It’s tomato season and I should be happy about that, right? Certainly I am, but tomato season brings with it the disturbing reminder that most people don’t have a clue that tomatoes even have a season, a fact that was reinforced for me twice yesterday in a most ironic way.
First, I read this great piece about workers who pay the ultimate price for our insatiable desire for tomatoes and what one woman is doing to change that. Then, I went to dinner last night at a nice restaurant that claims to use “the freshest possible local ingredients”, and while it served me grass-fed beef, it also served a firm, flavorless tomato that was barely pink -all the hallmarks of an industrially produced tomato-with a salad. Why on earth, when tomatoes are everywhere right now, would a chef serve this abomination to local food? Perhaps he chooses to cut that corner because he thinks that since most people are willing to eat that kind of tomato in winter, they’re willing to settle for it at any time of year.
How is this possible? Every summer I hear the same thing: people oohing and ahhing over fresh homegrown tomatoes and how wonderful they are and how much better they taste than tomatoes they eat in the winter. You’d think people would get a clue and quit wasting their money on tomatoes in the winter.
I finally clued in a few years ago during my gastronomy course when our professor used the term “esculence”, which technically means suitable for eating, but her usage implied not only suitability, but perfection or a peak ripeness. Learning that word was a game changer for me and I gradually quit buying fresh tomatoes during the winter. And you know what? It was liberating, culinarily speaking, especially when it came to making salads. In place of fresh tomatoes I used pears, dried cranberries, sweet mandarin slices, and-yes- even sundried tomatoes that were preserved when tomatoes were at their peak. All of these fruits helped make the salads a wonderful change of pace from the run-of-the-mill garden salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber that is ubiquitous because it requires so little thought.
But the best part about my wintertime tomato ban is looking forward to this time of year when we’re inundated with tomatoes of all different colors, shapes and flavors. This summer, because Iwasn’t lulled into complacency by insipid winter tomatoes, I was one of the first people in line at the farmer’s market to buy the first homegrown tomatoes of the season. I can honestly say I’ve savored every bite knowing that I’ll never eat a flavorless tomato again.
When I called for Michael Pollan to the be the next food czar in an earlier post, it was a bit of a pipe dream. Although there’s a larger grassroots movement afoot to nominate him for Secretary of Agriculture, the reality is that it won’t be him. However, there is another petition going around now (drafted in part by Pollan and other REAL FOOD advocates) asking President-Elect Obama to consider several progressive choices for Ag Sec. And in today’s NY Times, Nicholas Kristof takes up the drumbeat as well.
What’s so interesting– and infuriating at times– are the arguments in the comments section to Kristof’s piece from those who dont’ want a government ‘food police’ telling us what we can and can not eat. Here’s the thing: those of us who want a Secretary of Food (and maybe agriculture) don’t want to be told what to eat either. We just want people to have greater freedom to eat REAL FOOD.
Right now, we are essentially being “told” what to eat by Agribusiness. This powerful lobby has helped make heavily processed food made from corn, soy and rice as well as factory farmed meat and poultry exceptionally cheap. By comparison, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and humanely raised meat and poultry are expensive, which makes choosing REAL FOOD difficult for the budget concious and impossible for the poorest of Americans.
Sure, there are probably people who signed this petition who would like to moralize and tell us all what to eat, but I would suspect that most people (like me) just want someone to come in and level the playing field for farmers who are trying–or would like to try– to grow real food. Real progress will be made when, calorie-for-calorie, broccoli and a box of Rice Krispie Treats cost the same.
I just recently read journalist Michael Pollan’s memo to the next President (it’s really long but worth the read). After reading it, I think there needs to be a food czar– just like the drug czar– only this position would likely be a lot more effective. This person would help direct food policy and oversee both the compromised and castrated FDA and USDA.
Michael Pollan probably knows more about food policy than any other American after researching his two excellent books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, so he is the obvious choice for food czar. I’d like to hear what others think and who they would like to see as food czar or members of the food czar’s staff.
That said, I have a couple of quibbles about his memo in the NY Times magazine.
Click here to see my quibbles
I even grow arugula
The 2008 Presidential election has taken the politics of food to a whole new level, albeit a low one.
Ever since Barack Obama mentioned the high cost of arugula at a campaign event in Iowa, he’s been branded by some as an elitist who’s out of touch with regular people. He apparently further cemented that image by turning down a cup of coffee at a campaign stop at a diner and asking for orange juice instead.
Now, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has taken issue with the Obama camp’s orders for the food that will be served at the upcoming Democratic convention:
He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food… The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines… bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.)
Somehow, in Maureen Dowd’s world, eating healthily makes Obama humorless and thus potentially unelectable. What is so off-putting about good eating habits?
Of course, Americans have been quick to revere less-than-healthy Presidential dietary idiosyncrasies: we loved that President Reagan loved Jelly Bellies, that George H.W. Bush hated broccoli, and, although he took a lot of flak for his penchant for McDonald’s fries, we felt like Bill Clinton was just like us because he gave into Mac Attacks, too.
In this era of rising obesity rates, the threat of a diabetes epidemic, and pediatricians reccomending putting kids as young as eight years old on cholesterol meds because so many of them eat like… well… crap, how great would it be to have a President who’s also a gastronomic role model?
Like the Reagan era when Jelly Belly sales skyrocketed, maybe there would be an Obama effect at farmer’s markets and produce sections across America. People would think twice before single-handedly polishing off the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse. And parents could have the power of the President behind them in that eternal dinner time battle. “Don’t you want to grow up to be the leader of the free world? Then eat your veggies because President Obama does!”