Not only are we supposed to "eat our vegetables," we are now supposed to "know our vegetables" as well. That is the project a professor of nutrition at a small college assigns himself, to get out of his office and into the field to dig deeper into the reality behind the ingredients in his summer salad. Using the up-close-and-personal approach, he follows a solitary vegetable (pardon, fruit) from seed to harvest on a nearby small farm. With the help of two students, he adopts and then chronicles on film the life of a single tomato plant over the course of a growing season. After visiting a small tomato seed company in western North Carolina, he learns of a little-known heirloom tomato, Aunt Ruby's German Green, and adds another investigation (and student) to uncover the story behind a woman's lifelong secret backyard tomato treasure. Still wrestling with an aversion to tomatoes from childhood, he and his graduate student and coauthor, Samantha Reiff, tell a tale of two very different varieties - one a typical red hybrid and the other an obscure green-when-ripe heirloom - who end up competing for his affection. What starts out as a relatively straightforward plan to learn more about where his food comes from leads to an exploration that leaves him questioning his core assumptions about nutrition, agriculture, and the very essence of food, finally finding clarity and inspiration by way of a woman of yesteryear from a little town in Tennessee and her tomato seeds.
Through the telling of the heart-warming story of Ruby Arnold, namesake and guardian of the Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato variety, the reader is provided a window to the past when the ingredients for dinner were closer to the backdoor and our everyday lives, and in a broader sense speaks to an ancient voice present in all living things from which came our first meal. Aunt Ruby's Green Tomato is an informative and entertaining look at the many different hands and minds responsible for producing our food, from start to finish is filled with humor and insight, and gives us plenty of good reasons to care about what's at the end of our fork.