Occasionally I stumble upon a Romanian social media post that is entertaining and educational as it reveals a lot about the current culture trends in that country and how much people’s views have changed since I left more than four decades ago. Not unlike here in the U.S., total strangers with skewed, limited, and often nostalgic viewpoints, under the perceived cloak of anonymity, fight vehemently on diverse topics they know little about but are convinced they are experts on the topic.
This time an exceptionally large and belligerent group was fighting over tomatoes grown in developing countries on an industrial scale which taste like cardboard versus the home-grown varieties that taste like heaven and are juicy. It appeared that such a mundane topic would be simple and non-confrontational, yet it devolved into fighting and name-calling pretty fast.
Some posters were nostalgic over the tomatoes grown during the communist regime which one said tasted divine because they never used any pesticides or fertilizers. I know that they used massive amounts of DDT on everything to kill many pests, including the Colorado beetle which loved potatoes and tomatoes and could destroy a crop quite fast. Gardeners and co-operative farms also used sacks and sacks of other pesticides and fertilizers to promote plant growth and higher crop yield.
I do not think there was one household in the 1970s that did not own a Flit gun filled with pesticides against flies, mosquitoes, and other pests.
Home gardens in the country used manure as fertilizer. The huge downside of home gardens was the nearby location to the unsanitary outhouses with flies buzzing everywhere. There was no plumbing or running water in the country during Ceausescu’s communist regime.
City residents did not have gardens as they lived tightly packed in concrete grey apartment complexes. A few people raised geraniums or tomato plants on the balcony of their tiny apartments. If they had relatives living in the nearby village, they had a chance at some fresh produce or buying them at the farmers’ market where prices were much higher than the state-owned stores.
Fruits were generally full of fruit fly worms and flies were everywhere. We actually had paper fly swatters made with long shredded strips of paper that made a swishing noise when shaken and dangling glue boards for the flies. If we did not, we could not even eat without being attacked by swarms of them. The buzzing was annoying, and they could fly into your mouth if you were not careful. Apartments did not have screens on windows to protect us from flies.
My friend, Joe Keller, has a “delightful” story about wormy cherries he bought in a local farmers’ market in Bucharest, Romania, when stationed at the Embassy there. They were trying to have snacks during the intermission of the Friday night movie viewing, and, to their horror, the worms decided to escape the cherries and were crawling all over the kitchen table.
It is true that a tomato grown organically in a private garden tastes divine but today the actual varieties of tomatoes sold are hybrids engineered to resist drought, pests, and fungi. They stay fresh and tasteless for a long time in the fridge or on a shelf. The tomato varieties of four decades ago were quite different than those grown today.
Then the discussion diverged from tomatoes to cancer-causing foods today. Apparently, the nostalgic ones remembered incorrectly that “cancers were unknown then and nobody stood in line at pharmacies to buy drugs like they do today.” I was not surprised that some of these people seemed to have selective memory, historical ignorance, or bad cases of misplaced nostalgia.
I know many people and relatives who had died of various cancers or simple treatable illnesses because there were no drugs on the market, no chemo, no radiation, no insulin, no antibiotics except on rare occasions penicillin, and the compounded pills if the pharmacists had the proper ingredients in powder or liquid form to make the drugs.
Surgeries were performed by doctors with little or no hospital training, just theoretical knowledge, and hospitals lacked a lot to be desired in terms of a septic environment.
People took their lives into their own hands when admitted to a hospital and, if they did not carry “walking around bribe money” for doctors, nurses, lab assistants, and radiologists, they were as good as dead unless God intervened, and they survived against all odds. Mom used to call those outliers, “God’s people with years left to live” despite adverse circumstances.
Lack of antibiotics or lack of access to a doctor or nurse killed many. Nobody lined up to buy drugs in pharmacies because the pharmacies were empty, the shelves were bare, they did not even carry simple vitamins. When the pharmacy received shipments, the drugs were sold quickly on the black market, to friends, or under the counter for a bribe.