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Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit Paperback – Apr 24 2012
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"[A] thought-provoking book." ---Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
James Beard Award-winning journalist Barry Estabrook was a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine for eight years, writing investigative articles about where food comes from. He was the founding editor of Eating Well magazine and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, Audubon, and the Washington Post, and contributes regularly to The Atlantic Monthly's website. His work has been anthologized in the Best American Food Writing series, and he has been interviewed on numerous television and radio shows. He lives and grows tomatoes in his garden in Vermont.
Top Customer Reviews
Tip: Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator, unless you don't mind the the taste of the tomato being ruined. I learned this a long time ago, but this book provided me with the proper term for this phenomenon, "chilling injury." That's how much I love my tomatoes!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If the answers to those questions are a.) within the past few months, b.) it had no taste at all, and c.) it came from the store or a restaurant, chances are you ate a modern-day relative of a real tomato.
"Perhaps our taste buds are trying o send us a message. Today's industrial tomatoes are as bereft of nutrition as they are of flavor. According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of fresh tomato today has 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than it did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame its 1960s counterpart in one area: It comtains fourteen times as much sodium." - from Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabroak.
That quote came from a new book that has caught my attention in a big way. I've noticed for quite some time that supermarket tomatoes have zero taste. But I like tomatoes in salad and other favorite dishes. I know they aren't like "real" tomatoes from the garden or the farmers market, but I still buy them.
Not any more. Tomatoland made me take a good look at the tomato industry and I didn't like what I saw at all. The author, Barry Estabrook decided to find out why we can't buy a decent fresh tomato and discovered that it's not a simple question and answer.
He learned that Florida "accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the U.S., and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes.." It's an example of industrial agriculture at it's worst.
In addition to growing a taste-less fruit, many Florida tomato growers are responsible for some very shameful practices: modern-day slavery and inhumane treatment of the tomato workers. There are shady legal and political practices as well. Numerous herbicides and pesticides are sprayed on the tomato fields, often right on the workers.
Besides learning how awful these growers are, Tomatoland taught me a lot about plant biology and the genetic and political history of our beloved plant. For instance, I had no idea tomatoes originally came from Peru and were the size of peas. The book is filled with the stories of the people surrounding the subject of tomatoes. Barry Estabrook brought them all to life.
There is no doubt about it - this is good reading. It's part expose, part history, and all very good journalism. I dare you to read this book and not want to DO something. That's what happened to me.
I'm now calling myself a Tomato Activist. What does that mean? For me, here's how I'm defining it:
For one thing, I'll never again buy or eat a fresh tomato unless I know exactly where it came from and under what conditions it was grown.
I will ask at restaurants where their tomatoes came from. If I'm not satisfied, I'll ask to have the tomato removed and I'll let them know why.
I have letters drafted to my senators and congressmen asking them to stick their noses into the working conditions for Florida tomato growers.
I'll can/preserve enough tomatoes to keep us supplied with tomatoes until the next season.
I'm telling everyone I know to read Tomatoland.
I hope you'll join me and become your own Tomato Activist.
Tomatoland offers up some interesting facts about tomatoes and some of what I read here surprised me. I have often wondered why people think tomatoes are vegetables when they are actually fruits and this book provides some background info on this misunderstanding along with some more alarming facts about tomatoes that will shock many who read. For example, how many realize that Florida winter tomatoes are picked while still green in color and then taken to a processing center where they are manipulated to look and feel like a normal, red tomato? How many realize how industrial practices have reduced the nutrition level of the tomato? And how many realize that Florida's climate is actually far from the ideal place to grow tomatoes and that they actually grow best in drier climates? These and other questions are answered and explained in the book with a good amount of detail.
Once Tomatoland finishes talking about the industrial destruction of the tomato, it then moves to the topic of labor. In fact, among the main topics discussed in this book, labor issues receive the most coverage of all. It is one thing for the nutrition level of the tomato to undergo an unhealthy demise, but it is another thing entirely when migrant workers are treated like slaves as they attempt to make a meagre living. Many have likely heard of these abuses but I doubt many are aware of their severity. Tomatoland spells out the problems for all to see, with information on the unsafe, unsanitary living conditions of migrant workers; the toxic pesticides and the resulting health problems they have caused; and the political movements that have sprung up in response to these and other issues.
Tomatoland wants readers to be aware of these problems in the industry and it effectively explains some of the specific incidents of abuse and neglect. One nice aspect of this book is that it isn't entirely negative and it doesn't want readers to get the wrong idea and think that all tomato growers are unethical. There are some good, ethical tomato companies that exist and Tomatoland shares their contributions in several sections of the book. There are many agricultural businesses that treat migrant workers fairly, avoid pesticides, and offer health insurance and is nice that the book includes mention of them, to provide a degree of balance.
