Sunday, June 22, 2008

Love Apple Horror

Perhaps we should have always known better. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family, plants with poisonous parts, including belladonna.

Yet, we don't tend to chew on the leaves and stems that hold the toxins and if we do, we don't have enough to get ill. So we have BLTs and salads with lots of red or yellow tomatoes. Yummers.

The current nationwide fear of this wonderful fruit, this essential berry, is simultaneous a little understandable and a lot silly. Over at my Harrumph! I confess my daredevil tomato purchasing and consumption from the Haymarket.

If you can handle the truth, be aware:
  • Food poisoning is common.
  • We get it all the time (over 500 U.S. deaths a year from salmonella alone).
  • Salmonella comes from bird and particularly mammal feces on veggies and fruits.
  • There's no practical way to prevent critters from dumping on your food in the field.
  • Rinsing produce doesn't necessarily neutralize or remove toxins.
Our bodies usually process salmonella and we get over it fine with no medical care. Of course, that's true of the majority of minor conditions we rush to doctors or ERs for as well. If you are delusional enough to think all your food is safe, you'll probably believe your doctor can cure everything you get — or even diagnosis it.

We shouldn't kid ourselves that there's no risk from the mundane.

Salmonella can generate fever, cramps and diarrhea. We get those quickly when exposed — one third to three days later. Most of the time, we're fine within a week on our own. Sometimes, it becomes a verifiable condition, salmonellosis. That can add nausea, vomiting and chills. This can kill the very young, very old and already ill.

In other words, it's like a lot of other gastric or respiratory, bacterial or viral conditions. Most of the time, it can be bad for a short time and the marvelous machines we wear deal.

That's no solace for anyone who gets really sick or even dies. On the other hand, the sudden recent panic over a few dozen folk hospitalized over bad tomatoes is delusional. It's not like our food system is otherwise safe and dandy.

We all have to eat. Many of us, certainly I, really enjoy food. We shouldn't kid ourselves that there's no risk from the mundane.

We are at vastly higher danger levels whenever we get in a car, walk the street, or ride a bike than when we put a slice of tomato on our tongue. All those are things we do all the time.

I have two mycology books and am a certified master gardener. Yet, I don't go picking wild mushrooms for my omelets. Many people worldwide die from that every year, even those who have a lot of experience for decades. On the other hand, my risk taking includes tomatoes that I buy from the Haymarket and those I grow myself. Bring on the love apples!

Every step I stride and every breath I take has its risks.

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Uncle said...

At the local farmer's market, which opened last week, the only thing in bigger demand than tomatoes is strawberries.

I do remember, as a kid, learning the comment we'd get if we objected to anything that looked like dirt or a blemish: "we've all got to eat a peck of dirt before we die." I suppose that saying has damn near gone extinct amongst the hysterical families who sanitise everything, thereby making the world safer for superbugs. Pity the toxins can't be made to preferentially select for fools.

massmarrier said...

That sounds familiar. Another side of such differences was trimming ripe fruits or veggies. My grandparents grew up in the Depression, not wasting. Then he'd grow (with me as willing slave labor) one or two one-acre "patches" every summer. They were damned farms. What he didn't grow, they'd buy from or trade for with the local orchards and farms.

Then I remember my mother-in-law visiting and found she grew up differently. I'd bring how a flat of 12 pints of strawberries from the Haymarket. I felt like stopping the car on the way home because they were so ripe that even from the trunk, the fragrance was making me drool in anticipation.

While I was cleaning them, she'd look at the one or two overripe or even moldy ones in a pint, saying, "What a shame. These are bad."

I know what fruit-like objects -- hard, never ripening, pink instead of red, without aroma -- come from groceries. Most people, including her, live without the primal thrills of fully ripe fruit.

I'm with you, Uncle. It isn't a shame. It is a wee price to pay for real food.