Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sweet Tomatoes

If you know me, you know I love salads and I love buffets. I love having a wide range of options to choose from, love curating my own collection of foods, love being able to control my portion size.

And so, Sweet Tomatoes, a restaurant chain with locations in 15 states, satisfies me like few other chains can. The Salad Buffet Restaurant!


This place has over 50 separate raw vegetable ingredients, plus prepared salads, hot pastas, soups, muffins, breads, and more. I first discovered Sweet Tomatoes when living in St. Louis, but because there are currently no Wisconsin locations, I can only enjoy it when visiting family in Georgia, or when passing through Schaumburg, Illinois, on my way to Chicago (who know Schaumburg, IL would ever be a destination?!)


No two plates ever look exactly alike. But judging from these photos, the crew I was with had fairly similar salad ingredient preferences. I used to always say that you could learn a lot about a person by studying their salad bar choices. No iceberg and cheddar and Ranch dressing for these folks! Can you guess which is mine, which is my dad's, and which is my husband Justin's?

I'll even give you a side view of the two plates, so you can get another dimension:

This last time that I visited, in addition to enjoying the delicious salad, I also couldn't help but notice the copious "green" and "fresh" publicity papered all over the restaurant.   The trays and table tents offered these messages:
 

And the artwork on the walls featured these stunning images: 

But, I have to say, I couldn't help but be somewhat skeptical. However much I love this place, the scale at which it operates makes it pretty unimaginable that it would be particularly "green" or sustainable.

I think the right image in the photo above is especially fascinating. This images of the long green rows of lettuce is certainly striking, with the rolling hills and foggy sky as a backdrop. But it evokes in me nothing so much as a shudder at the scale of industrial agriculture (as so well depicted in the remarkable film Our Daily Bread). Those perfectly green, straight, standardized, weed-free rows are clear products of high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides.

The fact that Sweet Tomatoes so proudly displays this image, however, suggests that this response of mine isn't the one that they expect most consumers to have. That is, they believe that consumers will immediately think "fresh!" when they see vegetables in the soil, but that they won't put any further thought into examining that soil, or thinking more deeply about agricultural techniques.

What do you think? What do these images evoke in you?

5 comments:

  1. my guess is (l-r)
    first plate: papa zeide
    second plate: anna
    third: justin

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  2. amm! not quite right, but my trying to figure out which clues you used to make this guess made me very happy indeed! What items were you looking for that seemed clear indicators?

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  3. Yeah, I hate to hate on such an awesome place, but their claims leave me a little skeptical, too. Not only is the lettuce shot a little creepy, but the insistence on tomatoes as the emblem of fresh, local, green produce is a little silly. I wonder if they take the tomato posters down in the winter and replace them with...cabbages?

    What can one really complain about, though? It's better than 99% of the competition.

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  4. ok. second try. and this is via tristan...we'll see if he knows you guys better than me.

    (l-r)
    anna
    justin
    daddy zeide

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  5. ding ding ding! Tristan wins! How'd he do that?

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