Food Inc.

Discussion in 'The Late Night Cafe (off-topic)' started by jock, Apr 23, 2010.

  1. jock

    jock

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    I saw this movie for the first time last night on PBS. Powerful stuff.

    Of course we all know the evils of Agri-farming, feed lots, battery chickens, etc., but this movie brought it into sharp focus.

    Before the closing credits the producers encouraged the audience to buy from farmers who treat their product, people and the environment with respect. OK, I'm up for that but how can you tell? 
     
  2. kristopher

    kristopher

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    Farmers markets are usually a good bet at the very least you know they are local and seasonal produce that are fresh. Its more expensive but there is a lot of variety and it isn't big agribusiness. I wish I could get food there all the time but currently I am in college and dirt poor. Lentils, beans, rice, potatoes and eggs poor. Anyway if you have a job and can afford it its really worth your time. You get to build relationships with the people who produce your food and you know where its coming from.
     
  3. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    There have been several discussions about Food Inc. started on this site you may want to check those out too.  Since I watched Food Inc. I've done many things differently.

    First of all I read all ingredients in what I buy.  It is incredibly difficult to stay away from corn products, almost everything has some form of corn.  My main goal is to stay away from high-fructose corn syrup.

    Secondly, I shop organic with more conviction and less guilt (over the price) because now I consider buying these products as "voting" with my dollars.  My vote is to bring more organic products into the market which will hopefully drive the prices down.

    What I find most shocking is the "meat filler" that is laced with ammonia.  I haven't ordered a hamburger since I saw that.  Now if I want a burger I go to the butcher, pick out a piece of chuck and watch them grind it for me.  What a terrible solution to e-coli they have devised when all they need to do is feed cows grass instead of corn.

    Corn fed fish?  Abominable!
     
  4. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Farmers markets are usually a good bet at the very least you know they are local and seasonal produce that are fresh.

    This is one of those statements that actually confuse and confute the issue. How so? Because we tend to jump on this sort of sloganeering, and make broad assumptions as a result.

    In point of fact, shopping at a farmers market does not guarantee that the food there is either local or seasonal. It depends on the rules of the jurisdiction, regulations regarding use of the term "farmers market," and the by-laws voted on by the specific farmers market.

    I know of one case where the market allows "up to" 40% not being grown by the vendor. Just think about that. Almost half the produce being sold could legitimately be bought at the nearest terminal market. The same stuff sold in the supermarket, only more expensive.

    Just to put a point on it, that market opened for the season two weeks ago. Among the offerings were green beans and tomatoes. Fresh & locally grown? You betcha. Locally grown in South America. And fresh---well, sometime.

    "Local" is also a nebulous term. Sometimes it's just a convention. Ask ten locovores how they define local and you'll get 12 different answers. And sometimes it's defined legally. For instance, the Kentucky Proud rules allow agricultural products grown up to 50 miles into an adjoining state, to be labled as such. You wanna add up the square mileage of a 50 mile swath extending into 8 states? That's a whole nuther state right there. But legally stuff produced there is locally grown in Kentucky.

    Most states with similar programs have anomolies like that, particularly with value-added products. Here's an extreme (but not made up) example. I will refrain from naming the state, to protect the guilty. A farmer grows blackberries is State X. They are shipped to China, where they are converted into pulp. The pulp is shipped to Canada, where it is converted into blackberry jam (using, of course, the infamous high fructose corn syrup). The jars are then shipped to market, legally bearing a label that says "product of State X."

    Or consider "locally grown in California." What does that mean, in a state that stretches a thousand miles? Is California local any different than importing from Mexico? Or, to use the cant, buying any 1,500 mile tomato?

    "Organic" is another one of those unfortunate buzzwords. The fact is, the organics you buy in the supermarket are not locally produced by small, diverse growers concerned with the land. They are grown and distributed by the organics divisions of factory farms. And, with the exception that they are not blanketing the land with synthetic ag chemicals, it is exactly the same food, grown & distributed the same way, as their conventional produce. In fact, the high cost of such organics isn't because it costs more to deliver, but because they can get away with it.

