The 2020 growing season has been challenging to farmers and consumers alike enduring the corona virus pandemic. Nonetheless, for consumers who obtained a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share or who shop at farmers markets in the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York, the bountiful local harvest this growing season is a reason to celebrate the hard work of local farmers and growers during a period of wide-spread anxiety.
In particular, this consumer’s farm share from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook (Columbia County) over the last few weeks has included a generous supply of tomatoes. And a backyard garden where I grow heirloom tomatoes has also been productive. Indeed, it’s been a season to appreciate and enjoy one of nature’s most flavorful and nutrient dense fruits.
Although botanically a fruit, Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society), notes the tomato is used as a vegetable and is a staple of many of the world’s cuisines, and one of the world’s most popular salad vegetables. It’s good to know that people too often wrongly think they should avoid tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables (for example: eggplant, peppers, potatoes) because they may cause inflammation that leads to joint pain.
A recent Food Sense article in Consumer Reports’ On Health newsletter, The Power of Tomatoes, by Lisa Lombardi (8/4/20) points out that it’s just the opposite. There’s no research that shows that nightshades cause inflammation. Rather, the phytochemicals in tomatoes have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Furthermore, lycopene, a powerful antioxidant plentiful in just a few foods and which gives tomatoes their rich red color, squelches free radicals which play a role in cancer, heart disease, and other diseases associated with aging.
And Consumer Reports recently shared 9 Recipes to Get You Started for an anti-inflammatory diet that includes tomatoes in two of the nine recipes.
Tomatoes were also wrongly regarded with suspicion, according to Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants when they were first introduced to Europe from Peru and Ecuador and other parts of tropical America early in the sixteenth century by the Spanish. Part of this early “fear” of tomatoes was due to the fact that they belong to the same family as a number of highly poisonous plants such as the deadly nightshade, black henbane, and tobacco.
Such fear in the 16th century, like the belief in the 21st that tomatoes cause inflammation, has no reasonable basis in fact. The compound called solanine found in nightshade vegetables is extremely low, and only large amounts of this compound can be toxic.
But with tomatoes appearing #9 on The Dirty Dozen, the Environmental Working Group’s ranking of fruits and vegetables to avoid because of pesticide residue levels, a cautious consumer should ask questions when buying tomatoes. It’s important to know how your farmer is growing this delicious “fruit” of nature. And when fresh local tomatoes are not available, this consumer is cautious when purchasing canned ones, and fortunately, the Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany, NY offers canned organic tomatoes.
(Frank W. Barrie, 9/17/20)