The myth of the tomato – the glamor and misery of fresh red vegetables

By Annemieke Hendriks and Dirk Fuhrig

Campell’s legendary tomato soup – Andy Warhol turned it into art. (stock imago & people / Richard Levine)

The tomato is the favorite vegetable of the Germans. The plant is native to South America. Later, the women’s movement adopted the tomato as a symbol – and even in an era when gender identities are changing, the tomato has a lot to say.

A German eats eight kilos of fresh tomatoes a year. That’s not much – if you compare that to the 32 kilograms of candy the average German eats every year. Tomatoes are in fact the most consumed vegetable in this country – ahead of carrots. And this is associated with a lot of feelings: tomatoes must be organic, sustainable, healthy and even have received literary consecration.

“In our rooms on Thursday there is the smell of tomatoes, on Sunday of roast goose, and every Monday there is laundry. This is how the days are: red, fat, soapy.”

This is what Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote. Andy Warhol also created an unforgettable tomato memorial with Campbell’s famous tin cans.

A globalized factory

The tomato is native to the equatorial region of South America. He only got his strong red color in later crosses. In Europe, they were initially ornamental plants – as nocturnal plants, they were suspected of being poisonous.

Vegetable market with lots of tomatoes – Germans don’t eat more vegetables (picture alliance / dpa / Heiko Wolfraum)

Centuries of wandering life, migratory flows across the Atlantic and back – before Dutch market gardeners experimented with growing tomatoes in the 1960s. Today the precious seeds travel around the world and trucks from vegetables are crossing Europe. Historically, the tomato had to be issued a world passport.

The tomato is more globalized than almost any other vegetable. On the one hand. In contrast, the myth of the ‘national tomato’ persists, which is still better than all the others – in terms of taste and durability. Today, the country of origin must be registered for each tomato.

Tomato as a sign and symbol

What makes the “tomato myth” different? When is a tomato considered German or Dutch? What are the secrets of growing tomatoes? Are tomatoes androgynous beings? Why do tomatoes fly when we don’t agree with something? And why has the student women’s movement made the tomato its symbol?

Here you can download the manuscript in PDF format.

Annemieke Hendriks: Tomatoes. The true identity of our fresh vegetables. A report
Be.bra, Berlin 2017
288 pages, 65 ill., 18 euros

This message is a repetition. First broadcast date: 11/15/2017.

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