Facts from the “real tomato” chapter of Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet; see also the “Real Tomato” excerpt.

  • The tomato started as a wild fruit in the Andes of western South America, then was a farmed fruit among the Aztecs of Central America.
  • Botanically a fruit but legally a vegetable after an 1893 US Supreme Court decision, the tomato is the second most common fresh vegetable after lettuce.
  • Along with the rest of our nation’s fresh vegetables, tomatoes typically travel 1,500 to 2,500 miles to market, according to several studies.
  • More than one-fourth of Americans’ fresh fruits were imported in 2001, more than double the amount in 1985.
  • A one-pound bag of lettuce-which contains a scant 80 calories of food energy-consumes as much as 4,600 calories to grow, process, and ship.
  • By one calculation, the continent-spanning food distribution system emits 5 to 17 times the total carbon dioxide emissions of a local food system.
  • Almost 900 billion tons of food were shipped worldwide in 2002, a fourfold increase from 1961.
  • By one account, the US food system uses nearly one-fifth of the nation’s energy supply.
  • Agriculture is the leading source of water pollution and the biggest water consumer in North America, as well as the main force behind soil erosion and the loss of wetlands and grasslands.
  • Fruits and vegetables require two calories of energy inputs to produce one calorie of output.
  • Animal proteins, on the other hand, take anywhere from twenty to eighty calories of energy to produce one Calorie.
  • Organic food grown with on-site manure will use one-third less fossil fuel on the farm than conventionally grown food.
  • Fossil fuel–based synthetic fertilizers and pesticides account for more than one-third of the energy used on U.S. farms.
  • Even a seemingly innocent one-pound bag of lettuce can be a fossil-fuel glutton, consuming 4,600 calories to grow, process, and ship an item that is mostly water and contains a scant eighty calories of food energy
  • Jamais Cascio, futurist and co-founder of the environmental blog WorldChanging.com, has calculated the carbon footprint of the cheeseburger and concluded that “the greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers are roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs.”
March 7, 2006