caprese deconstructed

May 23, 2010

Up North this weekend and had a craving for tomatoes, baguette and olive oil (maybe a little bocconcini to round out a Caprese salad which happens to be one of my very favourite foods). WTF is happening to our supermarkets? Monobrands? Monocultures? I knew it was bad but this seemed worse.

If you need good baguette then Ace is available up here because all other baguettes tend to suck as you leave the GTA. I wish it wasn’t true. Nothing would make me happier than to support a small local bakery, but it ain’t happening anytime soon it seems. We brought good olive oil with us so that was covered.

We forgot salt and had to buy some. We had to read every freakin’ label to make sure it was just plain old sea salt. Why is it so difficult to find sea salt without all the additives to make it free-flow? So we had to settle on the one brand of fleur-de-sel which ended up costing double or triple of what sea salt normally costs.

Bocconcini was only available in factory sealed tubs by Tre-Stella, so we get what we get. Now on to the tomato…or should I say Kumato™? Most of the tomatoes had that bright beautiful but hard as a baseball look and feel that has become commonplace in Ontario all year. I can understand crappy tomatoes in the winter and spring, but they have become commonplace even in the late summer and fall – when tomatoes should be bursting with flavour and umami. But apparently what consumers want is sub-par tomatoes all year round – consistency over seasonality!

I saw some packaged brown tomatoes that reminded me of the Black Crims from late summer organic farmers’ markets. I grabbed a pack, sniffed and voila they smelled like ripe tomatoes, although they were quite firm. Later, I looked them up on the Internet and found that while not GMO, they are engineered for consistency and aroma by a Swiss company – Syngenta. Syngenta has trademarked the name Kumato (and Rosso Bruno) and discourages gardeners from saving seeds by asserting that the Kumato is a hybrid. (As all gardeners know, hybrid traits don’t persist if grown from seed.)

What bothers me is the dearth of information on the Kumato from Syngenta and the usual and tolerated ownership of life. Syngenta did not create the tomato – as far I know it has its origins in South America (as does that other notorious nightshade – the potato) and was transported from there by Spanish and Italian interlopers. Companies like Syngenta have been known to ‘harvest’ knowledge from the local peasants and then suddenly turn on them (with lawsuits or government sanctioned para-militia) when the peasants dare to use their own knowledge or seeds. If you think I’m exaggerating, please google the master seed-keeper Vandana Shiva and read her latest news on operation Green Hunt – multinationals intimidating peasants in India with the Indian government’s full support (or at least their averted eyes).


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