    On the other hand, organics produced by local, small, diverse stewards of the land do cost more to produce. No amount of dollar voting is going to change that.

    So, if you buy from the small local producer, you're getting true organics, and will have to pay more for them. If you're buying in the supermarket, you're getting something no different than the stuff in the bins next to it, and are overpaying.

    Let's also remember that muck-raking, by definition, means to take an extreme position. Neither Food Inc. nor any similar expose is taking an objective look at the subject. Rather, it is trying to "prove" a contention, and picks and chooses examples for that purpose. In this case, it looks at the most extreme cons, and totally ignores the pros. Such so-called documentaries are designed to polarize, not solve problems.

    To put that in perspective: Recently a man was arrested for mistreating his horses. There were 22 of them in a paddock, underfed, sick, some dead. A muck-raking film maker could, if he wanted, use that as a springboard to "prove" of how the thoroughbred industry mistreats its horses, and that changes need to be made. Such a documentary would be neither accurate nor objective.

    And what's wrong with corn-fed fish? Sport fisherman have used corn as bait for at least a century. Should I not eat that wild trout I hooked because it recognized Libby's as food?

    If you want to use corn-fed as a symbol for the problems associated with aquaculture, then let's discuss the pros and cons of aquaculture. But broad-based comments such as corn-fed fish being abominable are neither meaningful to the conversation nor accurate.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2010
  5. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Grower's Only Markets.

    California has a farmer's market inspection system that regulates growers.

    As a chef that founded and ran 2 growers only markets for 7 years I agree with KY....do your homework....more importantly just be aware of where your is being grown (if possible how).

    Years ago there were a lot of us in the forefront who were discussing price of comparable products....grocery store vs farmers' markets.  Frankly during the season you can get great produce many times lower than from stores.  

    I'm sure there are many threads related to this one in the archives, let's see if I can pull one up.

    * it's better to do something rather than nothing....don't let it all be overwhelming.
     
  6. missyjean

    missyjean

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    My daughter became a vegetarian after watching Food Inc.

    Even my husband, who can practically drink bacon drippings, wants to eat organic meat now
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2010
  7. ishbel

    ishbel

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    I have bought only organic meat for over 20 years (long before it became fashionable)

    I try to buy local and seasonal veggies and fruits - but here in the UK this woud mean never eaten certain fruits and veggies for nearly 7 months of the year (unless you absolutely adore root vegetables and brassicas!

    I have always checked the ingredient lists on any product I intend to buy...   and if it is high in additives, I don't buy.
     
  8. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    As a chef that founded and ran 2 growers only markets for 7 years I agree with KY....do your homework....


    "Growers only." That, indeed, is the issue. Lexington has two farmers market organizations, one is a growers only, the other is not. But they're both called "farmers markets."

    As with so many things, however, there is the strength of belief involved, and it's interesting to hear those buying at the not-growers-only one describe the freshness and better flavor of the produce sold there over what they buy in the supermarket. Yeah, right!

    In addition to growers-only vs. not, there are other issues of nomenclature. In many areas of the country the phrase "farmers market" is used to describe what is actually a terminal market. And, again, if you bought stuff at one of them you are getting the same stuff sold in regular markets.

    The same syndrome applies to virtually all alternative agriculture. There is nothing about a CSA, for instance, that makes the food supplied inherently better than what you buy at the supermarket. For sure, many, perhaps most, of them do grow using organic methods, and choose heirloom varieties. But there's nothing in any rules I've ever read that says they have to, and I'm sure there are CSAs out there that grow hybrids using synthetic chemicals---and maybe harvest a little longer before delivery than is inferred. If you join a CSA, and don't actually visit the farm, shame on you.

    So, the base line, as Shroomgirl implies, is to not accept what others say. Do your own research and find out what is being grown, and how, and where it really comes from.

    You have a choice, when it comes to controlling what you eat. You can make an informed decision, or you can react to somebody's flag waving.
     
