Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

No Telling

Poisoned produce is nothing to joke about, especially when the poison has spread to Arkansas. There are a few things we get excited about down here. Watermelons, for instance. Hope, Arkansas is the Watermelon Capitol of the World, infamous for growing the tastiest and largest melons anywhere. We also grew a U.S. President down there, and another fellow who’d like to be one.

As excited as we get about watermelons, it’s nothing compared to the religion surrounding Arkansas home-grown tomatoes. Almost everyone has at least one plant growing in a sunny part of the yard. Folks with more than a 5′ x 5′ square of unused land usually tuck at least one tomato plant in among the marigolds. Those out in the county grow enough tomatoes to feed a small country. These are always for sale at sweltering roadside stands or out of the back of a pick-up truck. There are people, I tell you, whose sole commerce is to sell those tomatoes.

You can always buy them at a chain grocery store, and a lot of people do. A lot of people, I might add, who are checking their temperatures and waiting to feel queasy right about now. While we’ve been reassured that the Recent Tomato Unpleasantness (salmonella) involves only store-bought tomatoes, just the thought of dire illness has many wondering how to complete their summer without freshly salted and peppered tomatoes on a plate. It’s a little like telling us not to eat devilled eggs. We don’t know how to behave.

My daughter hit the drive-thru at Burger King the other day and came back with ominous tales of posted “no tomatoes here” signs. Same thing at McDonald’s. I reminded her that 1) she’s never eaten a tomato in her life, and 2) in the end, fast food is just as deadly as salmonella tomatoes, but I don’t think she cares. She spent her formative years listening to the Bush administration and is afraid of damn near everything, even tomatoes she doesn’t eat. I did my best, I really did.

No government agency seems to be able to explain why exactly all those store-bought tomatoes are tainted. I find that scarier than the actual salmonella.

In the meantime, it looks like the roadside stands, farmer’s markets, and pick-up trucks are going to be our only safe sources. Unless, of course, you’ve got a staked plant or two in a tub out back. If you have any extras, bring them over to me.