Safeway’s unintentional commentary on modern tomatoes

Safeway is running ads declaring that their tomatoes are “robust,” a word that makes me think of strength and resilience, two qualities that should have nothing to do with burstingly juicy red orbs. These characteristics, however, are ridiculously common in tomatoes sold in the United States. Tomatoes need to be robust in order to make the long journeys required for year-round, nationwide availability, and so most are picked when green (and rock hard), put into storage, and when needed, gassed to change their color to something close to red. Of course, an alternative meaning of robust is full-bodied or hearty, attributes rarely found in grocery store tomatoes, especially out of season.

Fortunately, the season of real tomatoes is almost here, and then we can enjoy tomatoes that are so ripe they can barely make the journey from the backyard or farmers market to the kitchen, tomatoes that burst with flavors of the sun, tomatoes that we’ll be dreaming about long into the middle of next winter.

A note about the photo: From a poster displayed on trains on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

13 Responsesto “Safeway’s unintentional commentary on modern tomatoes”

  1. Debs says:

    That’s funny, I noticed that same poster on the BART while visiting San Francisco this past weekend.  It stood out to me because I had just gotten on the BART from the farmers’ market at the Ferry Building, and I was loaded down with really good ingredients (including heirloom tomatoes… actually only one tomato, since I’d just devoured the other two).


  2. Pat Anderson says:

    Hmm… and right now, the big fast-food chains are removing tomatoes from their burgers… seems there’s some salmonella coming with them on their trip up from somewhere in the US.

  3. Sara says:

    Oh, it just makes it even better that they’re having to pull tomatoes off the shelves in 10 or more states due to widespread salmonella contamination. Perhaps it’s the bug that’s so robust?

  4. Steves says:

    Is there any examination as to whether or not the salmonella-tomato issue has anything to do with varieties cross-bred with genes from fish or other protein products? I haven’t the strongest science background on this one, so if anyone could clarify the possibilities on this one, I’d be greatly obliged.

  5. tasterspoon says:

    I wonder what the “100% summer guarantee” is.

  6. Kevin S. says:

    I’ll have to remember that “100% summer guarantee” in the middle of next winter! Suppose they will back up the claim?

    Fortunately, I have some healthy looking tomato plants out on my deck and in the yard, so hopefully I’ll be feasting on some righteously good Brandywines later this summer (if I can just keep those pesky squirrels away from the pots. Plus, the basil is looking good: summer indeed when all that is ready to pick!

  7. Steves — although the exact cause of the salmonella is not known, it generally comes from the feces of animals or humans (see this FAQ at the FDA or this item at CDC).  Breeds of salmonella that are dangerous to humans can live in a variety of animals without causing them harm.

    tasterspoon — I have no idea what the guarantee is all about. My guess is that what you buy at the store bring forth the flavors of summer.  I doubt that the stores will be pulling all of the non-summer fruits and vegetables from their shelves.

    Kevin S. — The guarantee is certainly a limited time thing.  How about a “100% winter guarantee” that highlights the wonders of citrus fruit, hardy root vegetables, and preserves?  Or a “100% autumn guarantee” with apples and pumpkins?

  8. Allegra says:

    You might already know this trick- but I keep squirrels away from my tomatoes by spritzing the plants with a mix of water, lime, tabsco and cayenne. Seems to work well- but you have to re-spray after it rains!

  9. meghan says:

    I made the decision this winter to stop buying tomatoes at the grocery store.  Despite my vegetable-heavy diet, I converted to eating seasonal foods when every tomato I’d buy was hard and green inside, despite a bright red exterior.  Thanks for your site.  It keeps new converts to seasonal and ethical eating motivated.

  10. Meg Wolff says:

    I came over from another blog and liked your tomato post. I just noticed that someone else comment from Portland, Maine too (that’s where I’m from, small world!). Thanks.

  11. Kevin S. says:

    Mark R.:

    I like it! Let’s get on the horn with Safeway’s PR/marketing folks: inquiring (and hungry) minds want to know!


    I had heard of a variation of that technique, but yours sounds like it has an added bonus: I can spray it on tortilla chips for a quick snack when I am done defvending my ‘maters. Thanks!

  12. I have a bag of super-hot chilli powder that I bought in Little India. Sprinkling it on the dirt seems to discourage squirrels. Note that this is a repellent for mammals, but not birds or insects, as the capsaicin evolved as a defense against mammals.

  13. Charlotte says:

    I tried cayenne for the cat that was using my raised beds as a litter box to no avail. Bird netting over the beds helped, but it was a pain when the plants grew through it and became entangled. The bombproof solution was a motion-detector activated sprinkler scarecrow I bought on Amazon — got rid of the cat and has also been a pretty good dog-training device for some problem barking areas.