  9. rob ring

    rob ring

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    Jock,

    Try these 2 links to find grass-fed meat farmers and local vegetable farmers / CSAs in your area.  http://www.localharvest.org/   http://www.eatwild.com/

    And as far as corn-fed fish, I thought the concern was that fish raised on corn did not have the higher concentrations of omega-3 fats that are a primary reason people eat fish.  I'm sure my recollection is oversimplifying it, but I thought it boiled down to the fact that corn-based feed removed most of the health benefits of eating fish.

    Rob
     
  10. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    but here in the UK this woud mean never eaten certain fruits and veggies for nearly 7 months of the year

    That is the fundemental issue, Ishbel, and the one the muck-rakers ignore.

    The fact is, people want to eat tomatoes in January. And they want affordible beef. And they've gotten used to exotic foodstuffs grown in far-away climes. And as long as that situation prevails, food quality, overall, will never improve.
     
  11. fr33_mason

    fr33_mason

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    Simple, go and visit.

      Any producer with the type of values that the show purveyed will have no problem giving a prospective buyer a tour of their facilities. Buying that local also reduces the carbon footprint of the products you would be buying.
     
  12. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I think the purpose of Food Inc. is to be extreme.  Let's face it, we now live in a society where people are afraid of real food.  I have so many friends who "won't touch raw chicken cause it's gross" which results in them eating chicken nuggets or "boneless skinless chicken breasts" at best.  Even if the documentary is a bit extreme it serves the rightful purpose of getting people to ask the question that has been supressed for dozens of years:  What is in my food and where does it come from?

    My choice to buy organic may be naive as you imply, but at least I'm taking some sort of action.  I definitely taste a significant difference between regular milk and organic milk and that's reason enough for me.  Also, doing research is easier said than done.  It's a very confusing industry and I don't know where to begin.  I take in information as it comes to me and make the best choices I possibly can based on the knowledge I have.  There are some people that know more than I do, and some people that know less.  But at least I'm on the journey of learning and know more than I did 2 years ago as I'm sure I will know more in 2 years than I know now. 

    Part of my learning comes from testing products on my own.  Since conducting a fair amount of research (which I admit was pretty fun) I now realize I really like grass fed beef - sure it has a much milder flavor than corn fed which takes getting used to but I sincerely like the idea that I'm supporting the practice of grass fed.  Do I know everything about it though?  No and I don't claim to.

    I don't know about corn-fed fish.  I don't buy it because it seems strange to me, there's something not right about it - but you go ahead.

    Eating out of season is a big concern to me.  I grew up on a farm and ate local produce grown in our farms.  I remember eating seasonally - that means no tomatoes in January unless they were frozen since the summer.  I always get a kick out of greek salads at restaurants.  They have lettuce and tomatoes in them - in greece that would never happen since lettuce and tomatoes grow in opposite seasons.  It will either be a tomato salad or a green salad but not both.  I'm fine with this.  Can you imagine how awful figs would taste if we could get them year round?  That's the problem... people have stopped tasting real food.  We are so de-sensitized to the food industry and I'm glad that a program like Food Inc. can shed some light.
     
  13. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    My choice to buy organic may be naive as you imply,

    I didn't, for a second, mean to imply that you are naive. Just that "organic" typifies the problem. People have jumped on that bandwagon without really knowing what it means---which, in the United States, is just that the farmer complied with a federal regulation.

    And that just because food bears a certain label doesn't mean it's what you expect it to be. Many things used in the food industry are based on national and local legal definitions that are not what you think they are. Look up the definition of "vine ripe tomato," for instance, and see if it's anything near what you envision by the phrase.

    That's the problem... people have stopped tasting real food. 

    That is, indeed, the problem.

    And my point was that there is no simple solution, and that sloganeering isn't going to solve a complex problem. There are no magic bullets.

    Take that grass fed beef you've developed a fondness for. It was one thing, in the 19th century, when populations were low and land was plentiful, to feed the country on it. It's an altogether other thing in the 21st century, when there is no open range and population pressures impinge on everything.

