ToMaytoe, TaMahtoe

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?


3 thoughts on “ToMaytoe, TaMahtoe

  1. Hey Esther!
    After reading this post, it really makes you think about the mass production economy that countries are turning to. I agree with you, it is a bit unsettling to see even our food being mass produced (along with a few genetic modifications for size and freshness) and given to us to eat. Unfortunately, that’s what saves companies money, and that’s the route they go.
    I’m really not sure why I posted this, but rather to agree and say hi at the same time. So, hi :D

  2. Too true. I don’t really see that there’s much alternative to mass food-production. Besides being money-saving, the world’s population is just too great to rely on food that is all locally sourced, unfortunately. And the population will only continue to grow. It just seems strange that we can’t seem to mass-produce food with integrity. Surely there is a way to feed everyone with real food that feels and tastes as it should.

    • You bring up an interesting point about the population growing and growing. Typically a population grows until the resources are at an equilibrium with the population. So far humans haven’t reached that limit, but that’s only because of such bio-engineering. And besides taste and hunger, we often forget that the main point of eating food is for nutrition. With all these lab-produced nutrients found in our food nowadays, it’s amazing that what we’re eating can still be called food.

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