During the summer months, it’s hard not to notice the variety of big, hefty tomatoes on the shelves of produce departments. Beefsteak, plum, and cherry are among the commoners, but now, it seems as if a newbie has been added to the group, the heirloom varieties. Have you noticed an influx of these funky-looking tomatoes? If not, you will soon because it looks like we have a new foodie trend on our hands.
When it comes to produce, heirloom traditionally means that the seeds of the plant have been passed down through generations of farmers, the seeds dating back to the pre-Industrial Revolution era. Heirloom tomatoes (and all types of heirloom produce for that matter) are important to the local and organic movements because these tomatoes are the real deal. Each variety has a unique, strong set of genes, allowing it to naturally adapt to its environment and at the same time eliminating the need for pesticides and genetic modification.
Although you can argue that heirloom tomatoes are more “localized” than commercial varieties, Scientific American argues that commercial tomatoes may be just as “natural” as heirloom varieties. A few years ago, tomato breeders found a need to bring back the natural, disease-fighting genes that were lost in commercial tomatoes due to an increase in fungus infested tomatoes. The source claims, after 12 years, Dough Heath, of Seminis Vegetable Seeds (a seed company related to Monsanto) has created a tomato with 12 disease-resistant genes.
“It turns out that the heirloom’s defects are neither quirky nor cute, just an accident of a single-pronged breeding strategy left over from the dawn of genetics,” says, Scientific American.
Now, with this information at hand, does this mean the desire for heirloom tomatoes is just a hoax? Not at all. Scientific American puts up a good argument, but if we look at the bigger picture, the word “natural” has lost its meaning a loonnnnnngggg time ago. Because it’s such a vague term, just about any company can stamp the word natural on its products and get away with it.
The key term to remember today is “local.” Even more important is the definition of the word local. To us, the Swarthmore Co-op, local means a maximum of 150 miles away, while to other grocery stores, local can mean up to 300 miles away!
So remember, keep it real- buy fresh, buy local.