The Battle of the Produce: USA Versus Europe and the Truth About Tomatoes

Anyone who has ever traveled to Europe will likely have noticed one key element, besides the amazing architecture, fascinating culture, and history that dates back for more than three hundred years. The food, even in the average supermarket, is of infinitely better quality. (This is not the case in Germany, but we’ll get to that). This is particularly true for produce in as much as it is respectful of the seasons and tastes like more than delicately flavored water.

Still, you might argue. Those tomatoes are tiny, I’d like more bang for my buck. Sure, continue eating your lousy tomatoes until you realize the ones from Italy are bursting with the flavor of your grandmother’s garden. Harry Klee, a tomato grower from Florida, recently told Belluz “The bottom line here with the industrial tomatoes is that tomatoes have been bred for yield, production, disease resistance. The growers are not paid for flavor — they are paid for yield. So the breeders have given them this stuff that produces a lot of fruit but that doesn’t have any flavor.”

The Battle of the Produce: USA Versus Europe and the Truth About Tomatoes

But why, do you ask? The answer is more complex than meets the eye. First of all, Americans are the most poorly traveled people of any developed nation, so unless they’re lucky enough to live in California, where the produce is of high enough quality, they won’t necessarily have gotten to experience the joys of freshly harvested seasonal vegetables and fruits. As a result, the standard for flavor ends up feeling frighteningly low. The reason why this happens is quite ironic. The tomatoes that Americans feel most comfortable purchasing are very round and of a deep shade of red. However, the main issue remains that this very common mutation ends up deactivating a gene that produces the sugars that make for the most flavorful tomatoes, so we’re left with a ghost of a vegetable (Or fruit. Whatever). Klee added “When researchers ‘turned on’ the deactivated gene, the fruit had 20 percent more sugar and 20 to 30 percent more carotenoids when ripe – yet its non-uniform color and greenish pallor suggest that mainstream breeders will not be following suit. So we’re stuck with beautiful tomatoes that taste like a mere hint of their former selves.”

The Battle of the Produce: USA Versus Europe and the Truth About Tomatoes

Germany has a similar issue. They expect their produce to be completely homogenous and beautiful, but refuse to pay more than rock bottom prices for it. As a result, their products are only very slightly better than those available in the United States.

Americans also have a tendency to like their products to be large and readily available. That means that if a strawberry isn’t at least as big as a child’s fist and an apple couldn’t be used for batting practice, they got ripped off. It doesn’t matter how the produce tastes as long as it’s massive. Seasonality is also a major issue. Though most people are now aware of the importance of respecting this food trend, it is a matter of getting people to actually respect the idea that purchasing peaches when there’s snow on the ground is unsustainable. Similarly, apples that are picked in the fall will be crisp and sweet, but that same apple in the summer will likely be mealy and unappetizing.

However, the trend towards purchasing “ugly produce” seems to be growing at a fairly rapid pace, so hopefully the demand for veggies grown sans flavor-sucking mutations will follow. The ugly produce trend started in France and spread throughout Europe like wildfire. In the United States, organizations like Misfits Market are following suit.