The fall and winter season will soon bring Florida’s crop of absolutely unripened tomatoes to our tables. This is another example of our collective willingness to eat chemically treated food when better alternatives exist. It is what separates us from the Italians, the French, and the Spanish as we appear to have no trouble with adulterated foods.

In the 1930’s, growers in Florida discovered that they could pick tomatoes green and then artificially redden them using ethylene gas. Workers in the tomato fields of Florida have suffered for decades from chemical exposure.

The great irony, according to a new book, “Tomatoland” by investigative reporter Barry Estabrook, is that winter in Florida is an unsuitable climate for tomato growing. But that doesn’t matter because “gas treated unripe green tomatoes” take on a reddish hue and do some ripening in the store.

Taste is another matter since these were lousy tomatoes to begin with and they were picked long before they should have been. But they are hardy little fellows. One reporter saw some of the just-picked tomatoes on a small road in Florida fall off the truck. The driver stopped, picked them up, and they suffered no noticeable scars. Durability in the food industry trumps taste.

For something better, pick up a can of San Marzano tomatoes from Sicily. Some specialty stores will sell the real thing – but realtomatoes, unlike hard green ones that are gassed for color, don’t travel well.