by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
|You say toe-MAY-toe, I say toe-MAH-toe...
Clearly, it was because no one knew how to pronounce it. Hey, let's mess with everyone's heads and start pronouncing it toe-MATT-oh. Who's with me? While we're at it, we can restart the old argument over whether it's a fruit or a vegetable (truth: it's either, depending on whether you ask a botanist or a chef).
In the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans feared the tomato.
To be sure, there was a lot to fear in late 1700s Europe, and not just if you were a French noble.
A nickname for the fruit was the “poison apple” because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them...
Which is how the tiny violin got invented.
...but the truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which were high in lead content.
And they probably ate mercury off of them, too. No, really: apparently mercury was considered a cure for syphilis. This is one reason why I keep saying the past sucked.
Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning. No one made this connection between plate and poison at the time; the tomato was picked as the culprit.
This is why science is important. You need a double-blind test. Give 1/4 of the aristocrats pewter plates with tomatoes on them. Give another 1/4 of them pewter plates with placebos on them. The third 1/4 gets placebo plates with tomatoes, and the remainder get placebo plates and placebo tomatoes. Record how many of each group dies. Then guillotine the survivors just in case.
Around 1880, with the invention of the pizza in Naples, the tomato grew widespread in popularity in Europe.
Cultural appropriation! The tomato isn't native to Italy, so it's inauthentic cuisine! Oh, well, we got 'em back when New York perfected the pizza.
Before the fruit made its way to the table in North America, it was classified as a deadly nightshade, a poisonous family of Solanaceae plants that contain toxins called tropane alkaloids.
This, in spite of European invaders literally seeing Americans eating the things.
Like similar fruits and vegetables in the solanaceae family—the eggplant for example, the tomato garnered a shady reputation for being both poisonous and a source of temptation.
To be fair, eggplant isn't actually food. Oh, sure, I understand that some people eat it, but I refuse to classify it as edible. Consequently, it is not a source of temptation for me. Neither is the tomato, which I can take or leave, but at least I acknowledge it as food.
Gerard’s opinion of the tomato, though based on a fallacy, prevailed in Britain and in the British North American colonies for over 200 years.
Hence the importance of fact-checking. Fake news didn't originate with the internet. Or even with the printing press.
By 1822, hundreds of tomato recipes appeared in local periodicals and newspapers, but fears and rumors of the plant’s potential poison lingered.
Again, a testament to the problem of anchoring bias, where the first piece of information you learn about something sticks with you in spite of later corrections. Still, if that first piece of information is "that shit'll kill ya," this can be somewhat forgivable.
Today, tomatoes are consumed around the world in countless varieties: heirlooms, romas, cherry tomatoes—to name a few. More than one and a half billion tons of tomatoes are produced commercially every year. In 2009, the United States alone produced 3.32 billion pounds of fresh-market tomatoes. But some of the plant’s night-shady past seems to have followed the tomato in pop culture. In the 1978 musical drama/ comedy “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” giant red blobs of the fruit terrorize the country. “The nation is in chaos. Can nothing stop this tomato onslaught?”
Awww. I was hoping that the article wouldn't mention this seminal work of cinema, so I could write this entry about it. Oh, well, I guess I'll just keep it in the title.
There's more to the article than the bits I riffed off of here; it's worth reading for the description of the dreaded Green Tomato Worm (which is not, in fact, a worm that infests green tomatoes, but a green worm that infests all sorts of tomatoes -- one of the many ambiguities possible with the English language, which is what makes it so much fun).
But mostly I'm glad this article came up in my random roll today, because it's science, history, food, cinema and the potential for comedy all rolled into one, like a burrito. A burrito with chopped tomatoes. Okay. Now I'm hungry. Tomorrow's entry will almost certainly be darker, for reasons that should become apparent.