About a Poem: Jill S. Schneiderman on Donald Rothberg's "Tomato"
Tomato in my salad bowl
Is all there is.
Big as a watermelon,
big as the earth,
big as my mind.
Glistening, shining, with
time’s still rush,
We’re locked together
for this part of eternity,
Tomato and me.
I feel taken into
the cherry tomato roundness,
its fact of existing.
I’ve never known
quite like this.
This could go on a long time,
It’s so compelling.
I’m becoming tomato,
Who’ll blink first, me or tomato?
It is said that
“Freedom is not needing to know what comes next.”
I eat it.
I notice a leaf of lettuce.
consuming a raisin often serves as an introductory exercise in the
practice of mindful eating. But for me, there’s nothing like paying
attention to a homegrown tomato. So when tomato season came to a close
and I resumed my teaching on environmentalism and social justice, I
delighted in this poem by Donald Rothberg, a teacher of socially engaged
Buddhism. I thought, “Tomato” could be an anthem for
twenty-first-century environmentalists because, as my friend John Elder,
a teacher of American nature writing, says, the Slow Food movement will
be to twenty-first century environmentalism what wilderness
preservation was to its twentieth-century precursor—the nexus of
the Western frontier of the United States disappeared in the
late-nineteenth century, naturalists like John Muir worked to preserve
areas they deemed “wilderness;” consequently, national parks exist
today. But elitism tainted that movement, and women and people of color
avoided it. Later, in the twentieth century, a new environmentalism
prioritized concern for social justice. In the seventies, feminists
revealed connections between the exploitation of nature and the
oppression of women and other groups who were considered secondary in
society. Building on those ideas, contemporary environmental justice
activists have exposed how communities of color and low-income urban
dwellers are the primary bearers of environmental ills. Unnatural
disasters following Hurricane Katrina and the Port-au-Prince earthquake,
for example, have highlighted this.
the Slow Food movement excites populations of racially and economically
diverse young people largely unencumbered by traditional gender roles.
Heightening awareness of the connection between food and environment,
the movement has the potential to galvanize others because it unites
pleasure with responsibility. “Kill me along with this tree I occupy” or
“Taste this tomato!” Which rallying cry do you think will encourage
others to embrace environmental awareness? My students are choosing the
we eat and how we come by it matters to every living being and
therefore constitutes a unifying theme for a lasting and socially just
environmentalism. With its emphasis on stillness and sufficiency,
Buddhism has much to offer this new environmentalism. Slow Food is about
paying attention to what we eat and how we produce it—in other words,
being mindful about consumption. In my opinion, whether we’re consuming
raisins or tomatoes, socially engaged Buddhists can share with others
the powerful practice of mindful eating.
Schneiderman is professor of earth science at Vassar College in
Poughkeepsie, New York, and editor of The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a