The tomato did not deserve this.
It was clearly culpable but hardly responsible. People wanted nice red round tomatoes. Or they just wanted ketchup. Or they were told they just wanted ketchup. So all colours (orange, gold, yellow, purple), all variety of shape (misshapen, oval), were bred out or merely forgotten. People wanted tomatoes all year round, so they were grown in glasshouses, even heated hothouses, all through the winter. This was possibly one of the most environmentally damaging fruit and vegetable production processes then undertaken. Most people did not care how the tomatoes were grown, or who grew them, and so other people, out of sight and mind, suffered birth defects, cancer and other illnesses from pesticides and chemicals in order to provide us with these tomatoes. Standardised hard balls which needed gas to turn the standardised red and become apparently acceptable for most consumers, transported across great distances, packaged in plastic wrappers, labelled as good for you, one of your “five a day”. This belonged to a time when it made sense for some to grow tomatoes on the nutrient poor soil of Florida or use North Sea gas to heat greenhouses based on hydroponics. The tomato did not deserve this maltreatment, it did not deserve to be complicit in a long abusive supply chain, abuse of our environment, abuse of people, and for an aesthete, the supreme crime, abuse of our taste buds. Most people in fact never ate real tomatoes, rather they ate some form of processed tomatoes in pizzas and ketchup, as part of the infinitely varied, completely non-nutritious modern industrial diet.
In the future we deserve, our tomato will not be available in northern climes, in mid winter, out of season. But when it does come to our local farmers' market, we will celebrate its arrival, we will thank the seasons for its return once more, in all its variety, its different colours, and variegated shapes. We will taste that tomato and it will bring back memories of childhoods, of delicious lunches and dinners with friends, of picnics by a river with past or present loves, of juices spilt and sauces poured. In the future we deserve, fresh food will come a short distance to us from farmers whom we either know or can easily get in touch with. Food will carry a story from the past and the present, it will be a central part of human communication and community, it will be a tool for conviviality.
In this future food will be recognised as central to human existence and humanity’s cohabitation with the flora and fauna upon the earth. Our agricultural practices will be in harmony with the environment because these practices produce more, reduce poverty, improve nutrition and reduce the possibility of climate change.
- Berners-Lee, M. (2010). How bad are bananas? : the carbon footprint of everything. London: Profile.
- Estabrook, B. (2011). Tomatoland : how modern industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing.
- Patel, R. (2008). Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Portobello Books Ltd.
- Schutter, O. D. (2010). Agroecology and the Right to Food. Development. www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20110308_a-hrc-16-49_agroecology_en.pdf