tend to not eat their fruits and veggies comes down to a pretty simple explanation: they don't like them! I know, it's a major shock. But here's the thing. For the past 60 years or so, food production has gotten out of the hands of locals, and into the hands of big mega-super-duper-markets. Seasons no longer matter; you can get virtually any shippable produce anywhere, anytime. This is where the problem lies. If you pick a tomato while it's still green, for instance, then ship it to a market, and expect some mom to convince little Johnny "Sweetie, it's good for you," well I'm sorry, but if I were little Johnny, I'd say no dice!

Introducing: the Tomato (As it was meant to be)

I use tomatoes as an example because as a kid, I never cared for them. I didn't hate tomatoes or anything, I just figured "it doesn't taste like anything, why would I want to eat one?" So I never did. Then one day, I was in New Jersey visiting my grandparents and cousins, and one of my cousins comes in with a TOMATO sandwich! Nothing but bread, a little mayo, tomato, salt and pepper. Is she crazy? Tomatoes are for garnishing a sandwich, so you can pretend your bologna is just a little bit healthier that way. Why would you want to eat a plain tomato sandwich?!

The answer was obvious once I took a bite. I had never tasted a tomato like that before. It was sweet, and juicy, and savory, and a whole lot of other things I wasn't expecting. But most importantly, it was GOOD! I went straight into the kitchen and made one for myself.

Why was this tomato so good? This was a special tomato. You see, this was my first experience with a home-grown, truly vine-ripened still-warm-from-the-sun backyard grown tomato. You see, my grandfather is a farmer. He's always had a garden for as long as I can remember. I always tended to visit during strawberry season (lord, don't even get me started on strawberries!!), so I had never tasted a farm fresh tomato until later in life (like, 12 years old).

My Mom Gets In On It

A few years passed, and we moved into a new house, one town over. My mom had never really had a garden; we never had the yard for it (hence my tomato deprivation). Our old house sat on a hill, and my backyard was a steep hill covered in pine trees. We moved into this new house, and I was so disappointed in the yard, about 2 acres of grass, with a few measly trees sprinkled in the perimeter. I was too old to appreciate a yard like that for it's playground properties (a swing set would have fit in nicely), and I figured, "Well, maybe we'll get a pool." Again, no dice. My mom had bigger plans: she was going to plant a garden.

Awesome. My first summer in a new town, and I got to spend it pulling rocks out of the ground (Massachusetts has really rocky soil. I didn't see what the big deal was, they were pretty small rocks, but apparently it still makes a difference). Little did I know this would introduce a long lost love back into my life: the tomato sandwich and fresh veggies. For the record, like most teenagers, I was literally addicted to potato chips and Swiss Cake Rolls - seriously. Veggies... not so much on my radar screen. I'd eat them if I had to, but I never went out of my way for one.

But let me tell you, a few years of that backyard garden, and I was converted. I didn't (and still don't) care for gardening. It's hard, and sweaty, and I always get sunburned (and anyway, my mom loves it, and always grows WAY too many vegetables, so why should I bother?). Except for the year my mother was diagnosed with cancer (a huge turning point in my eating philosophies, by the way), she has had a garden. And every year it gets bigger. It's been over a decade she's been at it, and for the last 3 years or so I've been missing out (first moving to NC, and now in Germany).

So What Do You Do?

Thankfully, both places I've lived have had excellent farmer's markets. I still can't eat bland lifeless supermarket veggies. So this brings me back to my initial point of this post. It's hard to like fruits and veggies that taste like nothing! My theory is, well, if it tastes like nothing, how much nutrition can we possibly be getting out of it? We need nutrients to run everything from our digestion, to our cell regeneration, to our brain function. So when your body is running low, you need to stock it with more high quality fuel. Eating a half ripe tomato is not fuel. Maybe it had potential once, but the moment you pick a veg off its stalk, usually that begins a decline of nutrient content, rarely (if ever) do you get more out of something as it counter-ripens.

So here's a challenge for you: it's almost summer. Find a farmers market and try a new veggie that maybe you didn't like as a kid, or that you've never tried before. Don't try this at a supermarket because it won't work! Get yourself some fresh produce and learn what it means to enjoy healthy food!

Extra credit: Start your own small garden plot, or even just a window box with herbs. Tomatoes can be grown in large pots, as can several other veggies. Try it and you won't be disappointed!


  1. I too love fresh Tomatoe sandwiches they have been my summer favorite for years, when growing up as a teenager I hated working in the garding weeding for the summer when it seemed everyone else was going away on vacations, but here I am now years later and yes I have a garden with all kinds of veggies and I still love my tomatoe sandwiches. This year I've started a raised bed system and is much better to work around!!
    From Aunt Lois

  2. Living here in Cali I plant my tomatoes in the fall and start picking them around Christmas. I have been enjoying them now for six months but alas the summer heat is here and my tomatoes will only last a few more weeks. I love my tomato sanwiches!


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