Braving the tomato scare
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Friday, July 11, 2008
write about the record state budget, but the Legislature didn't pass
it the night before a holiday weekend so the likes of you would get
quick information on its contents. Like most of our elected
representatives who voted for it, we'll learn what's in it over the
next few weeks, as Statehouse reporters dig for details to share
There's nothing we can do anyhow about the new taxes, pork spending
and better benefits for government employees. As long as legislators
have the money, they will spend it and then spend more, borrowing
and burying their heads in the sand about unfunded infrastructure
and public employee pension/health insurance liabilities. Only two
things will change the "business-as-usual" budget process: some
anti-reform legislators losing their jobs and voters passing the
income tax repeal to get the attention of the rest of them, come
We must take a moment, however, to thank those business owners who
worked so hard last week adjusting their prices for the last-minute
increase in the tobacco tax that took effect immediately, even
before the governor signed it into law! Seconds for a tax hike, eons
But instead of spending my time talking to the state government
wall, I'm just going to enjoy my summer. I consider myself lucky to
be alive, after eating tomatoes as usual all week.
Tomato on the cookout hamburger, tomato in my salsa and one luscious
tomato with mayo wrapped in a tortilla. The latter was safe, having
been grown locally; at the Marblehead farmers market, another
customer said she deals with food warnings by putting her fingers in
her ears and saying "lalalalala" whenever the news comes on.
Seriously, we are all lucky to be alive, considering all that could
go wrong with the food supply from farm to plate.
My first near-death memory comes from the great cranberry scare when
I was a teenager. A few days before Thanksgiving 1959, the secretary
of Health, Education and Welfare announced that domestic cranberry
products were "contaminated" with a weed killer used by growers.
Cranberry sauce disappeared from the table until we learned that
you'd have to eat 15,000 pounds of cranberries every day for several
years before they could maybe cause cancer in anyone but the
family's pet rat.
Until then, cranberry sauce was one of the basic food groups at my
home, so my family was glad that cranberry growers didn't go out of
business while they fought the government-caused panic. A similar
trauma happened to apple growers during the great Alar scare in
1989, which lasted until someone showed it would take 5,000 gallons
of apple juice a day to cause cancer.
Nothing wrong with washing your apples and tomatoes before eating
them. But this too can be overdone.
When I lived in Greece, the Navy wives who shopped at the weekly
farmers market were told by the base command to soak fruits and
vegetables in Clorox before serving them. This worked OK with
tomatoes and carrots, but try rinsing bleach out of lettuce and
broccoli. Still, I persisted, until my Greek landlady dropped by and
caught me; I can still see her doubled over, laughing until the
tears rolled down her cheeks.
She laughed at me again when we went to the market in the fall;
Americans bought the shiniest red apples, but I noticed that the
Greek homemakers bought the dusty ones. When I asked Georgia why,
she told me that the farmers, to please the Americans, washed the
apples in the ditches by the side of the dusty road as they came
I remember laughing myself when my 6-year-old son and I were eating
our favorite fast food, tiny lamb chunks on a wooden stick, at the
Athens marketplace; we were asked by two American tourists if it was
safe to eat these. No, I smiled, we are both attempting suicide.
It's true, I suppose, that one can slowly build up resistance to
"foreign" foods. Many newly arrived Americans were confined to
lavatories on Greek Easter Monday after eating lamb roasted on a
spit in their neighbors' yard, because it was basted all day with
olive oil, to which they had not yet become accustomed. I cheerfully
started getting accustomed as soon as I landed in Athens.
I also laughed at American friends on a tour to Paris who were
brushing their teeth with Coca-Cola rather than use the water (and
then getting ice cubes in their Cokes and lemonades). Never had
problems with the water in Mexico either, despite the warnings about
Montezuma. However, I knew better than to eat the green chiles,
which Mexican kids popped into their mouths as we do M&Ms.
I'm also sensible about obvious risks. A friend of mine had to go to
an Italian hospital after eating cream puffs from a bakery window —
something I wouldn't do anywhere. And I keep an eye on the
expiration dates on groceries, mine and Chip's, since he couldn't
care less. He didn't even ask where his hamburger's tomato came from
before he put it on the bun!
Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her
column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune
newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in
the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.