Keep your heirloom tomatoes and white bread-mayo sandwiches to yourself.
When I was four years old, I implored my grandmother to take a tomato off a sandwich she had just handed me.
“Why?” she asked. “They’re so juicy.”
“I’m allergic to red,” I pleaded with her, through tears. (Except, I couldn’t say Rs until I was 8, so picture instead a cute, curly, blonde-haired kid saying she’s allergic to “wed.”)
To be fair, I did have reactions to red dye, and a tomato is typically red. I was just looking out for myself.
But what wasn’t so clear in that moment was that my hatred for tomatoes had taken root, and my tomato-loving family was in for the ride of their lives.
I hate tomatoes.
Maybe that’s not strong enough.
I loathe them.
Tomatoes taste like what I assume eating a battery would taste like: acidic, astringent, sour. They’re sloppy and gritty, and please don’t tell me I’ve “just never had a good one.”
I’ve had plenty. I’ve had Chris Hastings’ famous Tomato Salad at Hot & Hot Fish Club here in Birmingham, Alabama. I ate a bite of the tomato and then all the fried okra and peas. I’m sure the whole dish is magical because the accoutrements were pretty spectacular. But it’s lost on me.
I’ve tried countless balsamic-drizzled bruschetta bites. Pickled tomatoes? Check. Fried tomatoes. Check. Plain slices on white bread with mayonnaise—the most Southern of all lunches? Check.
But I’m a hard pass on all those.
Give me a pack of peanuts, and spare me having to explain to you that yes, I’ve tried tomatoes in all forms, and, no, I’m not missing out.
Listen, I get it that you all love tomatoes. You particularly love taking photos of all the unique heirloom varieties at your weekend farmers’ market and sharing them on Instagram: “I’m getting all the love I can with these beauties before they’re gone again until next summer,” you’ll write. I’ll like the pic, because I’m not a monster, but inside, I’m scowling.
I know that everyone feels this way right now because my Instagram account is flush with these photos.
I get it. You’ve got tomatoes. Congratulations! I don’t care.
My reaction to raw tomatoes is visceral, primal even. To my family and many friends, it’s confounding. And if you’re reading this as a tomato lover, I’m sure you’re equally confused/exasperated with me.
I like tomato sauces, ketchup, even sun-dried tomatoes. Boiled or steamed tomatoes in a stew or soup are A-OK with me. Chunky salsa is even OK, and to really (really!) blow your mind, I like pico de gallo. But when it comes to plain ones, I am a certified ‘mater hater.
Science tells me there may be a real explanation to my intense feelings, too. We each have unique sensory factors that help us interpret the world around us, particularly our food. A lot of work has been done to understand flavor receptors and why some people taste bitterness in foods more often or more intensely than others. Where I taste a bitter, metallic flavor, others may taste the sweetness that I sometimes hear used to describe the fruit. Compounds in the food may be to blame. My tongue and taste buds don’t interpret them the way yours do. The research is still a little fuzzy (kind of like the skin of peaches, which I also detest)—and I’m sure not at all a priority over, say, cancer research.
So, Mom, Dad—the genes you gave me may be off the hook for my anti-tomato tirades. This will come as welcome news to you all I share a bloodline with, people who consider my aversion to tomatoes—and my vocal pronouncements as such—to be a stain on the good, tomato-growing family name.