Where the Tomatoes Aren’t

It’s easy to forget you are living on a (large) island far away from everywhere, until the time comes to go to the grocery store. Hungry for a nice salad, a stir fry perhaps, you peruse the fresh produce section in search of some colourful, tasty and nutritious items. Well, your visions of sweet, sweet nectar will quickly be killed when you notice the current prices on your 5-a-day.

Recently, tomatoes have been at what must be a record high of about $10.00 per kilo, even more for  certain types.  Now, being raised in the only country to not embrace the metric system, my brain starts to sizzle a little when I try to convert kilos to pounds, but you get what I’m saying- it’s not cheap. (A quick Google search suggests there are about 6 tomatoes in a kilo.)

Even a local Subway shop had a sign up recently reminding customers that, due to the shortage, they may not receive as many tomatoes on their sub as they are used to, and thanks for your patience. While I can’t imagine anyone raging at their local Subway Sandwich Artist over their dissatisfaction over tomato distribution, it was a reminder to me that things everyone takes for granted are in fact finite and our obsession with having all fruits and veg at our fingertips, even out of season, is a recent development and not all natural.

Apparently the reasoning behind this is flooding earlier in the year in the northern areas of Australia in which the tomatoes are grown. (Remember, in the southern hemisphere, north=hot. Yes, I still get a bit boggled by that as well.)

I like tomatoes, and might even go as far as to say that I love them. You can taste the sunshine in a nice juicy tomato, and it goes with just about anything. An Italian caprese, inside an omelette, a sandwich accoutrement- tomatoes are the little black dress of the food world. Apparently a great grand-relative of mine used to cut them up and eat them like an apple, with a splash of salt, so maybe being a tomato-phile is genetic.

But at the correct prices, for tomatoes and other produce, I certainly hesitate. It’s easy enough to grow your own produce, especially tomatoes, which don’t need a lot of work.  We used to have a goofy labrador (actually, we’ve had several), who would eat anything that wasn’t nailed down, including the back yard tomato plants. But the ones she somehow managed to miss were always tasty (and free), not to mention the fun of watching the food grow on the vine.

Annie the labrador: gold medal in eating.

When you stop back and think about any fruit or vegetable (or anything not grown or produced here), it’s got a long way to travel, and when it does arrive, it’s not going to be cheap. Australia may be its own continent, but it is still so remote from the rest of the world that all imports, whether it be clothing, manufactured goods, or food, you are going to pay for the privilege. When acts of god, such as storms, floods, or hungry puppies, wreak havoc on your only supply, supply and demand write the rest of the story.

This summer, perhaps a tomato plant or two are in order.

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