Supermarket produce sections bulging with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes have become all but a national birthright. But in Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, The Price of Tomatoes, investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry. Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. How have we come to this point? Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States. He visits the laboratories of seedsmen trying to develop varieties that can withstand the rigors of agribusiness and still taste like a garden tomato, and then moves on to commercial growers who operate on tens of thousands of acres, and eventually to a hillside field in Pennsylvania, where he meets an obsessed farmer who produces delectable tomatoes for the nation's top restaurants.
Throughout Tomatoland Estabrook presents a who's who cast of characters in the tomato industry: the avuncular octogenarian whose conglomerate grows one out of every eight tomatoes eaten in the United States; the ex-Marine who heads the group that dictates the size, color, and shape of every tomato shipped out of Florida; the U.S. attorney who has doggedly prosecuted human traffickers for the past decade; and the Guatemalan peasant who came north to earn money for his parents' medical bills and found himself enslaved for two years.
Tomatoland reads like a suspenseful whodunit as well epos of today's agribusiness systems and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases.
©2011 Barry Estabrook (P)2011 Tantor
"[A] thought-provoking book." (Publishers Weekly)
If you're interested in where your food comes from but not in a lot of preachy, unsolicited advice on how you should behave yourself, this is a fantastic read.
I'm pretty well versed on the whole food subject, but I was not aware of how bad the slavery issues in Florida had gotten.
All in all a very good read.
Great exposure of how our "industrial" tomato might not want to be part of my food intake.
Sometimes repetitious on some points. Still kept me glued to the speaker to the very end.
The premise of the story was what led me to purchase. However, after three blatantly racist remarks, I had to call it quits. I doubt Mr. Estabrook met many the tomato farmers of Florida who he characterized as middle-aged white men in the "good ole boys club" made up of "rednecks and crackers". I had really hoped for a story of the progression of industrial agriculture and how it impacted the tomato industry. Instead, with just about an hour into the book, the author takes repeated jabs at the farmers and opines that the current large-scale techniques are the result of farmers being white, not the market, demand, oppressive regulations etc.Shame on you Mr. Estabrook!
His racism. I know he's white but I still found it offensive.
I think I would have left it as is. Otherwise it would be disingenuous for the reader to not be able to weigh the material in the milieu of the author's racist, South-loathing agenda.
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