It was June 2009 when I travelled to Tuscany, Italy, and became a tomato lover. In those tiny family restaurants hidden on narrow streets in ancient cities such as San Gemignano, Lucca, and Siena, I had the most delicious pasta dishes with fresh tomato sauce ever. Julia Roberts knows what I mean; she seemed delighted eating that Italian spaghetti with tomato sauce in “Eat Pray Love”.
My passion for tomatoes turned into almost an addiction about five months ago, when I found out about Campbell’s V8 tomato soup, with no preservatives. Tomato soup; some ketchup; tomato sauce; raw tomatoes with olive oil, oregano, and salt; or V8 juice are part of my daily life. But this is kind of new to me; so, I had never looked up online for information on tomatoes.
I started from Facebook and found around 9,300 results for “Tomato”, including organizations of agricultural products, restaurants, music band, interior design office, people whose first name is “Tomate” (Tomato in Portuguese and Spanish), management firm, fashion brand, a cat’s profile (from The Philippines), movie (Fried Green Tomatoes, from 1991) and movie reviews (Rotten Tomatoes), technology company, and many pages such as “Can this tomato have more fans than Justin Bieber?”, or “Can this tomato get more fans than Ahmadinejad?” – the latter with 27,556 “likes”, wow! I joined only “Tomatoes”, with 5,072 fans and a brief description from Wikipedia, and “Tomato soup lovers”, with 102 members and no conversations going on, a complete failure. Ok, tomatoes are not chocolates.
Disappointed, I moved on to Flickr, where I found 594,645 beautiful pictures of “tomatoes”, with the exception of someone dressed in a tomato custom and a guinea pig eating tomato, with seeds falling from its little mouth. There are five communities related to tomatoes on Flickr, and the most popular one is called “Food Porn” (ooops), with 24,921 members and 407,495 pictures. Food Porn is followed by “I Ate This”, “I Love Food Group”, “Food: I Cooked/Made This!”, and finally “A Food Photography Experience!”
Not exactly impressed by what I saw on Flickr, I went to Food.com, which would be very helpful if I enjoyed cooking (but I’m a disaster in the kitchen), or if I wanted to have my own business, such as an Italian restaurant. Food.com offers recipes for tomatoes salads, tomatoes sauce, tomatoes salsa, and tomato comfort food. Recipes are organized by categories such as “Most Popular Tomatoes Recipes”, “Newest…”, “Healthy…”, “Quick and Easy…”, and finally “Recommended Tomatoes Recipes.” Also, recipes come with pictures and are rated by communities’ members. I didn’t find any specific community about tomatoes, but I found cooking and gardening communities, with which I could exchange information on where to buy the best tomatoes, or how to prepare a delicious gazpacho.
Finally, the best: Amazon.com. Amazon shows more than 31,602 results for “tomatoes”, including several books, music, clothing, beauty (tomato toner!) and gardening products, and a variety of canned tomatoes (crunched, dried, organic, and so on). I found also three related communities: “The Gardening Community”, “The Organic Gardening Community”, and “The Cooking Community”, and I think I wouldn’t join any of those, but I would consider members’ opinions on tomato products. These people write reviews, rate books, take pictures, and, by doing so, they help others to select products that best suit their needs. In The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, the author says, “Online, however, the consumer has a lot more help… You can sort by price, by ratings, by date, and by genre. You can read customer reviews.” (p.173). And this is awesome!
The enormous variety of tomato products available on Amazon.com at an affordable price (sometimes online is even cheaper) is a consequence of the digital era. In the pre-web era, stores had to prioritize the display and sale of high demand products because those were the ones that were worthy to sell, and that’s why there was less variety of products on the market; actually, Anderson says many products were there but not “visible or easy to find.” (p.6). With the Internet, production and distribution costs of low demand products became the same of high demand products, making niche products available to everyone. So, today, if I want to buy not only a book which contains exclusively tomatoes recipes but also a Burt’s Bees tomato facial toner – which I would never find in a store in the pre-web era – I can do it through the click of a button.
Quick note: Take a look at the website “Tomatoes are Evil”, for tomato haters. It’s fun!