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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do We Really Need Any More Reasons to Buy Seasonal and Local

Leah Ingram, who writes the Suddenly Frugal blog, published a great post recently about the Florida tomato crisis. This topic really caught my attention.

 Because of unseasonably cold weather this winter, most of the Florida tomato crop was ruined. The USA Today article that Leah cites in her post reports that wholesale prices have gone up from $6.50 per 25 pound box to $30!

So that means that any restaurant that uses tomatoes in their food (McDonald's, pizza places, any restaurant that serves salads or makes their own spaghetti sauce), is going to pay more for tomatoes, and most will either have to change their menus, charge their customers more or eat the difference.

Consumers will find higher prices for tomatoes at grocery stores too. An ABC News on-line article reported that the price of tomatoes in a New York City grocery store went from $0.99 a pound to $1.89. Prices could go higher due to scarcity. And California tomatoes won't make up the difference. Most of the those tomatoes are processed into tomato sauce, ketchup and tomato juice. So Americans are relying on imports to get their fresh tomato fixes. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, imports of Mexican tomatoes are up 50% since the Florida freeze.

The big issues isn't so much that we have a bad year for tomatoes. Consumers will get over it. Florida farmers may take a while to recover. But next year, barring another freak freeze, we'll be eating our Florida tomatoes in the middle of the winter without giving it much thought. And if there is another catastrophe, we'll just buy the imports from Mexico.

But hold the phone! What's wrong with this picture? Do we really need to buy tomatoes that are grown hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where we live? Take a look at the photo on the right, - it accompanied the Wall Street Journal article. Those green things are tomatoes! They are harvested green. The ripening takes place in warehouses and on trucks that ship the tomatoes all over the country. Then most of them are exposed to concentrated ethelyne gas to speed up the ripening process. While tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables produce ethelyne gas naturally, do you really want more added to make a green tomato turn into a red one without the benefit of the vine or the sun?

So what's my point? I would like to propose that we just say no to tomatoes that have to be trucked great distances. Let's face it:  when the tomatoes on your sandwich or in your salad aren't fresh and local, chances are it's more about the habit than the flavor.  Let's learn to savor fabulous locally-grown - or better yet, home-grown - tomatoes during the months they are available. Buy lots and lots of them and put them up in canning jars. Or make home-made sauce.  (The photo at the top of this post is of cut up tomatoes waiting to be turned into sauce at my brother-in-law's family's annual Labor Day gathering.) When the fresh ones are gone, think of them fondly. Then turn to the canned version when you crave tomato flavor. But don't try to replace fresh, seasonal tomatoes with a poor substitute from far away places, that, by the way, come with a huge carbon footprint.

Thoughts? Please share.


  1. Yes, just say no to tomatoes until they are available locally! Love the sentiment.


  2. Amen! Home grown tomatoes taste so much better anyway! :)