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Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit Paperback – April 24, 2012
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"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, TheAtlantic.com
"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" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Not your typical book on food or gardening, the faint of heart are advised to set this book down and back away. While I was delighted to learn about origins and some developments in tomato breeding, I also learned that very likely, my most loved ones and I have enjoyed sauces made from tomatoes picked by slaves.
Sorry to suggest it, but you probably have too. Not merely indentured servants, or poor, vulnerable people living in squalid conditions, but actual slaves.
In a few riveting chapters on the working conditions of migrant field workers, Estabrook uncovers matters about the human heart, both awful and wonderful. How these lowly workers finally affected huge corporations such as McDonalds, and Taco Bell made for fascinating reading. Estabrook chronicles the incremental steps farm owners, government, and corporate America reluctantly made before dramatic, about-face from policies that supported worker exploitation.
Somebody somewhere has said that great writing leaves marks on a reader's spirit; after the book is closed, the reader is left changed. Tomatoland seems to have left two marks on me. First, I seem to be naturally more inquisitive regarding the origins of what I procure for the family table. Where did this food come from? How far away did it have to travel? What is there to know about the people who grew or made it?
Second, while I've acquired several notable gardening books over the years and often dream over them during the cold, dark months, I doubt if I've ever been read a more motivating book before a growing season.
For example, after the chapters on organic growers supplying highend resturaunts, Estabrook has inspired me to again grow Brandywine, a heirloom tomato variety with a reputation for superb flavor but modest production. Many experienced tomato growers know that there are several strains of Brandywine. The folks of Johnny's Selected Seeds believe their pink Sudduth strain is the best. Lisa VonSaunder of Amishland Heirloom Seeds gushes that her Glick strain is the best of the best. Famed tomato grower, Carolyn Male seems to give the nod in her book, "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden," toward the Red Brandywine with the regular-leaf foliage. Gary Ibsen ("The Great Tomato Book") on his stupendous website offers eight varieties of Brandywine--and seems to favor either the red Landis Valley strain, or the OTV strain, or maybe the pink, potato-leaf, Sudduth strain.
Not kidding, please be forewarned. Reading "Tomatoland" may cause you to decompensate into a serious food geek or probably insufferable garden nerd. You will know if you find yourself planning to grow several strains of Brandywine for your own taste test.
The author ends on a positive note, however, presenting scientists and farmers trying to right the ship,by attempting to restore taste to the tomato, while treating workers with the dignity they deserve.
While tomatoes might not be the most likely subject for a book, the author shows that drama can be found in any instance of human beings mistreating one another in the never ending hunt for greed and wealth.
Mr. Estabrook covers only tomato farming, which appears to be very unique in its processes. He shows how tomatoes have become a commodity devoid of taste, character, nutrients, and for the consumer, pleasure. As a kid I grew up eating home-grown tomatoes and they remain one of my favorite fruits. I had always wondered why the tomatoes in grocery stores never tasted good - or simply had no taste. Now I know.
Mr. Estabrook also covers the astounding amount of chemicals it takes to grow out-of-season tomatoes in Florida (where most of our supermarket tomatoes come from). I do not use the word 'astounding' lightly. The process of growing an industrial tomato crop is as foreign and backwards to everything I've thought or been taught that farming is as I can imagine.
The most important and terrible aspect of modern tomato farming, to my thinking, is exposed without euphemism by Mr. Estabrook: slavery. I couldn't, and wouldn't have guessed at the conditions that tomato farmworkers endure just to produce these all-important tasteless blobs of red matter.
Mr. Estabrook makes a case for the re-thinking of tomato production. He talks about the importance of wild species of tomato, and goes into the background of the plant. He interviews scientists and farmers trying to breed new tomatoes that will withstand the rigors of industry, yet still taste like tomatoes.
Perhaps it is because I love tomatoes so much that this book affected me so strongly. It exposed my ignorance and made me ashamed, but also made me aware -- and I will make more informed choices when buying tomatoes, and I suspect, all industrial farmed produced.
The main flaw in the book that jumped out at me was the need for a better editor, but I'm persnickety that way. Overall, I would very highly recommend this book as a primer to the modern tomato industry.