Barry Estabrook is right. Supermarket tomatoes really do suck. The author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit has been making the rounds talking up his book about why we should stop eating tomatoes once theyâ€™re out of season.
â€śI think tomatoes in grocery stores are like food porn in the purest sense of the word. They look nice, they tantalize you, they make you think, but they don’t deliver,â€ť Estabrook recently told NPR.
He goes on to explain that farmers (particularly those who sell to supermarkets) donâ€™t get paid for flavor. They get paid by the pound, so as long as a tomato looks good, supermarkets will buy itâ€”and few hundred of itâ€™s equally beautiful, equally flavorless friendsâ€”without worrying about whether the fruit is tasty.
Have you ever heard anything more depressing? This is the exact opposite of taking pride in your work. Purposefully growing flavorless tomatoes is the agricultural version of teaching the test in public schools.
So what’s a tomato lover to do?
Instead of demanding tomatoesâ€”or any other seasonal foodâ€”year-round, perhaps we should go retro and just enjoy them while theyâ€™re actually â€¦ good.
I tried to do that this weekend by stuffing my face with locally grown tomatoes. I picked up two big heirlooms at the new-ish Marathon Farm in North Philly on Saturday morning and by dusk, I had sliced ‘em, salted ‘em and devoured ‘em raw. The next morning, I picked up three moreâ€”each of them gloriously red and twice the size of my fistâ€”from New Jersey’s A.T. Buzby Farms at Headhouse Square. When I got home an hour later, I immediately scarfed down two of them for lunch and polished off the third one an hour later.
The fruit from these farms taste like love, not like the flavorless, mealy tomatoes you get from ShopRite in December. These farmers clearly care about flavor, about taste, about the experience of eating a freshly picked piece of fruit.
Now, how do we get the rest of the farmers (and the consumers) to feel that way?