America Has Never Been So Desperate for Tomato Season

On Saturday, I walked a mile from my Brooklyn apartment to a farmers’ market with a clarity of purpose that felt ordained by the heavens. I didn’t really have time for the errand, or a solid idea of how I would use its spoils, but I was compelled onto the sidewalk for a very specific task. It’s tomato season, and I was a woman in want of tomatoes.

I don’t know when tomatoes became an object of such obsession for me, but they seem to have grown similarly important to nearly everyone I know. Tomatoes are in season every summer, but this year the internet has turned tomato season into Tomato Season. Both food media and regular people have latched onto the idea with a fervor that feels more wild-eyed and ubiquitous than in previous years. I hiked to the farmers’ market on a hot, busy day because friends on Instagram and Twitter had posted so many photos of its impossible bounty—the straw that broke the camel’s back, after two weeks of watching them share recipes for tomato sandwiches and panzanellas and tomato-ricotta tarts.

By this month’s standards, a celebration of late-summer produce is an uncharacteristically gentle development online. On the same morning I decided I couldn’t go on living without enough tomatoes to last me the week, news broke that Jeffrey Epstein, the sex offender awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking, had died by apparent suicide in jail, setting off a Rube Goldberg machine of conspiracy theories about who might be responsible. That news piled on top of a summer in which thousands of migrant children have been held in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions at detention centers at the southern U.S. border and dozens of Americans have been murdered in a rash of mass shootings.

When I got home from my tomato expedition, I read a tweet from the comedian Sarah Lazarus that made me feel like someone had put a camera inside my apartment. “Every day we have to wake up, confront the most upsetting shit we’ve ever seen, and then walk around obeying laws and saying ‘it’s tomato season,’” she wrote. On social media, the grotesque and silly all get swept together in one endless stream, dizzying and outrageous. Chernobyl selfies get uploaded next to pics from last week’s beach day. Tomatoes—wholesome, unextravagant, and endlessly photogenic—exist somewhere in the comforting middle, a mundane joy in an absurd world.

Maybe this tomato season has turned into Tomato Season because everything else can seem so intolerable, or because it’s so inextricably tied to a few particular weeks in an era when the passage of time can seem so unmoored from the human experience of it. The United States is knee-deep in an acrimonious presidential campaign that still contains two dozen participants, and it won’t be resolved until more than a year from now. White-supremacist violence is on the rise, and the technology companies whose products have helped disseminate the ideology seem ill-equipped or disinclined to stop it.

Tomatoes are proof that the world still works in some capacity, at least for now. They still grow. Markets sell them. A tomato with a slick of mayonnaise on soft white bread won’t solve anything, but for the next few weeks, it will taste great. Of course it will. It’s tomato season.

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