Friday, 27 July 2012

You say tomato, I say Banana Leg

This is a guest post by David Steen; David researches the ecology and conservation biology of wildlife and blogs about his work at
Kellogg’s Breakfast
The giant orange tomato dwarfed my hand and its bulbous sides overflowed my palm. As I manhandled the giant fruit out of the back of the farmer’s pickup, I gave the man, leaning on the back of the truck, an inquisitive look.
            He replied, “Now that’s an heirloom tomato.”
            Perhaps he wasn’t used to people wanting to know more, but I did. As I checked out the orange orb, I asked,
            “What’s it called?”
            “Kellogg’s Breakfast.”
            The farmer and I collectively chuckled at the ridiculous name for this variety of tomato before he added,
            “Sometimes I look through seed catalogs and order ones that look interesting.”
            His response brought to my mind a stereotype I have of the American farmer, that of the man in the straw hat forever toiling on a tractor in a homogenous and monotonous field of wheat. Of course, that isn’t necessarily the reality. Farmers, both men and women, can be creative people that are enthusiastic about their work and always interested in trying to grow new things and with different strategies. I wondered if part of the reason this particular farmer raised peculiar varieties of tomatoes was to see the reaction on people’s faces when they strolled through the farmers market. I hope mine didn’t disappoint.
            I later learned that these tomatoes earned their name because of their color, which brings to mind orange juice, often served during breakfast, as well as the fact that someone in Michigan named Kellogg is credited for introducing the variety. Okay, I thought, I can go along with that. However, I did note to myself the irony of giving an heirloom (i.e., not mass produced) tomato a name that brings to mind a mega-corporation that facilitates industrial agriculture and produces what they call food on an assembly line (at least, that’s how they do it in my imagination).
Banana Leg
            Another tomato he was selling included a yellow and elongated variety known as a Banana Leg. I confirmed with him that I could save the seeds from these tomatoes and grow them myself in the future. Sure, he replied. I’m looking forward to it.
            Checking out the options at a nearby truck, I noticed a Frankenstein of a tomato. It was red, which is relatively conventional, but huge and misshapen.
            “What happened here?” I asked the woman at the stand.
            “Looks like two tomatoes just started growing together.”
            I don’t know if that’s really what happened or not, but she was right in that that’s what it looked like. Into the tote bag it went, as did a bin of cherry tomatoes.
            Later that day, while looking at the motley crew of yellow, orange, red, and Siamese-twin assortment of locally produced tomatoes I had acquired, I thought about how much we lose when we automatically think of a tomato as the uniformly-colored red and perfectly shaped object we mechanically throw in the shopping cart when we hit the grocery store. We’re not just losing weird colors and shapes, but we completely miss out on all kinds of new tastes and textures.

            It doesn’t have to be that way. The food we eat doesn’t have to be just the items that are most cost-effective for companies to produce and manufacture in bulk. We don’t have to settle for eating the tomatoes that are engineered to look identical (especially because they don’t taste as good!). Making food identical is what fast-food restaurants do with their products because they know people tend to choose the things that they are used to.
            Well, let’s get used to some weird tomatoes! Let’s get used to some non-conformity in our ingredients. If variety truly is the spice of life, don’t hesitate to throw some Banana Legs into the salad you’re having or put some thick, orange slices of Kellogg’s Breakfast onto that sandwich for lunch.
            Whenever I extol the virtues of these locally produced fruits and vegetables, someone is surely to bring up (or at least think about) how the costs of these items are prohibitively expensive. Well, I’m pleased to note that they’re not at the farmers market that I go to. And, I suspect that if you purchase your food from local farmers instead of from the grocery store (which, in all likelihood, ships in that food from all over the world), you will be pleasantly surprised at the price tag. It’s moot as far as I’m concerned though, I don’t know why the cost should even be a consideration when you’re talking about what you decide to put into your body. If you have an income, then you can afford to buy good food. You can compromise on other things.
            Have you had any luck growing Banana Legs or Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes? Tips appreciated.
Fermenting Tomato Pulp to Save the Seeds

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