Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

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Overview

Based on a James Beard award-winning article from a leading voice on the politics of agribusiness, Tomatoland combines history, legend, passion for taste, and investigative reporting on modern agribusiness and environmental issues into a revealing, controversial look at the tomato, the fruit we love so much that we eat $4 billion-worth annually.

2012 IACP Award Winner in the Food Matters category

Supermarket produce sections bulging with a ...

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Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

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Overview

Based on a James Beard award-winning article from a leading voice on the politics of agribusiness, Tomatoland combines history, legend, passion for taste, and investigative reporting on modern agribusiness and environmental issues into a revealing, controversial look at the tomato, the fruit we love so much that we eat $4 billion-worth annually.

2012 IACP Award Winner in the Food Matters category

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

Winner of the 2012 IACP Award in the Food Matters Category and Co-winner of 2012 IACP Jane Grigson Award

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (July)
Jane Black
Tomatoland is more than the sad tale of one fruit's decline from juicy summer treat to bland obligation. It is an indictment of our modern agricultural system…in the tradition of the best muckraking journalism, from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"[A] thought-provoking book." —-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781449401092
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/7/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,453,881
  • Lexile: 1280L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.32 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Estabrook

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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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: On the Tomato Trail ix

Roots 1

A Tomato Grows in Florida 19

Chemical Warfare 35

From the Hands of a Slave 73

An Unfair Fight 97

A Penny per Pound 121

Matters of Taste 139

Building a Better Tomato 153

Tomatoman 175

Epilogue: Wild Things 191

Notes 194

Bibliography 205

Index 207

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Informative and Eyeopening!

    This is the one book that I have thought alot about after reading when shopping for tomatoes at my local store. From why are the tomatoes tasteless yet red in the middle of winter, why are they very firm and do not bruise no matter how long I keep them on my counter after purchasing, to why organic is important when selecting tomatoes? This book covers that and so much more. Kept my interest from the start to the end. It contains the history of where the tomato originated and our forefathers who bred them to what they are today. The unfortunate slavery of migrant workers is a sad reality and what they endure day to day is unspeakable. The book flowed well and I felt as if I too were on the journey with the author discovering and learning. This book is informative and eyeopening and will make you think twice before buying just any tomato at the store. I highly recommend this book not only for its educational value but for the straightforward and truthful manner in which the book is presented. Very entertaining and well written. Thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing this ARC copy for me for my review.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2012

    A must read

    Anyone who has ever eaten a tomato must read this book. A fascinating account of the history of the tomato, the Florida tomato industry, and the lives of the workers who toil to bring us these delightful fruits. At times almost unbearably painful in the descriptions of the conditions and treatment of the farm workers; ultimately, great hope for the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2012

    Interesting

    Will never look at a tomato the same. Learned about it from every aspect; somehow that's more interesting than I thought it would be

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2011

    this year's irresistibly juicy page turner of food activism

    Much of the book tells the story promised by the subtitle: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit. You'll learn why "salad tomatoes" feel and taste like tennis balls: gassed from green to greenish-red without developing any unwanted softness or character. You'll learn why the big growers in Florida don't care about taste: it's too hard to breed for and anyway, taste happens after the sale, so who cares? More importantly and grippingly, Estabrook described the forced servitude-the slavery-that the tomato pickers endure. Slavery is not too strong a term when shackles, shotguns, and brutal beatings keep unwilling workers on the job. Other "incentives" for working including manufactured and inescapable debts and threats to the workers' families and co-workers. But if Tomatoland were all gloom and despair, I wouldn't be urging you to read it. Estabrook also introduces you to a wide range of people trying to create decent conditions for the workers, better environmental practices, and yes even tasty tomatoes. Read moving interviews with day-care operators, lawyers, housing developers, tomato breeders, and sustainable farmers. Tomatoland's David-and-Goliath vignettes make it a page turner, complete with spies and prison breaks. These sections not only offer hope and a few laughs. They also suggest ways to vote with your fork against slavery and poison and for human dignity and fragrant, heavy, truly ripe tomatoes. Who should read Tomatoland? Everyone who eats. Everyone who cares about babies, social justice, immigration, the environment, or good food.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2011

    Informative Story

    A very nice read about the history of the tomato and the industry that produces the cardboard tasting slave grown grocery store variety.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Why Is My Tomato Tasteless?

    During the opening of the food documentary, Food, Inc Michael Pollan refers to the tomatoes we buy in the supermarket as only "an idea of a tomato." I had been left perplexed by what exactly he meant by that. Barry Estabrook's TOMATOLAND answers that question. Why do tomatoes no longer taste like tomatoes?
    The book revolves mainly around the winter crops picked in Florida. Those tomatoes you can buy in mid-January that are red and blemish-free and harder then granite. Estabrook delves into why the tomatoes we buy are unnaturaly hard and round and flavorless. Additionally the labor that goes into getting those tomatoes to market is also an interegral part of the story. While the brunt of the story revolves around the winter tomato, hydroponics from Canada and various organics and native and heirloom breeds are touched on as well.
    TOMATOLAND won't answer every question you have about tomatoes. It will shed some light on important ones you may/should have after eating one from a supermarket. This book is not for foodies or gormets, this is for anyone who eats. Educate yourself and vote with your forks.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    Gourmet food investigative journalist did a wonderful job with h

    Gourmet food investigative journalist did a wonderful job with his "Tomatoland." It is well written and full of a lof of information about tomatoes--origination, transport, farming, pesticides, horrid labor practices in Florida (slavery), and more. Even his introduction is quite interesting. What I also found odd was the origin, as he writes ithat tomatoes originated in the Andean foothills of Peru and Ecuador, yet it was the Mayans that cultivated it, but did that around 1,000 miles from origination, causing a "bottleneck," resulting in an inbred spoecies (Roots chapter, pp. 1-18). This is odd since the Mayans were known to have elaborate botanical gardens. Estabrooks also writes that no writings could be found in Mayan civilization depicting the tomato. Was the tomato so sacred to the Mayan? Were its origins kept hidden, a secret by the Mayan? This book mentions oddities from the beginning to the end. California and Florida are not mentioned as such a great environmentally-friendly food farming places either as they accepted one of the most worst perticides to use. There are some nice parts such as the successful organic farming of tomatoes by a few farmers in Pennsylvania and Florida. However, most of Tomatoland reveals low standards of large farm labor practices in Florida--of course, also resulting in the tasteless tomato often found in supermarkets. Other interersting foody books: "Where are Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine" by Gary Paul Nabhan (Island Press, 2009); and "The True History of Chocolate," By Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe (Thames and Hudson, 1996 London).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

    Finally Florida is exposed for what they are and do!

    The author captures the exact flavor of the tomatoes coming from florida that end up mostly in food service but also on the shelves of retailers. This is why the bulk of the winter tomatoes now come from greenhouses in the southern parts of the US, some Canadian and Mexico. Greenhouse grown with flavor and no pesticides to worry about.

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