Sweet Solanum lycopersicum! Holy tomatoes! How do you spell tomatos? I’m not sure. I’ll ask Dan Quayle. He doesn’t know either. Is it really July already? Where does the time go!? I trust you are having a good summer and enjoying the sunshine with your nearest and dearest. Or maybe you, like me, wonder if Nashville in July and August is the heretofore under publicized and seldom mentioned 10th circle of hell, which Dante’s publisher cut from “Inferno” for reasons of decorum and because “some terrors are just better left unexamined and unwritten, Mr. Alighieri.”
Whatever your perspective, there is one bright-red, creative, and joyful event on the sun-baked August horizon to get excited about and that is the Tomato Art Festival, or East Nashville’s answer to SXSW. Friends and neighbors, I care about you, and I want you to be informed and loquacious when you are three Bloody Marys in at the contest this year. I want you to have the tools to talk tomato(e?), as it were.
Grape, Cherry, Red Beefsteak, Green Beefsteak, Cocktail, Roma — these can be found on your grocer’s produce shelf. Think of it this way, the tomatoes at the local Kroger are working for the man. They put the red suit on, genetically manipulated, modified, and cross-bred for color all the livelong day. These are the telemarketers, the cubicle dwellers, the clock watchers, the corporate shills on the vine, if you will. These are the homogenous, central casting tomatoes, you dig? When Ronald Reagan decreed ketchup a vegetable and a healthy school lunch option, these were the vegetables (or are they?) he was referencing.
Just as we humans are governed by the laws of physics, so too are the tomatoes. If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, what is the opposite of the homogenous, factory farmed, bred for color over flavor, store bought tomato? What will save us from this bland and mealy fate?
Have no fear! The heirloom is here, in all its juicy, plump, sweet, and tangy glory! That’s right, dear reader. The heirloom tomato is the freak-flag flyer, the red-headed step child, the anti-establishment weirdo, the pinko hippie, the beatnik, the rebel, the loner, and the pirate all rolled into one. The names say it all: San Marzano, Three Sisters, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Gardener’s Delight, Marglobe, Lollypop, Yellow Pear, Silvery Fir Tree, Hillbilly, Cherokee Purple, Haggerty’s Technicolor Hallucination In Cinemascope, Mr. Stripey, Mortgage Lifter, Pruden’s Purple, Black Krim, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Hawaiian Pineapple, Big Rainbow, Chocolate Cherry, Red Currant, and Tomato X. Are these the names of delicious garden edibles or are they the names on the Merry Prankster’s guest list at the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test? It’s a coin toss …
If you read this column from time to time, you most likely realize that it can take this writer a few paragraphs to get to the point. That is part of my charm. (Editor’s note: Yeah, we’re rolling with it.) Well get ready. Here it comes. East Nashville is all of us. We are the Romas, the Beefsteaks, the Cherokee Purples, and the Hillbillies. It takes all kinds to make a vibrant, diverse and colorful community. East Nashville is that community. The Tomato Art Festival is like Christmas in August. Sixty-thousand somewhat inebriated folks walking around Five Points, sunburned and grinning, greeting friends old and new. Live music and laughter fill the air. Art hangs from every available space. Children of all ages parade by in their tomato costumes. Fashion shows, costume contests, revelry, and fellowship are all the order of the day.
Is it fruit or vegetable, this pomme d’amour? Reagan said vegetable. I don’t know. I do know that in the case of the Tomato Art Festival, it is a metaphor. It is a metaphor for the bounty that nature provides. It is a metaphor for artistic inspiration and creation. Plant a seed, add water and sunlight, care and feeding, and you get something beautiful, nourishing and delicious. You get art. You get East Nashville. I’ll see you on the street, folks!
Hags is a a full-time bass player, part-time bad influencer©, and goodwill ambassador for The East Nashvillian.