Tomatoes engineered for flavor

NY Times 2013

A friend recently forwarded me this article by Kenneth Chang in the NY Times which discusses efforts by scientists at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation to built a better tasting tomato that can still be mass marketed.  In this case, the methods to be used are plain old selective breeding, backed up by high tech methods of assessing consumer reaction to changes in taste, with the goal of optimizing positive taste reaction.

It surely does qualify as news that scientists have finally begun to consider taste when they set to work to improve our food, not just industrial food goals like weight, color,  shelf life, resistance to bruising, and  tolerance to herbicides.

However, it does seem that science has failed to internalize the message of the “eat local” movement.  In this study, the goal is to find a tastier tomato that can still be “grown in large quantities, picked green and shipped long distances before being gassed with ethylene to ripen”.  And the methods used to study consumer preferences are uncomfortably similar to those used by junk food manufacturers to find the so called “bliss spot”, that perfect combination of chemical flavors that hooks consumers (for a really shocking insight into the process of junk food design, check out Michael Moss’ book “Salt Sugar Fat”).

The message that consumers are slowing beginning to learn is that foods grown with care and skill, without chemicald or pesticides, picked when ripe and eaten soon after, these foods taste best and are the most nutritious and healthy.

Until scientists learn this as well, consumer beware in the supermarket.

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