Is this really a tomato? Symmetrical, red, big and firm!

This was one of the first discoveries I made when I first came to Canada from India in 1993. The first set of pictures I sent home was in the produce section of Safeway in Edmonton. My grandmother still has the photograph of me standing in front of the beautiful fruits and vegetables arranged perfectly. Perfectly?

The tomatoes I ate growing up were almost always squished as they made their one-day trip from the farmer to Bombay through the wholesale market. They were of varying shades of red, and all shapes and sizes. Of course I noticed within a few days of coming to Canada that tomatoes tasted nothing like what I knew to be tomatoes. The same was true of cilantro, garlic, ginger, onions, green pepper, cauliflower … and the list goes on. I returned to India after finishing school, three years later. I couldn’t really explain to people why the perfect North American tomatoes were not really perfect. The phrases genetically modified foods or organic produce hadn’t been introduced to my vocabulary then. During the next four years as an adult in India, I was exposed to the rich culture around the preparation of food. Buying individual vegetables from various vendors, haggling for each purchase, picking the best (least squished) tomatoes and spending more than an hour preparing each meal.

When I returned to North America, I came back to the world of the not-so-perfect tomato. That’s when it hit me how poor progress has made all of us. Seeds are genetically modified, produce loses its taste and nutrition, the ecosystem is manipulated against what is really natural. Food is processed, flavoured with chemicals to be served in cardboard and plastic boxes. The milk we hand down to growing infants comes from cows injected with hormones to increase milk production.

It didn’t take me long to figure why I hadn’t met anyone with a milk allergy or celiac disease or peanut allergy or ADHD during the 25 years I’d spent in India. Cancer is an epidemic here. Girls hit puberty before they hit double digits. Is it because industrialized farming hasn’t completely taken over India yet? Is it because labour is still cheap there? Maybe multinational corporations haven’t yet genetically modified vegetables like okra, eggplant, bitter gourd and daikon, which remain unique to the tropical climate.

We don’t think twice about the expensive new car or truck or Dell computer. We spend more to care and groom our pets than ever before, yet we are programmed to buy the cheapest produce. We are disconnected from how the meat was produced to arrive on the table. When health is our wealth, why not invest in it?

We are what we eat. I recommend learning about the food we eat. Movies like The Corporation, The Take, The Future of Food and Deconstructing Supper are powerful in helping understand how food is manufactured.

Despite my busy days, I continue to spend hours every week preparing my meals, except when mom is visiting! Grocery shopping is the only shopping I like.

I have a few farmer-friends who grow and sell quality produce, made with love. I’m thankful we have three farmers’ markets in the valley where I can buy wholesome food.

And the first thing I long to eat when I return to India is that squished imperfect tomato.

Rashmi Narayan

Rashmi Narayan runs Infinity Office & Health, a health foods store in Valemount, and is interested in natural, simple and inexpensive solutions such as food and behavior / lifestyle to increase health and wellness.