    The fact is, given the current state of the world, and of the food distribution system, there is no way that grass fed beef can be anything but a specialty product.

    And that raises another part of the issue: Many authorities are concerned that all these "better food" movements are, by their very nature, elitist. That because (insert food specialty of choice) is, and will always be, limited, it's only available to the wealthy.

    I don't know as I fully subscribe to that idea. But I can see the merit of the argument.

    Take the locovore movement, for instance. Doesn't matter how you define local---call it a hundred miles, which seems to be a favorite figure. Here's an exercise for you: Take a compass and map, and put the point on the Chrysler building. Now inscribe a 100-mile circle. Two things will become apparent: 1. There's an awful lot of land within that circle that is no longer suitable for agriculture, and 2. what is available has an incredibly high land use cost. If you grow tomatoes on that land the price you charge for them has to reflect that land use cost---to the point where it's actually less expensive to grow them in California and ship them to your market.

    If that New York tomato was grown organically, and picked when it was ripe, and delivered to the nearest farmer's market after a short truck trip, there is no question that it's a much higher quality than the one from California. But there's that price difference to consider.

    It's no accident that there are very few unsubsidized farmers markets located in poor neighborhoods.

    it serves the rightful purpose of getting people to ask the question that has been supressed for dozens of years:  What is in my food and where does it come from?

    I would question your use of the word "surpressed."  None of the issues raised in Food Inc. have been hidden. The fact is, people, as a whole, don't care about what's in their food or where it comes from. Can't tell you how many people I've seen, for instance, reading Fast Food Nation while they devoured a Big Mac.

    Logically that makes no sense. You would think that anyone who read that book would never step into a fast-food joint again. But it doesn't work that way.

    What the muckrakers choose to overlook is that people have preferences that often have little to do with logic and rationality.

    Let's look at your part of the world for an example. Despite being bordered by some of the greatest fish factories in the world, the most popular fish in the countries of the northern Med remains salt cod. There's no logic to it. Indeed, it makes no sense at all. But if, for some reason, you wanted to reform the eating habits of those people, and ignored that fact, you would get nowhere. They are not going to give up salt cod no matter how bad for them you make it sound.

    I recall when GMOs first hit the public consciousness, and there was, on NET, a panel discussion about them, followed by a viewer poll. The bulk of respondents felt that if a product contained any frankenfoods it should say so on the label.

    That sounds encouraging, right? However, in a follow up study, those same people said that knowing there were gmos in the product would not stop them from buying and using it. In short, the issue for them wasn't genetically modified food. It was just labeling they cared about.

    Of all food issues, that one was the most confusing to me. If you don't care what goes into your body, why does it matter what's on the label?
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2010
  14. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I think people do care what goes into their bodies.  Over the past few decades the food industry has literally disguised food.  The supermarket is the first and last place one looks for food.  Food has to look a certain way for someone to buy it.  You don't walk into a market and see beef carcasses hanging around, the butcher turns to you says "what do you want me to cut off for you?"  Oh no, our food has to come in color coded styrofoam plates labed ribeye or loin or whatever.  Same thing with every other product in that store.  Nice square packaging - if it looks like an animal we don't want it.

    The fact that a person is eating a BigMac and reading Fast Food Nation is precisely the confused consumer most of us are.  We care, but we don't know how to care.  We've been eating fast food for so long that we are tolerant of it even if we know better.  We don't know where to turn to for accurate information.  Living in a city we don't have opportunity to research our farms and visit them.  We don't know what these "regulations" are. 

    What we do know is that there are people out there living a different kind of food culture than we do here.  My parents for example grow their own food, make their own olive oil, and keep herbs all over their garden.  Sure they go to the market but that's just a part of where they get their produce.  They also exchange food with others.  A jug of oil for a jug of wine from one of their wine maker friends.  A bushel of tomatoes for a bucket of cheese from another friend.  A basket of eggs for their aunt who grows beans.  Vine leaves from their vineyard for the local fisherman who parades his daily catch at the pier.  Also they forage for mushrooms, wild lettuces, snails, and wild figs.  It's a way of life, everybody there is like that. 

