Why eat tomatoes in season?

I woke this morning thinking of tomatoes. Last night I sliced a tomato for my salad and noticed its perfect resemblance to a heart. My kids giggled at the shape. I photographed it before it was diced into imperfect squares.

The season for tomatoes is coming to and end. Yes, I can find tomatoes year-long at the grocery store and at the stands of the farmers market, but the true season is the warm months of summer and early fall. My own tomato vines sparingly bear fruit these days.

Barry Estabrook, in his book Tomatoland tells us what’s wrong with a conventionally grown, out of season, non-local tomato. Besides the fact that it lacks all but scant amounts of flavor, he describes both its environmental and human toll. He describes how tomato growers choose from 110 different pesticides and herbicides to grow a perfectly round, red, out of season tomato that can survive traveling thousand of miles of interstate highway. Florida, the largest tomato producer, followed by California, grow their tomatoes in the sand. I write about the water retention capacity of the soil…sand dries out quickly and requires more inputs of fertilizers. One gardening site compared sand granular to ping pong balls in a mason jar, it holds no water.

Here in California, I ask the tomato vendor if the tomatoes were grown inside, like in hoop houses or hydroponic warehouses. These methods used to grow an out of season tomato rely exclusively on blue water draws — water from reservoirs, rivers and underground water tables. This is water that is often drawn down faster than nature’s rain cycle can replenish. Water from underground aquifers alone are being drawn to the tune of 28 trillion gallons of fresh water a year.

Tomato harvesters pay the biggest price. Barry Estabrook describes the severe birth defects that result from chemical exposure. And many tomato harvesters are slaves or work under slave-like conditions. Yes, slavery does exist on American soil.

Anytime we try to control nature there is a toll on water systems, and here I include humans in my definition of water systems since we are after all composed mostly of water.

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