This research brief explores the controversial history of the cherry tomato and analyzes its role in the construction of Israel's national identity. Since 2003, mentions of Israel having “invented” the cherry tomato have appeared in both Israeli and international media. However, such claims have sparked outrage on various blogs and websites, and questions have been raised about the veracity of Israel's claims—as well as about the true origin of the cherry tomato. I explore the history of the cherry tomato, tracing mentions of it from the Renaissance period to modern times. In addition, I clarify the assertions of Israeli scientists credited with the development of the cherry tomato—that their research transformed the cherry tomato into a commodity in the 1980s. Finally, I discuss the cherry tomato claim in light of the Israeli government's hasbara (Hebrew for “explanation”) efforts, which attempt to counter negative images of Israel in the international press. While much previous scholarship on food and nationalism has focused on the relationship between the cultivation, preparation, or consumption of a food and the construction of a national identity, the present work focuses on the relationship between the food's invention narrative and national identity. By transforming the cherry tomato into an embodiment of technological innovation, I argue that hasbara separates the cherry tomato from its essence as a food and co-opts it into a symbol of modernity and progress.
Seeding Controversy: Did Israel Invent the Cherry Tomato?
Anna Wexler is a PhD candidate in the HASTS (History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society) Program at MIT, and a 2015–16 visiting scholar at the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation focuses on the ethical, social, and regulatory implications of consumer noninvasive brain stimulation. Prior to her move to academia, she worked for several years as a science writer and editor based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
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Anna Wexler; Seeding Controversy: Did Israel Invent the Cherry Tomato?. Gastronomica 1 May 2016; 16 (2): 1–11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.2.1
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