To this day I cannot eat salsa, garden salad or marinara without pondering the storied existence of the hopeful tomato. My father was quite the storyteller when my sister and I were kids. This is one tale that I cannot shake. Just the mention of it makes my sister six years old again.
To hear my father tell this you’d think the tomato a sentient being, the only fruit with a face in the vegetable garden kingdom.
My father’s story
Before a tomato even becomes a tomato, he is only a little seed. One day, a farmer plants this seed (we’ll call him Tom) in rich soil and waters him lovingly until Tom sprouts and begins to grow into a plant. Eventually a flower bud appears. The farmer nurtures the bud and it becomes a baby tomato. He grows and grows. And one day it is Tom’s turn to get picked!
Tom embarks on a journey taking him away from his home and all that he knows. He is hauled off in a basket full of other hopeful tomatoes, all dreaming of the glorious day they will be eaten.
In the case of Tom, the particular tomato my father documents, he is processed into the splendid condiment ketchup.
Our hopeful tomato is trucked to Seattle where he is finally distributed to Spud Fish and Chips on Alki. All atwitter and excited, Tom is pressed into a small serving container intended to accompany fish and chips.
One busy Saturday afternoon at Spuds, Tom is removed from refrigeration and set on my sister’s tray next to a paper basket of freshly fried cod and French fries. We are out to lunch with my father and this is one of his fav places. Jenny, my actual real life sister, carries ketchup Tom upstairs to a booth over looking the Puget Sound. (At this point my father becomes super animated). THIS IS THE MOMENT TOM HAS BEEN WAITING FOR! This is the moment all precious, loved and cared for tomatoes wait for their entire lives! The moment when they will be eaten! They wait their whole lives for this. Their whole lives they have been waiting just for this moment, the moment they were born for! To be eaten! Tom is SO EXCITED he can hardly wait. The anticipation is so great because he has waited HIS ENTIRE LIFE FOR THIS!
But when the family meal concludes Tom has not been poured onto fish or used as tater dip. He remains trapped in his disposable individual specialty container. Jenny tosses the container of ketchup in the trash unopened. My father tells Jenny that the hopeful tomato has lived his whole life in vain. Tom is now referred to as “the poor tomato.” Jenny cries shouldering the fate of the poor tomato. And as we pile into the car to go home I think I hear Tom crying too.
I am still haunted by Tom. Sometimes when I am driving through LA’s dense commercial terrain with my windows down I think I hear the wailing of discarded tomatoes rising from fast food dumpsters all over Hollywood.