In Part 1, we went through the supermarket supply chain and business model, and how the introduction of these models has disrupted the natural harvesting process, leading to longer storage time of “fresh” produce. Today, we’re going to have a look at the growing and harvesting side, to find out why fruit and vegetables just don’t taste the same.
The Heirloom Tomato
What is an heirloom tomato? Why do I only see them at upscale restaurants and farmers markets? Well, an heirloom tomato is basically a tomato that has been pollinated naturally (bees, insects, etc.) with seeds passed down from previous seasons harvest. These traditional breeds are often strangely shaped and coloured but are renowned for their delicious taste and juicy texture.
When the industrialisation of farming business started in the 1940’s, the intense process of genetically cultivating the tomato began, in order to achieve a perfect, larger, tomato that was able to withstand extended shelf life and transport. This is why supermarket tomatoes all share the same, uniform red colour and size. Whilst GMO’s aren’t inherently bad, tomato varieties bearing this mutation have a decreased ability to generate sugar within the fruit, leading to a bland taste (Like the tomato in your fast food burger).
In a study published in Science Magazine, genome sequencing confirmed that taste had been bred out of these tomatoes and in a bizarre twist, scientists figured out how to to restore flavour through further genetic modification (1). So, we breed flavour out of the tomato to get a perfect-looking, longer shelf-life fruit. Then, to combat the changes we’ve already made, we genetically add flavour back. It’s enough to make you think the world has gone mad.
The Nutritional Impact of the Supermarket Supply Chain and Industrial Farming
Whilst the business model of modern agriculture has led to a general lack of taste and homogenisation of our produce, there is also a further nutritional impact on the food we eat.
Image via SustainableTable.org.au
A 2004 study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture, evaluated data for 43 farm crops for a period of 49 years, from 1950 to 1999 (2). The researchers found measurable declines in six nutrients over this period — protein, calcium, potassium, iron and vitamins B2 and C — but no change in seven others. Their conclusion: “We observe that any real declines are most easily explained by changes in cultivated varieties...in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content”.
No one is suggesting modern supermarket crops aren’t nutritious, but that they are less so than they once were.
We have been conditioned to think that great looking produce must be fresh, flavoursome and nutritious. Unfortunately the reality is that manipulation of the natural ripening process, an extended shelf life and a focus on yield over quality has resulted in the flavour, texture and nutritional quality of our produce being compromised.
Let’s get back to our roots!
Here at Foodlum, we’re about community, authenticity and the passion of food. If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.
Thanks for reading!
- Science 27 Jan 2017: Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 391-394. Tieman et al. A chemical genetic roadmap to improved tomato flavor
- Donald R. Davis, PhD, FACN, Melvin D. Epp, PhD and Hugh D. Riordan, MD (2004). Biochemical Institute, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999.