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Monday Morning Rant: “Fake” Tomatoes in East Texas Broke My Heart

Tomatoes should be fun, not depressing.
Tomatoes should be fun, not depressing.

Buy local. Eat seasonal. Hug a farmer. Kiss a chef. When the economy gets tough, we love our neighbors, right? As mighty “Agent Orange” Monsanto poisons our bodies with abused cattle, chickens, and ugly carpet, we turn to each other and clasp hands in unity. WE SHALL FIGHT YOU WITH OUR ORGANIC GARDENS! THE CHICKEN WE PUT IN OUR POT WILL LIVE IN OUR BACKYARDS! BASIL IS THE NEW PARSLEY!

It’s all a lovely idea and great mantra to live by. Facing shrinking 401-ks would be easier if people could be nicer to each other, right? Put on your best John Belushi: But, nooooooooo.

This morning, I am disillusioned. The older I get, the more I want to get in a red time machine and go back to the peace-love-and-Woodstock of the ‘70s. I know I can’t and I know I have to put yesterday behind me. I need to get on down the road.

Oh, yesterday? Let me back up.

You know how you get when you are really busy and things pile up and you feel like the earlier you get up, the faster you fall behind? You spend weeks (months?) trying to climb to that mental plateau where you can lie low on cool flat ground and let a soothing sense of accomplishment wash over your soul. For a day, an hour, a minute, you might take a deep breathe and feel good about yourself.

Sometimes in your salmon-like frenzy, just before you get to that sweet spot, something little jumps in your way and you freak out in the darkness. It’s always a little thing—a car cuts you off; a waiter forgets your wine; your husband switches the channel just when the jury reaches a verdict on Law & Order. Whatever, you snap. Like a dragon.

Yesterday, I snapped. It happened at a fruit stand in Eustace, Texas. I’ve passed the place twice a week for five years on my way to my family’s home in East Texas. I used to know the farmer that ran the place. He must have sold the business or died.

Yesterday, I was coming back with some East Texas goodies for a Father’s Day celebration. I’d picked herbs from my garden and had a cold bottle of East Texas Semillon from Kiepersol Estates—all I needed was a bunch of Noonday onions and a bag of local tomatoes. What a groovy gift—so earthy, so hippie, so now.

I stopped at the shack in Eustace. I took one look at the tomatoes and knew they weren’t grown in the dirt of Texas. They were shiny and yellowish red, not dull and blue/red like “ours”. They were nestled in a rustic woven basket with a handwritten sign—you know they misspell on purpose! “Tomaters, $5.50”  I asked the guy where they came from. “Texas,” he said without looking up. “Where in Texas?” I asked in a distinctly bitchy tone. “I dunno,” he said with a sneer.

Then I heard a dog scratching from the inside of a trailer sitting in the hot sun near the shed. “Is there a dog in that trailer?” I asked. “I dunno,” he hissed. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke in my direction. I walked over the wooden trailer and tried to open the door. Not only was it locked, there were no windows and the poor thing was crying. As I readied to chew the sneering dude’s ass out about the dog, I looked down. There was a pile of fly-infested cardboard boxes stamped “Tomatoes: Product of Florida.” And I snapped. Hoohah! Flip City.

Yes, it seems small. Eustace isn’t Iran and the poor guy is just trying to make a buck–he has cigarettes to buy. But that three minute exchange took a big bite out of my heart on so many levels. I hate it when that happens.

  • Brad

    I’m adding him to my list of people I plan to take out when I go postal. I saw “Food, Inc.” on Friday – disturbing. This guy sounds awful, so now I want to hear the resolution to the story.

    I don’t know if I could spot a non-Texan Tomater, but I would definitely flip out about the dog……

  • rubbercow

    There is a person at the Farmer’s Market that I won’t trade with any more because of a similar problem. Where are the tomatoes from? West Texas. Where in West Texas? Just out West!

  • Matt

    FYI — your first reference to Eustace says “Euless”. Couldn’t figure out how Euless was on your way from your neighborhood to East Texas.

  • Nigel Tufnel

    I believe that my wife and I were disappointed at that same stand a couple of weeks ago. We had taken the kids to the Fisheries Center in Athens on a Saturday morning and were headed back to Dallas with plans for a nice dinner with East Texas produce. We were similarly disgusted with overpriced, foreign tomatoes, and we were put off by the $8 canteloupe. Sad. No sign of the dog, however, and it was a woman working that day.

  • Nancy Nichols

    thanks, matt. still pissed.

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    I trace this downslide to the ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’. When a pair of Monsanto-ed melons begets a pricey lap dance, how can selling fake and tasteless Monsanto-ed tomatoes be far behind?

  • TG

    how can we set that dog free? fricking AWFUL

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    FYI, if the time ever comes when any of us is NOT outraged at animal cruelty, we’re cerifiably old if not dead.

  • Amy S

    Yesterday I was in the Tom Thumb at Preston Forest and they had to page a lady who had left her dog in the car (AT 1:00 IN THE FRIGGING AFTERNOON) with the windows cracked. She was in her mid-60’s, and when she started giving Georgia (the manager) the “I don’t understand the problem” line, the people in the checkout lanes BOOED her.

  • Twinwillow

    F**k the ‘maters. Call the cops and have the ass***e arrested for animal cruelty!

  • Twinwillow

    I’m still waiting for some decent East Texas tomatoes to appear. The ones I bought at a (local) Dallas market were supposed to be genuine “Lemley’s”. A week now and there’re
    still hard as a rock! And, the tomatoes at shed #1 at the DFM are, tasteless!

  • CoB

    @Twinwillow – At lunchtime today I had a tomato purchased from Lemley’s yesterday at Shed #1. Looked and tasted just like it was grown in the backyard and picked ripe. Sorry your experience was not as good. Don’t give up.

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    Here’s a happy SideDish related sidebar. On the same day your rodent louse had his dog locked in the heat;

    I met last night at Lee Harvey’s…. Julian from BOLSA w/his new bouncing baby ‘Cora’—a young white albino pit bull he rescued two weeks ago in an Oak Cliff parking lot despite ‘not wanting a dog’ or wanting to get otherwise involved. But he could not leave ‘Cora’ there somehow. And he let her into his car. And the rest was his….and Cora’s…history.

    And PS: For anyone ever stereotyping pit bulls: That was the happiest, sweetest and cutest pit I ever saw in my life. Tail wagging, rolling and playing with any other dog. Kissing any other dog voraciously. A genuinely dear, sweet and joyous doggy. Who had apparently been used as a ‘bait dog’ for fighting pits prior to being dumped, scars intact. How’s that for a balancing act happy ending?

    So let’s all send a happy fist bump to Julian and Cora. Ask him about her when you go to Bolsa.

    Against all odds dogs find us and we are rewarded ongoing for saving their lives. THAT’s what I suspect they mean when they talk about ‘heaven on earth’.

  • Twinwillow

    @CoB ~ Thanks. I’ll give it another try this weekend.
    Need some more, “barnyard” eggs as well. Love those little green ones.
    Hope the peaches will be sweeter, too!

  • Mick

    This was a nice essay. We do need to be nice and lieing about those tomatoes is shitty and the dog too

  • S.A.M.

    Nancy, out-of-state tomatoes impersonating in-state tomatoes should be against the law (just like the way that guy was treating his god). I had a similar incident happen to me a few years back in Oklahoma. They grow some awesome watermelons up there. So I stopped to buy one. The guy at the stand had just purchased them from the Dallas Farmers Market. Groan. I wanted a good Oklahoma watermelon. Big fakers!

  • Idunno

    Bluberry Hill Farm in Edom didn’t disappoint Saturday.