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Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit [Kindle Edition]

Barry Estabrook
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 eposé of today's agribusiness systems and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases.

Editorial Reviews


"In this eye-opening exposé, Vermont journalist Estabrook traces the sad, tasteless life of the mass-produced tomato, from its chemical-saturated beginnings in south Florida to far-flung supermarkets. Expanding on his 2010 James Beard Award-winning article in Gourmet magazine, Estabrook first looks at the tomato's ancestors in Peru, grown naturally in coastal deserts and Andean foothills, with fruit the size of large peas. Crossbreeding produced bigger, juicier varieties, and by the late 19th century, Florida had muscled in on the U.S. market, later benefiting from the embargo on Cuban tomatoes; the Sunshine State now produces one-third of the fresh tomatoes in this country. To combat sandy soil devoid of nutrients, and weather that breeds at least 27 insect species and 29 diseases that prey on the plants, Florida growers bombard tomato plants with a dizzying cocktail of herbicides and pesticides, then gas the "mature greens" (fruit plucked so early from the vines that they bounce without a scratch) with ethylene. Behind the scenes, moreover, there exists a horrendous culture of exploitation of Hispanic laborers in places like Immokalee, where pesticide exposure has led to birth defects and long-term medical ailments. Estabrook concludes this thought-provoking book with some ideas from innovators trying to build a better tomato." --Publisher's Weekly

"With great skill and compassion, Estabrook explores the science, ingenuity, and human misery behind the modern American tomato. Once again, the true cost is too high to pay." --Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

"In my ten years as editor of Gourmet magazine, the article I am proudest to have published was Barry Estabrook's 'The Price of Tomatoes.' Now he's expanded that into this astonishingly moving and important book. If you have ever eaten a tomato--or ever plan to--you must read Tomatoland. It will change the way you think about America's most popular 'vegetable.' More importantly, it will give you new insight into the way America farms." --Ruth Reichl, author of Garlic and Sapphires

"If you worry, as I do, about the sad and sorry state of the tomato today, and want to know what a tomato used to be like and what it could hopefully become again, read Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland. This book is a fascinating history of the peregrination of the tomato throughout the centuries." --Jacques Pépin, author of the forthcoming Essential Pepin

"In fast-moving, tautly narrated scenes, Barry Estabrook tells the startling story of labor conditions that should not exist in this country or this century, and makes sure you won't look at a supermarket or fast-food tomato the same way again. But he also gives hope for a better future--and a better tomato. Anyone who cares about social justice should read Tomatoland. Also anyone who cares about finding a good tomato you can feel good about eating." --Corby Kummer, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food

" `Tomatoland' (is) in the tradition of the best muckraking journalism, from Upton Sinclair's `The Jungle' to Eric Schlosser's `Fast Food Nation.' " ----Jane Black, The Washington Post

"Masterful." ----Mark Bittman, New York Times Opinion blog

"If you care about social justice--or eat tomatoes--read this account of the past, present, and future of a ubiquitous fruit." ----Corby Kummer,

"Eye-opening exposé...thought-provoking." ----Publishers Weekly

"Estabrook adds some new dimensions to the outrageous...story of an industry that touches nearly every one of us living in fast-food nation." ----David Von Drehle, Time Magazine blog "Swampland"

"You can really stop at any point during the narrative and decide that you've bought your last supermarket tomato, but Estabrook is just warming up...a brisk read, engrossing as it is enraging."

"Corruption, deception, slavery, chemical and biological warfare, courtroom dramas, undercover sting operations and murder: Tomatoland is not your typical book on fruit."

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.

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Product Details

  • File Size: 447 KB
  • Print Length: 244 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1449401090
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC (June 7, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0054B1EC8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,970 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sobering, courageous, and a terrifyingly good read June 10, 2011
I will never look at a supermarket tomato the same way again. Never mind that I'll never eat another one -- ever -- after reading this book. Author and food writer Barry Estabrook takes us on a journey to discover why those perfect-looking tomatoes piled up on supermarket shelves are so oddly tasteless, and believe me, the answer isn't very appetizing. Flavor, though, is the least of his concerns. The big story here is the human suffering -- right under our noses -- that we unknowingly perpetuate each time we pick a tomato up and put it in our shopping cart. It took courage to sniff this story out. Estabrook is clearly a pro in his field and deserves a great deal of credit. The writing is engrossing and at times hilarious, all of which makes the heartbreak a little easier to stomach.
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75 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've Become a Tomato Activist June 24, 2011
When is the last time you ate a tomato? What did it taste like? Where did it come from?

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.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tomato's Long Demise June 14, 2011
Tomatoland is a book dedicated to the tomato; the soft, round, universally liked fruit that shows up in so many of the foods we eat every day. This book focuses on the many changes that have taken place with tomato growing and harvesting over the years and how these changes have resulted in a fruit that is less nutritionally balanced and less tasty than it was in the past and that is grown and harvested in a less than ethical manner.

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.
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65 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative and well-written June 6, 2011
With every passing year, I'm getting pickier and pickier about which tomatoes I eat. The more I think about it, the mealier and more tasteless the tomatoes that you buy in the supermarket are. I'd almost stopped buying them altogether before I read Tomatoland. Tomatoland convinced me even more that the tomatoes from the grocery store, especially the ones available in the winter, are just not worth it.

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?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars big goofup
amazon, you sold me a kindle version of this book. however, as good as the book may be, the pages are out of sinc, repeats of one page occur often throughout the book and then... Read more
Published 1 month ago by tuppence2
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written
Well written. An important read.
Published 2 months ago by Rafter
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It is revealing sight of the tomato industry.
Shocking I will say.
Published 2 months ago by Pablo Pichardo
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the world of tvwomatoes
An enjoyable, and troubling read. Well written and full of information about this much loved fruit, the businesses that produce then, and the people who bring them to our table
Published 2 months ago by John Verlinden
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Judy Kaczor
5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommended
Be careful though. You will learn much about the tomato that will surprise you.

Really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
Published 2 months ago by Matthew A
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book. I have toured Immokalee and it's depressing ...
Interesting book. I have toured Immokalee and it's depressing. Many of us in Naples do what we can to help, but it's never going to be an ideal place to live and work. Read more
Published 2 months ago by NancyM
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book!
Published 2 months ago by Barnilee Flore
5.0 out of 5 stars print is too small for me and would have liked it in larger print...
Heard review on NPR bought the book to read and sorry to say, print is too small for me and would have liked it in larger print because of poor of vision.
Published 2 months ago by P. Howell
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read into the agricultural business
Definitely an eye opener on the hardships people must endure to please a great consumer market. Definitely recommend this book for Anyone who enjoys a new perspective on daily... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nadia
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More About the Author

Youthful stints doing slug labor on a midwestern dairy farm (hot!) and being tossed about on a commercial fishing boat off Nova Scotia (frigid!) taught me that writing about how food is produced is a hell of a lot easier than actually producing it. For several blissful years, I received a steady paycheck from the late, lamented Gourmet magazine. Now I write for the New York Times, Saveur, Epicurious, OnEarth, much anyone who will pay me. I also blog at, which received the 2011 James Beard Award for best food blog. I live on a 30-acre plot in Vermont where I putter around in a large vegetable garden (a great place for a procrastinating writer), tend a small flock of laying hens, make maple syrup, and brew some of the vilest hard cider on the planet.

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