Today I bit into a tomato slice from the dining hall, and it tasted like absolutely nothing.
There’s something unsettling in that, isn’t there? Almost violated, in a way. In my two years as a resident diner at the University of Chicago, I’ve eaten countless slices of tomato, because sandwiches and salads are really the only palatable offerings at Pierce Dining Hall (but more on that some other time). Still, I’ve somehow never noticed that what I’ve been eating–a thin slice of fleshy redness–can hardly be called a tomato at all.
I remember the tomatoes I have eaten at home in Ohio. We have a small backyard, about 1/4 of an acre, so we’re no Green Giants. Still, even in the heart of manicured suburbia, my parents manage to bring some homegrown produce to the table. Especially tomatoes. I eat them still warm from the vine, and they are delicious, fragrant, and have an unmistakable tomato-essence that was missing from that dining hall affair.
With all the money we pay for our meal plans, you would think that providing fresh produce would not be a stretch for the dining companies here. But that isn’t really my main concern at all. It was just an unnerving moment, to bite into that spongy, grainy nothingness. It could have been a piece of wet styrofoam for all the taste it held. If a tomato doesn’t taste like a tomato, smell like a tomato, or even feel like a tomato, is it really a tomato? Something is wrong here.
We are insanely privileged here at the University of Chicago. I understand that. But if, even for all our privilege, our money, our clout–we can’t serve food that tracks the reality of what food should be, what food is, then what’s going on?