Paul Jacob

Attention Naomi Wolf: a federally mandated state trade organization discriminates against Solanum lycopersicum on the grounds of appearance. No ugly ones allowed. The Beauty Myth . . . and about tomatoes!

This week the Florida Tomato Commission hit the news again. It got beat down, just a bit, by the federal government. But not on the grounds that the wolf peach, the dreaded "love apple" — that is, the tomato — deserved protection from narrow-minded Florida bigots. Oh, no. Pretty soon all Americans will be able to enjoy the fruits of a slightly opened-up regulatory scheme. But our dark days are not over.

The roots of discrimination live on.

Yup, the Florida Tomato Commission is hung up on beauty. And that is bad. You can't judge the taste of a tomato by its shiny, red skin. That's somethingism, isn't it? Skinnism? Shinyism?

How about: sillyism.

Not surprisingly for these Outer Beauty Bigots, the Commission's website is mighty pretty. But this is mainly the result of featuring their product, the luscious tomato, as the main design element.

I admit it, though; the site's FAQ contains some good information. Wandering netizens can find some recipes and advice on storing, preparing, and preserving tomatoes. Very good. No complaints.

But the Commission does have a problem. It is obviously a marketing organization. So the most basic truth about tomatoes remains noticeably absent: The best tomatoes aren't from Florida.

The best I've ever tasted were home grown. Picked off the vine. Or bought at local farmers' markets. Or at stands by the roadside. In New Jersey. In Virginia. In Arkansas. California. I travel. I eat tomatoes. I know.

But I still buy tomatoes at the grocery store. And many, many tomatoes do hail from Florida. So the Florida Tomato Commission almost directly affects my quality of life.

And yours, if you know what's good for you.

Of course, there's the rub. The U.S. government and the Florida Tomato Commission don't believe you know, or can know, what is good for you. Not without their help. They just have to get involved. Quality of food, you see. You must be protected from unscrupulous tomato growers.

Who? Well, the dread Procacci Brothers of Philadelphia, whose Florida subsidiaries grow the UglyRipe tomato.

You see, the UglyRipe doesn't look like the smooth tomato we're used to in the supermarket. It has more creases than Boris Karloff's facial in The Mummy. But a lot more edible. Really. Nice and red.

And, I'm told, it puts standard Florida tomatoes to shame.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.