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We all know we’re supposed to eat healthy, but how often do we use the excuse that it’s just too expensive? Fresh, perishable food and shelf-stable food can have a vast difference in price. Let’s look at canned tomatoes versus fresh tomatoes. My local grocer carries a national brand of 14.5-ounce canned diced tomatoes for 99 cents. Fresh tomatoes from the same grocery store sell for $2.49 per pound or roughly, $1.40 each. By volume, you end up with about the same amount of product: approximately ½ cup.

Canned tomatoes on a shelf

So why the huge difference in price? At the time of writing this article it’s late February here in Nashville, Tennessee. Tomatoes, being out of season, are going to be more expensive this time of year compared to any other. Have you noticed that tomatoes in February just aren’t as good as tomatoes in July? The tomatoes that get sold in the grocery store throughout the winter are typically grown and harvested in warmer parts of the country, namely Florida. They are picked before they fully ripen; while still green or at what’s called the breaker stage where the tomato is breaking in color from green to yellowish-red. They are then washed, cooled, and stored in warehouses awaiting distribution. This process is costly for the farmer and ultimately those costs are passed on to you, the consumer.

Fresh tomatoes

So why do growers use this procedure instead of allowing tomatoes to ripen on the vine? It would taste better, but the tomatoes would decompose by the time they reached the grocery store shelves. Another reason is to keep up with demand. In the United States we expect to see tomatoes at the grocery store any day of the week, any time of year. Additionally, produce is grown and sold based on how they look and not on how they taste. The trick to eating fresh, great tasting, healthy foods on a budget is eating locally and seasonally. The less time a tomato (or any produce) spends traveling from the farm to your plate, the more nutrients it retains. When fruits and vegetables start to decompose, so do those beneficial nutrients. We may have to wait until the summer to enjoy a juicy tomato around here but in the meantime, our local farmers are producing hearty root vegetables and nutrient-dense leafy greens. Skip the expensive, mealy grocery store tomato and enjoy this sweet potato and kale with grits dish instead. Check your local farmer’s markets for seasonally available foods in your area. It will be lighter on the wallet and heavier on the nutrition.

Sources:

Boyhan, G. E., & Coolong, T. (2019, April 01). Commercial Tomato Production Handbook. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1312

Harper, J., & Orzolek, M. (2021, February 25). Tomato production. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://extension.psu.edu/tomato-production

Staff, N., & Estabrook, B. (2011, July 09). The troubled history of the Supermarket tomato. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2011/07/09/137623954/the-troubled-history-of-the-supermarket-tomato

Eggs over kale and sweet Potato GRITS. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/myplate-cnpp/eggs-over-kale-and-sweet-potato-grits

Author: Bridget Russell, Senior Dietetics Student, Middle Tennessee State University, ber3h@mtmail.mtsu.edu

Reviewer: Amanda Bohlen, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Washington County, bohlen.19@osu.edu

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