Listen carefully to the conversations of those next to you on trains, in restaurants, or at the market and you are sure to hear one word: Tomato. If salmonella and food recalls teach us anything, it's that people love to talk about salmonella and food recalls. People love to talk about foods they can't eat in general (See: Vegans, vegetarians, those with gluten allergies, and every elderly person alive) but the food recall puts everyone in the same boat. Suddenly, we all can't eat the same foods and if we don't tell someone about it, our heads might explode.
The E. coli in spinach had everyone talking a few years ago. I was working in the food industry during that time and nearly every person I spoke with asked about spinach.
"Is it safe to eat spinach yet?"
"Well, I can't eat spinach, I know that. But do you have something like spinach?"
"Are you serving spinach?" "Yes." "YOU ARE?!" "No, I was just kidding." "You shouldn't joke! The E. coli!"
Mad Cow had people talking for years, but I think most Americans thought of it as the Pop Rocks/Pepsi urban legend because the subject was usually only brought up over a burger. "Oh, this looks good. Hope I don't get mad cow!" (note: a rancher with many heads of cattle is said to have "mad cow" and this only added to the confusion during the whole beef scare)
But this tomato thing really has people talking. I've had three people in the last two days tell me how upset they were that they couldn't get tomatoes on their sandwiches. Really? The tomato absence ruined your day?
"Was it a BLT?"
This morning a stranger at the produce shop in our neighborhood (ironically called Top Tomato) started to list for me the tomatoes I could and couldn't eat. I was buying bananas.
And while out to eat last night, a debate at our table began concerning an appetizer that contained tomatoes. In a tone very similar to a child's declaration of bravery, a friend said with a shaking head, "I'm not scared. I'm not scared of tomatoes."
If you want to try a fun social experiment, casually slip into conversation that you're on an all-tomato diet and see what happens. If at least one complete stranger doesn't scream at you, I'll give you a tomato.