Why Buying USA-Grown Tomato Products Matters
Every visit to the grocery store or a restaurant is a chance for you to voice which products and companies you want to support. We vote with our food dollars. Do you want organic, less sugar, more flavors or lower prices? Your votes are tabulated through your purchases and ultimately your options/quality of products will improve. What about the country of origin? Why should this matter to a busy shopper who is just trying to put food on the table? Because where our food comes from has a huge impact, not only on the quality of the food we eat, but on our local economy and the farmers who grow our food.
Know what you’re getting!
In a recent documentary “Empire of ‘Red Gold” the filmmaker set out to learn about the tomato products industry globally. He went to China, Italy, and California, the three largest growers of processed tomatoes. In China, he found pollution, terrible worker conditions, fraud and corruption with surprisingly similar issues in Italy. In fact, the legitimacy of so-called “San Marzano” tomato products exported to the U.S. has been often questioned. The issue is more well known regarding imported Olive Oil but is very similar. This has even been called out by the Italians themselves, who have been quoted as saying that as much as 95% of the “San Marzano” tomatoes being imported to America are not actually from the San Marzano Region at all. Questions abound about what is being added and where the tomatoes really come from. Indeed, in the documentary Empire of Red Gold, they found Chinese canned tomatoes being shipped to Italy and then being relabeled as Italian. When you buy American-grown canned tomatoes and tomato products, you can be confident that standards of sustainability, worker justice, safety, and over-all proud production practices are followed.
Everyone has heard the lore of “San Marzano” tomatoes from Italy. The celebrities on cooking shows or online often recommend them, but why? In many blind taste tests the USA-grown tomatoes are crowned the winner. People are often surprised by this, but it just comes down to marketing. So, like all things, it’s important to question the hype. You may favor one brand of tomato products over another—often it’s because you may have grown up with your grandma making “Sunday gravy” with that brand, but discover for yourself your own favorite brand. It’s important to not fall prey to the marketing hype or some celebrity that says you need to pay more for tomatoes shipped across the globe when the world’s best tomatoes are grown in our very own country. When the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen set out to make the perfect pizza sauce, they were SHOCKED when they discovered that the USA grown tomato product they tested far outshined any of the 10+ imported “San Marzano” canned tomatoes.
Surveys show that more than half of Americans consider sustainability when making food purchases. So, as we continue to learn more about the importance of sustainability and the global environmental footprint associated with our food choices, it emphasizes the urgency of purchasing foods that are produced locally, rather than those grown on the opposite side of the globe. Foods that are produced far away and are transported long distances produce a higher carbon footprint, which impacts climate change. Just think of how much fossil fuel it requires to ship tomato products from Italy or China, compared to simply purchasing products that are grown in the United States. Indeed, the sunny climate and rich soil in many parts of America are well suited for producing tomatoes, which is why they may be grown in family-owned farms with lower agricultural inputs than many other locations. It’s greener to purchase USA-grown tomatoes than fancy imported tomatoes, not to mention it’s better for your pocketbook.
So, now you know how to read beyond marketing myths, actual taste differences, and global impact. But keep in mind what really matters the most: USA farmers. Right now the farmers that grow our food are struggling with global trade wars, tariffs, and increased costs up and down the supply chain. The people who get hit the hardest are the thousands of family farms and the workers that they employ, and the local economies built around agriculture that struggle to make a living feeding America. When you make your choice at the grocery store, you essentially decide who you will support: Either American farms and the communities they support, or foreign countries with questionable oversight, food safety, worker and health regulations, and often an inferior product.
When you buy American grown products, this is who you’re supporting:
So when you’re making decisions for your family, going out to eat or picking out which canned tomato to buy, or ready to use marinara sauces on the retail shelf, frozen pizzas, lasagna in the freezer section, ketchup, salsa, etc remember the American families that are growing this food and decide who you want to support. Do the right thing! Buy local, delicious, American-grown tomatoes.
Chief Tomato Evangelist