Blog, 288 words

Squeezing More Profits from Crummy Tomatoes

If you want to re-live that delicious tomato flavor again, head to a farmers' market when they're in season.

Jim Hightower

“I’m 98 percent confident we can make a tomato that tastes substantially better,” Professor Harry Klee recently exulted to The New York Times.

Hmmm. Excuse me, professor, but “substantially better” than what? One of Momma Nature’s own heirloom varieties perhaps? No, no — Klee knows that tomato-tampering flavorologists like him can’t get near that quality.

Rather, he’s merely out to endow the industrial, massed-produced fruits of agribusiness with enough tomato-y taste to pass as a minimally acceptable version of the real thing.

How? By artificially injecting them with some flavor genes from actual tomatoes. Why? So the corporate powers can retake market share and profits they’ve been losing to small producers of the natural product.

hightower-tomatoes-Aurimas Adomavicius

Aurimas Adomavicius/Flickr

Where did this guy come from? Monsanto, where he was employed for 11 years to help bring dangerously-untested-and-unlabeled bioengineered food to market. Now at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation, backed by Monsanto, Klee leads the effort to innovate what’s called “a chemical recipe for the ideal tomato.”

That mission raises another question: “Ideal” for whom? It’ll still be a bland, mass-produced tomato doused with pesticides, machine harvested while green, and shipped across country. It’s only ideal for the maximization of corporate profits.

And beware, for the tomato isn’t the only target of this academic-industrial complex. Klee & Company are also re-doing the blueberry to be, as the Times called it, “crispy, almost apple-like.” Wow, I’ll bet that next they’ll manufacture apples to be almost blueberry-like.

Why are the public’s scarce research dollars being frittered away on these absurd corporate projects?

Klee claims that it’s all about “bringing back flavor.” But professor, flavor never left. Go to a farmers market and taste for yourself.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org