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Tomatoes may be tastier in the future; and a documentary on Rachel Carson
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

February 5, 2017

Above, Three good tomatoes home-grown; a plate of grape-like small tomatoes of cultivar ‘Sugary’; and Rachel Carson sits on a boat ready to write. Below, just some of the negative press about Rachel Carson back in the late 40s; de-lousing child with DDT in 1945; and spraying an entire aircraft with DDT prior to passengers boarding.




Published on February 1 this year in the science journal Nature, the following short article talks about the possibility of tastier tomatoes in the future

“Tastier tomatoes could be on the menu if breeders reintroduce lost gene variants involved in the production of flavour compounds.

“Harry Klee at the University of Florida in Gainesville and Sanwen Huang at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Shenzhen along with their team analyzed the chemical composition and genetics of 398 tomato cultivars comprising old, modern and wild varieties. The modern ones produced fewer volatile chemicals that correlate with pleasant flavour. The researchers identified the gene variants needed to make these chemicals and found that many have been lost as breeders have selected for other traits, such as fruit size.

“The findings could help breeders to improve the flavour of tomatoes with minimal reductions in yields, the authors say.

* * *

Having just written extensively about mosquito control [in my January 22 article on this site], and using Dr. Josh Bloom’s comparison of DEET and DDT as a control, made me think further about the topic of DDT. It is still recommended by the World Health Organization and used for mosquito control over most of the African continent.

There is a new documentary about the life of Rachel Carson. It will be seen on PBS’ American Experience. There follows here text from the documentary:

“‘There was a 'before Rachel' and an 'after Rachel' in the way that we think about what matters in protecting the environment. There are not very many people who you say 'that person drove a paradigm shift' — but she did,’ says one of the experts in the new documentary about Rachel Carson.

“That's quite a statement to make about any figure in American history, but Carson — the marine biologist whose writings changed the way we look at nature — deserves it.

“For those who didn't live through it, it can be hard to understand the impact Carson's fourth and last book had on the world. It has had deep and long-lasting ramifications — in fact, chemical companies are still fighting its message. That message isn't, by the way, that all pesticides are evil and should be banned. It's simply a call for moderation, that when it comes to new chemicals, we should know more about the effects they have — both in the long-term and on all life forms — before we use them.

“For that moderate suggestion, Carson was pilloried when she published Silent Spring. Monsanto even published an Onion-style mockery of the book, and she was called ‘hysterical’, a word used throughout history to discredit women who've challenged the status quo.

“In fact, what comes across in the private writings, public statements, and audio and TV clips shown in this documentary created by PBS's American Experience is the even keel and intellectual nature of Carson's arguments.

“This quote from Silent Spring, her most famous work, is one example of how reasonable her arguments were:

“‘A Who's Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones — we had better know something about their nature and their power.’

“After all, as we understand from the first half of the documentary, she was a natural introvert, more interested in spending time in tidal pools along the shores of her favorite place, Southport Island, Maine, than in the spotlight. You can learn more about the documentary in the segment below. The full documentary is available on the PBS app, via broadcast, and online.

“Knowing what we now know of DDT, it's shocking to see the 1943 footage of residents of Naples, Italy, being sprayed with the stuff (without any kind of face protection) to kill the lice that transmitted typhus; or how it was sprayed over vast swaths of land; or to know that at the time, you could purchase a cartridge of DDT to attach to your lawnmower so you could kill all the mosquitoes before guests came over for a barbecue.

“‘It's post-Silent Spring that you start seeing genuine environmental regulation in a way that you hadn't before,’ the documentary explains. And while Carson's book wasn't the only reason, it was a catalyst that encouraged many regular Americans to question the plethora of chemicals being sold to them and being used on their food. The bestselling book spurred legislation around chemicals and led to a public consciousness about weighing the risks and benefits of pesticides.

“Rachel Carson began a conversation that we didn't have before 1963, and it has continued for decades since.

“As one of the expert commentators in the documentary points out, Carson encouraged readers to look at the world from a new point-of-view:

“‘Carson said, ‘Let's try to look at life from the other side; let's look at the natural world as if we are a part of it.’ That's a different way to understand things than anyone had ever suggested before. She said, ‘You're human, but you're not separate from this living world.’”


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