Friday, September 9, 2016

Best Tasting Tomato

Every year around the beginning of August, the local Master Gardeners held an open house for the public.  People were invited to tour the gardens, get their questions answered about growing flowers and vegetables, indulge in some free food or snacks, and enjoy activities for the kids.  The attendance over three hours was 200 to 300 and the otherwise very adequate parking lot of the County Extension Office was overflowing.

One popular attraction was the tomato tasting.  The garden usually featured over a dozen different varieties of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes.  Master Gardeners would pick a few of each and slice them up into individual bowls and invite the public to sample as many as they wanted and cast their votes for the best tasting tomato.  At the end of the day, votes were tallied and the winner announced.

Whenever I would describe this activity to others on a garden tour at different times of the year or to people in general, the same question would always arise:  Which variety of tomato won?  This is the typical (and wrong) reaction.

Why is it wrong?  This was just a fun activity.  The objective was to let everyone decide for himself which tomato tasted best.  It didn’t matter if, from this unscientific sample, one particular tomato got more votes than another.  That wasn’t the point of the exercise.  The point was to allow people to sample many different kinds of tomatoes, an opportunity they probably could not find elsewhere, and decide for themselves which they liked the best.  Except for fun, it was not intended to crown one tomato the best.  Yet even those who weren’t there at the time wanted to know.

I’m sure in some cases they asked just out of simple curiosity.  Perhaps some of the other gardeners might want to order seeds for the following year and were looking for some different ideas.  In general, though, I think the reaction was the same as many Americans have to a wide range of issues and purchase decisions.  They let other people make decisions for them.  They react to the hype.  They follow the advice of celebrities and other influential voices about what to eat, what not to eat, what to be upset about, what movies and television shows to watch, how to dress, how to vote, what diet plans to follow, what books to read and what brand to buy, including: cars, sporting equipment, furniture and beverages.

Why would I think that is true?  Last month, after his scandal at the Olympics, swimmer Ryan Lochte lost several endorsement deals.  One relationship was with Speedo.  I can understand a swimmer representing swimming apparel, although I shouldn’t let it influence me.  On the other hand, USA Today reported, “Airweave, a mattress company, said it had ‘ended its partnership’ with Lochte.”  Unless some significant number might let a famous swimmer advise them about what mattress to buy, Airweave was throwing away their money.  Yet this happens.  Celebrities represent products or causes with no relationship to their areas of expertise.  We let others influence us as we respond to ads that a particular brand is the most popular.  We see political candidates seeking the endorsement of singers and actors.

The hype machine is working overtime every day.  Advertisers tend to drop campaigns that are ineffective.  When we see so many using similar appeals, the only logical conclusion is that this stuff works; enough consumers fall for it that the expense is justified.

So remember the lesson from the tomato tasting.  If you get a chance to sample many and decide for yourself which one you like the best, that one is best for you.  What others think makes no difference.  Opinions are not facts.  In matters of taste or opinion, yours is as good as anyone else’s, and a better choice for you.  In matters of fact, like which car is the safest or most reliable, which candidate (if any) is best qualified or which foods are safe, find the facts for yourself instead of following the crowd or putting all your faith in a famous spokesperson (who often has little knowledge of the subject).

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