As for the writing, Tomatoland is written in an academic style and it sticks to the facts, presenting known problems in the tomato growing industry along with accurate and often revealing quotes. The city that receives the bulk of the attention in Tomatoland is Immokalee, Florida, since this is a city known for its agriculture labor issues and for its news- making birth defect situation caused by chemical pesticides. The book doesn't state many direct opinions, probably because it isn't necessary. The abusive treatment of laborers, the birth defects caused by pesticides, and other issues are spelled out to the reader who is then left to make his/her own assessment, which is almost certainly going to be negative.
Tomatoes are considered one of the best foods you can eat but they way they are grown and processed is not at all like most would imagine. Tomatoland is a good book about the agricultural business in Florida and how its practices have resulted in an inferior food that is grown in a less than ethical manner by certain businesses. The book accurately points out that not all tomatoes are inferior in quality and not all tomato growers rely on slave labor to generate profit, but there are still plenty who do and Tomatoland succeeds at building awareness regarding these problems. It would have been nice of the author had included more solutions to these concerns, but the book is still good at exposing these undesirable practices and bringing to light the many problems in the growing and harvesting process as these spherical pieces of fruit make their way from the field to your dinner table.
Taste is the obvious reason. Every single one of us can go to the supermarket and tell the difference between a tomato grown locally and in the summer versus one grown in Florida in the winter. Estabrook makes clear that that is because the organization that regulates the tomatoes that come out of Florida regulate for every single aspect of a tomato - color, shape, texture, blemishes - except taste.
The second problem with tomatoes grown in the winter is that, if they are not grown in a hot house, they are grown in Florida or California. The problem with growing tomatoes in Florida is that it just happens to be one of the worst places in the world to grow tomatoes. In order to do so successfully, Florida tomato growers rely heavily on dangerous pesticides and chemicals to fight off pests and diseases and to put nutrition in the soil, which is actually just sand.
And now we get to the heart of Tomatoland, the mistreatment of migrant workers, especially concerning pesticide use, on tomato farms. This was not necessarily the turn that I expected Tomatoland to take, but I was so happy that it did. This is an important cause and an important topic that everyone needs to know about. When you purchase a tomato, you are making a choice. Are you going to support the abuse and slavery of the people who pick those tomatoes? Some of the things that Estabrook talks about will horrify you, from babies being born with deformities because of their parents' exposure to pesticides to examples of modern day slavery.
Estabrook does a good job balancing the political with the scientific. He interviews people on both sides of the debate and shows big agriculture in a fair light in my opinion. Not a good one, but a fair one. He shows what they have done horribly wrong and what they are doing, however reluctantly, to improve it. Things are getting better in the tomato industry, but it is all because of groups of people who were well-informed and willing to take a stand. The only shortcoming of this book is that I wish Estabrook had ended with a clearer sense of what still needs to be done. I would have rather had a final chapter that projected the future for tomatoes and the industry, as well as the future for migrant workers in the US.
I truly didn't expect to be as enthralled with Tomatoland as I was, but I found it to be an engaging and well-written piece of non-fiction that has the power to change the way people view their tomatoes. Hopefully it will convince people that the best place to get tomatoes is their own back yard.
Before I began reading, I had assumed that TOMATOLAND was going to be the definitive history of tomatoes interlaced with an expose of the evil practices of the large corporations responsible for growing many of the tomatoes consumed in America. I was only slightly correct in my assumption because though there are a few historical tomato anecdotes, the book is mostly an expose of the how large agribusinesses are destroying this flavorful fruit.
The majority of the book examines how tomatoes are grown by large agribusinesses and how those businesses mistreat the mostly migrant workers that work in the tomato fields. The factual piece of information that I found most fascinating while reading TOMATOLAND is that most of the tomatoes in the United States are grown in Florida. Having been raised in the Midwest, I was shocked by that fact. Though the climate in Florida is prime for tomato growth, the soil is terrible for the plants. I would have thought that maybe Texas or California were the largest tomato growing states, but I was wrong. Since most tomatoes are grown in Florida, the companies that grow them have to go to extreme measures to keep growing the crops year round. So, besides using illegal migrant workers, these companies further their unethical practices by exposing those workers to dangerous, carcinogenic, and sometimes lethal working conditions. TOMATOLAND examines these practices.
However, the book isn't completely negative. It also examines an alternative look at tomato-growing by telling the stories of some tomato growers besides the big agribusinesses that practice ethical business operations and humane working conditions.
There are a lot of statistics in TOMATOLAND and there are points where the first half of the book drowns in the names of chemicals and the statistics of particular court cases. The book is saved in the personal stories it tells, particularly in the last half. It was these stories (and the occasional tomato fact) that kept me reading until the end.
TOMATOLAND is not the definite book about tomatoes. It is, however, an informative, albeit often dry, examination of the large agribusiness practices that are destroying tomatoes and eradicating tomato taste. It also contains some wonderful stories about people around the country who are trying, sometimes inadvertently, to bring about a better tomato growing business. The book has appeal to those who like tomatoes and those who are interested in how large agribusinesses operate.
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