Summer is tomato season. I realized that fact just a few years ago, which in hindsight seems kind of silly and even borderline ignorant. I remember, as a little girl, skipping over the lush, green bermuda grass in my grandmother Mimi’s backyard to the little vegetable garden where she grew tomatoes. Those tomatoes smelled warm, the vines pungent, and now that I think about it, it was always hot outside when I smelled that smell.
Why did it take me so long to understand that tomatoes are seasonal, and meant to be enjoyed in the summer?
It must be because tomatoes are available all the time. Growing up, I saw them on burgers and salads year-round. I didn’t notice that in the winter, they were pale, mealy and far from the juicy flavor explosion that homegrown summer tomatoes can be in the summer. Sometimes it’s a matter of opening our eyes and experiencing that first incredible bite of a perfect tomato.
It was only a month ago when I became aware of more unfortunate realities surrounding those subpar store-bought tomatoes. Nicole of The Giving Table, a champion for ethical eating, asked me to participate in her latest cause, Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes. “Slave-free tomatoes?” I thought. “Isn’t everything grown in the United States in 2012 slave free?!” Unfortunately, no.
I picked up my copy of Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, which I’ve had since before Christmas but had yet to crack open. My eyes got bigger and bigger as I read the introduction, and when I got to the following few lines, my heart sunk.
When I asked Molloy if it was safe to assume that a consumer who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store, fast food restaurant, or food-service company in the winter has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave, he corrected my choice of words. “It’s not an assumption. It is a fact.”
So I’ve eaten a tomato picked by a slave. You probably have, too. Let’s pledge not to let that happen any more. Sign this letter to help end modern-day slavery in U.S. tomato fields. (It takes less than 30 seconds.)
I don’t want to eat anything that was handled by someone forced to work against his or her will and I know you don’t, either. Let’s choose slave-free tomatoes from here on out. Ripe, locally grown tomatoes always win in the flavor department, and knowing that they were grown in ethical conditions makes them taste that much sweeter.
I buy my tomatoes at the farmers’ market, or from local farms like Freedom Farms or Peach Crest Farm through Native Roots Market or Natural Grocers. Shopping at quality stores like these, that put forth the extra effort to source locally grown tomatoes, goes a long way. You can also shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, which are two national stores that have pledged to sell only slave-free tomatoes. And remember, tomatoes are summertime delights. They aren’t worth eating in the winter, so get your fill now!
The following information provides a more thorough summary of the issue.
The Problem: Slavery is not just happening overseas. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields “ground zero” for modern-day slavery in the United States. In the
past 15 years, over 1,000 people have been freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.
The Solution: Recipe for Change–a campaign led by International Justice Mission in partnership with the Fair Food Standards Council and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers–is targeting three major supermarket chains this summer (Ahold, Publix and Kroger’s), and asking its CEOs to support the Fair Food Program. Corporations that join agree to pay a small price increase for fairly harvested tomatoes (1.5 cents more per pound), and promise to shift purchases to the Florida tomato growers who abide by these higher standards–and away from those who won’t.
What you can do: Supermarkets can help eliminate slavery and other serious abuses from the tomato supply chain when they join the Fair Food Program. But in order to change its policies, CEOs need pressure from consumers. Sign the letter now and make a point to buy slave-free tomatoes from here on out.
For further information, check out Mark Bittman’s article in The New York Times called “The True Cost of Tomatoes” and read Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. If you want to do more, check out IJM’s Recipe for Change for suggestions.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped and drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint and basil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ½ teaspoon finely chopped kalamata olives
- ½ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
- ¼ teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes (or other tiny tomatoes)
- 2 red bell peppers (choose long peppers over squatty ones)
- 2 large zucchinis
- about ⅓ cup olive oil
- sea salt
- 4½-inch thick slices of whole wheat peasant bread (large, oval-shaped slices should come from a boule or large loaf)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 3 cups baby arugula leaves (or other baby lettuce leaves, I used a mix)
- 2 small tomatoes, preferably yellow, sliced into fat rounds
- ¼ cup very roughly chopped basil and mint leaves
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled while cold and allowed to warm to room temperature
- Make the dressing first. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except for the tomatoes. Gently fold in the tomatoes and let it sit at room temperature while preparing the salad. Stir before serving.
- Roast the red bell peppers. Two options: heat a gas grill to high and while the grill is heating, put the whole peppers on the grate, close the lid and cook, turning every couple of minutes, until the peppers are blistered and blackened in most places (about 10 to 12 minutes). OR, using tongs, hold the peppers directly over the flame of a gas stove, turning occasionally, until the peppers are blackened in most places (around 8 minutes). Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly (with a lid, saran wrap or foil). Let cool for 10 to 20 minutes, then use your fingers to peel the skin away from the peppers. Put the peppers on a cutting board and split them lengthwise (in the direction of the stem/core). If possible, transfer some of the juice from inside the pepper to the bowl of dressing. Gently remove and discard the seeds, but don't rinse the peppers. Cut the two pieces in half lengthwise again, so you have a total of 8 strips.
- Reduce the grill heat to medium. Trim off the ends of the zucchini and and halve them crosswise (through the middle). Stand one piece on end on the cutting board, and trim a sliver from two opposite sides to avoid having slices with a lot of skin. Cut down through the zucchini at ¼-inch intervals to yield four or five slices per zucchini half. Do the same with the remaining pieces, then brush them generously on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Generously brush the slices of bread with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt. Arrange the bread slices and zucchini pieces in a single layer on the grill and close the lid. Grill the bread until golden brown on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Cook the zucchini until well marked on the first side (3 to 5 minutes), then flip to cook the other side until marked (2 to 3 minutes).
- Transfer the zucchini to a plate and cover loosely to retain heat. Rub the grilled bread on both sides with the garlic clove.
- Divide the arugula or lettuce leaves maong four plates, scattering them loosely. Sprinkle about ⅓ of the herbs over the lettuce. Top the lettuce with a bread slice in the center of each plate. Top each bread slice with two or three slices of zucchini, placing them at a slight diagonal. Sprinkle half the goat cheese over the zucchini. Cover with a piece of roasted red pepper at a slight diagonal (use the larger strips of pepper, if you have any). Top with another sprinkle of herbs and the remaining goat cheese. Top with the last pieces of zucchini, then the last pieces of roasted pepper, the tomato slices. Spoon an equal amount of dressing around and over each of the "sandwiches" and top with any remaining herbs. Serve immediately.
- Adapted from The Fresh & Green Table by Susie Middleton (one of my new favorite cookbooks, it's fantastic!).
- Serves four.
- This stacked salad can be messy to eat, so serve with steak knives!
- I don't have an outdoor grill, so I actually grilled the vegetables and bread on my stove-top cast iron grill/griddle. It totally worked, but I do think an outdoor grill would be easier to use since it has a larger grilling surface.
For links to other food bloggers participating in Tomato Tuesday, visit The Giving Table.