Rice University - Houston, Texas
Barbara and David Gibbs
Recreation and Wellness Center
Saturday, October 29, 2011
In Tomatoland (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99, June 7, 2011), based on his James Beard Award-winning article, investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $10 billion freshtomato industry. The story begins simply, with Barry finding himself behind a heavy truck in Florida, laden with what appear to be green Granny Smith apples. Some of these orbs begin to fly off the truck, but they turn out to be tomatoes “so plasticine and so identical they could have been stamped out by a machine.” A few have cracks, most are unblemished, and not one is smashed, despite the long drop at 60 mph.
The story ends with Tomatoland, an exposé of today’s agribusiness systems, which produce industrial tomatoes as lacking in nutrition as they are flavor. Of all the fruits and vegetables we eat, none suffers at the hand of factory farming more than a tomato grown in the winter fields of Florida, which accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes grown in the United States.
Modern agribusiness can’t deliver a decent-tasting tomato in large part because it’s essentially against the law; regulations set by the Florida Tomato Committee determine what a tomato should look like, and the older, tasty varieties don’t conform to the rules of color and shape. As Barry explains in this fact-filled yet approachable book, consumers and society pay a price when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases:
- The tomato got its start in the arid climates of South America, making Florida’s humid weather possibly the worst place for tomato growing. This results in heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
- The underpaid workers in Florida’s tomato fields are exposed to chemicals daily, with a toll including cancers, respiratory ailments, and severe birth defects among newborns. That’s not all—one assistant U.S. attorney referred to Florida’s tomato fields as "ground zero for modernday slavery," complete with beatings and being "sold" to crew bosses to pay debts.
- A tomato today contains less vitamin C, thiamin, niacin, and calcium and 14 times as much sodium as its 1960s counterpart.
There’s no doubt Americans—anyone who longs for the flavor and texture of a truly home-grown tomato—will want to hear the messages of Tomatoland. Tomatoes are our second-most popular produce behind lettuce, with Americans buying $5 billion worth of commercially grown fresh tomatoes in 2009. And nearly nine out of 10 backyard gardens include tomatoes. After reading Tomatoland, we should never look at a tomato the same way again—or settle for inferior produce.
Barry Estabrook is the author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. A James Beard Award-winning journalist, Estabrook was a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine until its closure in 2009. In addition to editing and writing regular features on food politics, he helped compile three anthologies of articles from the magazine for Random House/Modern Library and originated and developed the editorial plan for The Gourmet Cookbook. He was the founding editor of Eating Well magazine, co-founder of Chapters Publishing, and publisher at Houghton Mifflin Company, where he managed the cookbook and field-guide lines. His work has also appeared in the New York Times "Dining" section and the New York Times Magazine, Men’s Health, Saveur, Gastronomica, TheAtlantic.com and many other national magazines, and he is the author of two crime novels published by St. Martin’s Press. He has been anthologized in The Best American Food Writing 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. He was co-writer of Jacques Pépin’s best-selling memoir, The Apprentice.