The Mighty Tomato vs Monsanto

As with the humble potato, it’s hard to think that such a widely-used food source was once considered deadly poisonous (up until the end of the eighteenth century, physicians warned against eating tomatoes, fearing they caused not only appendicitis but also stomach cancer from tomato skins adhering to the lining of the stomach!)

The tomato, as I see it, is an enormous, shiny berry. And, in fact it is according to Wiki. Our friend KirbyBruno has a great post on Daily Kos (with recipe and pics) on how to put tomatoes to good use:

Unfortunately, the drought and extreme heat in Illinois has taken it’s toll, and my garden this year is less than stellar. I was lucky enough to grab some ripe tomatoes from my next door neighbor that I have been watering and house sitting for (they told me to I swear!) and gather a few other ingredients to make this happen.

Having written extensively on the tomato myself, I can tell you that it still grows wild in the Peruvian Andes, the land of its origin, but the small, wild tomato does not bear a great deal of resemblance to the red, plump and juicy fruit that we use in so many hot & cold dishes. According to most tomato pundits, Cortez discovered the red devils growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental vines but never eaten.

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“The fruit was mostly shunned by people of means in Europe. We have the Italian poor to thank for embracing it as a kitchen staple, and its status as one of the essential ingredients in cooking. And then there’s the pizza which  is now the number one food in the Western world (rice is number one).

The history of pizza is still unclear, with a variety of theories and speculation. Some claim it is based on the pita bread found in the Middle-East, some think that it came from the unleavened bread “matzo” brought to Rome by Italian legionnaires while others insist that the humble pizza evolved from the famous “foccacia” served in Rome about 1,000 years ago, as a snack. Another theory is that pizza was brought to Italy by Greeks, during the first century. What we do know is that pizza may have been developed by inhabitants of in and around Naples, Italy. This early pizza consisted of flattened bread dough with olive oil and a little cheese (tomatoes were from the New World) and baked in bread ovens.

The Chicago style is on its own:

It wasn’t until the 40′s that deep dish, Chicago style pizza was born. And it was the brainchild of a Texan by the name of Ike Shelton. He came up with the idea of pizza not being a snack, meant to be eaten one slice at a time, but rather a meal. Thick, crusty, bready, meaty, cheesey, you name it. It was almost a casserole. And his first restaurant, Pizzeria Uno, opened only in 1943. It quickly caught on, and like Lombardis in NYC, it saw several alumni go through its kitchen that went on to open pizzerias of their own, spreading the style throughout the city.

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And for a little trivia, in 1897, some soup mogul named Joseph Campbell came out with condensed tomato soup, a move that set the company on the road to wealth as well as, several decades later, further enhancing Andy Warhol’s career to the general public.

Not only the tomato survived throughout the ages but also won against its biggest enemy: Monsanto.

At some point in time someone thought of creating a super tomato and it was promptly produced by the Californian company, Calgene, in 1993. They patented it and applied to the FDA for approval and got it. Then they conducted three 28-day rat feeding studies in which they tested two of their Flavr Savr tomato lines, one GM and the other natural. Out of 20 female rats, 7 developed stomach lesions leading to bleeding stomachs. The rats eating the natural tomatoes, or no tomatoes at all, had no lesions.

This information is widely shared because a lawsuit forced the release of some 44,000 agency memos. In one of them it notes, rather casually, that 7 of the 40 rats fed the transgenic tomato died within two weeks. Those GM tomatoes had another unflattering attribute: they tasted bland. And were prone to turn into mush. To be fair, some of the FDA scientists were seriously alarmed about the potential health risks and wrote to their superiors. It fell on deaf ears, perhaps already nesting in the pockets of the local politicians who were quietly collecting their own graft, unbothered by what this unknown quantity may unleash. In any case it failed miserably and was taken off the shelves in 1997. Then Monsanto bought Calgene the same year. Some say they did so because of Calgene’s other assets in cotton and oilseed while others saw the move as stop-gap to contain the bad news on GMOs.

And today we have this from Tom Philpott, food & ag blogger extraordinaire:

This summer, a severe drought and genetically modified crops are delivering a one-two punch to US crops. Across the farm country, years of reliance on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soy seeds—engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—have given rise to a veritable plague of Roundup-resistant weeds. Meanwhile, Monsanto’s other blockbuster genetically modified trait—the toxic gene of the pesticidal bacteria Bt—is also beginning to lose effectiveness, imperiling crops even as they’re already bedeviled by drought.

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This pic below is my favorite: it represents the sheer greed of Monsanto.

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As for me, I feel that much of the controversy over the safety of GMOs is because of the process itself. Manipulated genetic material is either “shot” into cells using a “gene gun,” or it is introduced into the cells by invasive bacteria that carry the new genetic material and deposit it in the cells. Both methods are unpredictable; they damage the cells, and uncontrollable mutations may occur. Do you want to live in a world of a genetic Russian roulette? I do not. I remember vividly reading a clever graffiti in Los Angeles which said “mutate now! avoid the rush!” It may be right.

This entry was posted in Activism, Environmental Issue, Food and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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