    We are so far removed from that here.  I see people who open a carton of eggs and will close it if they see a speck of poop on an egg.  Not many folks knows what if feels like to pick up a just hatched egg that is still warm and has feathers on it.  Not many people want to. 
     
  15. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Show you how true that all is.

    Bill Best, founder and director of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, was the subject of an article in the Chicago Tribune. The article---which was syndicated nationally---included a photo of Bill working with beans out in his fields.

    When it appeared in a North Carolina paper it prompted a letter to the editor bemoaning the fact that the farmer had dirt on his hands, and did anyone really expect us to eat the food he sold after being handled like that.

    I kid you not. We've come so far from where our food is grown that a farmer doing his job is considered to be an object of scorn and derision.

    The thing is, it's happened relatively quickly. When I was a kid, my mom would buy whole chickens from the butcher and do the finish cleaning and butchering in the house. Now most places don't even have butchers. Indeed, the big markets don't even have meat cutters anymore.

    As a matter of fact, there was still an operating dairy in Brooklyn, in those days. But I digress.

    Some of this, to be sure, has to do with the economics of the food distribution system. But much of it, too, has to do with government regulation. Anyone trying to hang chickens in his window today would be in trouble with several government agencies. Ditto that butcher you spoke about. So, while it's easy to blame the "food industry," the fact is many of our woes have to do with the often-confusing way the government passes and enforces its rules.

    If you have any doubts about that, go find me a raw-milk cheese that's been aged 30 days. I guarantee you, it isn't the dairy's fault that you'll be unsuccessful in that quest.

    Granted, for those who live in big cities in particular, it's not the easiest thing to visit farms. But, more often than not, if you want to know where your food comes from all it takes is a fair share of mouth. Ask the seller. If he claims not to know, tell him to show you the shipping cartons, which will be clearly marked as to country of origin at a minimum. Often enough, if it's a domestic product, the box will not only say, "grown in the US," but also, "product of Wisconsin," or whatever.

    Even roughly knowing the where can tell you an awful lot about the what. If you're in New York, and the tomatoes come from Mexico, then you pretty much know how they were grown, how they were harvested, and how they were handled in transit. If the avocadoes came from California, you can pretty much answer those questions, too.

    At the farmers market, did the vendor grow it himself? Or did he purchase it at a terminal market for resale? And if he did grow it himself, ask about his growing methods. What kind of varieties, what kind of growing techniques, when was it harvested?

    Here's an experiment for you. Go buy some free range eggs at the farmer's market. Crack one open and compare it with a regular egg from the supermarket. Then ask the guy at the farmer's market about those beautiful orange yolks. Trust me, he'll be more than happy to educate you about eggs, and chickens, and, perhaps, even ducks as well.
     
  16. maryb

    maryb

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    Grass fed beef isn't always more expensive than feedlot beef. I paid $2.17 a pound for a quarter of beef wrapped and delivered to my door. Grass fed, locally raised and butchered in a small family run shop that is spotless. As far as out of season fruits and veg I can and or vacuum pack and freeze. I don't buy out of season tomatoes because they taste like crap /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif
     
  17. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    MaryB - wow, at least the tomatoes you've tasted out of season have a flavor - crap.  To me they taste like wet paper towels.

    KY thanks for the tips.  I guess I should be a little more proactive when I shop.  I admit that farmers markets intimidate me a little but I should do it as an exercise more than anything else and ask questions and talk to the farmers myself.  It's a leap for sure.

    I'm tired of my local butcher.  They really don't know anything and are not keen to answer questions, they seem really put out and answer me like I'm an idiot for not knowing these things in the first place.  I've asked them to debone a whole chicken (while leaving it intact) and not a single butcher in my area can do it.  At best they can debone pieces of chicken.  No, don't give me a method, I'll tackle it when I'm ready but not now.
     
  18. nicko

    nicko Founder of Cheftalk.com Staff Member

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     My wife started this a few years ago and it takes work but is totally doable. We not buy our pork from a local farmer every year and also our seafood (salmon) from husband and wife team that only provides line caught salmon. You will need a box freezer because you will be buying in bulk but you will have a lot less trips to the store.

    What I enjoy about it most is that I have a relationship with the people growing my food. I know their names, the breed of pigs they raise and what they feed them! One of the best ways to find a farmer near you is to go to http://www.localharvest.org/  You can find farmers by your area.

    The great thing about buying our pork from a local farmer is that we are getting the same or better quality than whole foods at half the cost.

    You can do the same Jock for vegetables, eggs, and milk. Takes a bit of work and planning but once you get in the groove it is worth it.

    This year we are growing a vegetable garden so I am excited about that. Hopefully we can do some canning following some of Pam Grants How-To articles on canning.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2010
  19. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    One alternative (or supplement) to buying like that is to join a CSA. You not only develop a relationship with the farmer(s) that way, you actually have a vested interest in his success.

    Even big cities like New York and San Francisco have operating CSAs, and you can find them with a little research.

    KK: The problem you ran into is getting to be fairly widespread, unfortunately. We have fewer and fewer real butchers in America. Most of those who pass themselves off as such are merely meat cutters. There's a world of difference between the two, as you've discovered by how little your "butcher" knows about his trade.

    When you're ready to tackle your own butchering keep in mind that you will, the first few times, really make a mess of things. Don't let it frustrate you. There's a relatively fast learning curve, but those first few mistakes will be lulus. Once you develop the skills, however, you'll wonder why you never did so before.

    There are some unexpected benefits to home-butchering as well. F'rinstance, when you buy primal cuts you can usually get a better quality meat, at a lower per-pound cost. Then you just break it down yourself and you're good to go.

    Getting back to mouth, you have one thing really going for you, surrounded as you are by ethnic and small specialty markets. The owners of those stores usually are more in touch with who their suppliers are and where the food they sell comes from, and are more than willing to discuss it with you once they get to know you a little.

    Example: When we first started patronizing the Korean market in Lexington we were treated as just another couple of round eyes. But after a very short time we were regulars. Now the owner not only chats with us, he makes recommendations about things we should try, and things we should shy away from.

    And, as Nicko suggests, a chest freezer and canning equipment go a long way towards maintaining food quality year round.
     
  20. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    at least the tomatoes you've tasted out of season have a flavor - crap.  To me they taste like wet paper towels.

    You're absolutely correct, KK. And the reason for that also helps you understand my comments about supermarket organics. It all boils down to the food distribution system.

    Take those tomatoes. The way the system works is that they are harvested green, and stored in climate-controlled warehouses (which translates, in the common tongue, as cold storage). Just before they are shipped the tomatoes are hit with ethylene gas, which causes them to change color.


    Don't get put off by the ethylene, per se. Ethylene is what causes tomatoes to ripen on the vine. The difference is, with the factory-farm produced stuff, they aren't being bathed by the gas long enough. So what you get, in the market, is a tomato that is colored, but which has never actually ripened. Then, if you're like most people, you get home and put them in the fridge. Result: cold, wet, cardboard.

    BTW, if you want, we can discuss why vine-ripened tomatoes should never be put in the fridge.

    Contributing to the problem is the choice of variety. Factory-farm tomatoes are always hybrids, and they were bred specifically to meet the needs of the food distribution system. There are a lot of characteristics looked for when breeding such tomatoes, but taste is not something selected for. So, if you grow that variety yourself, and harvest it ripe, any real flavor crept in by accident.

    Even so, the first time somebody grows their own they are amazed at the difference in flavor. The reason is, they've never before actually eaten a ripe tomato. If that person then takes the next step, and grows an heirloom or other open-pollinated variety, whose primary characteristic is flavor, there's no going back. They become like me and Mary, and do not eat "fresh" tomatoes for about seven months of the year.