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Tomatoland

How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Estabrook, Barry

(Book - 2011)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Tomatoland
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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.
Publisher: Kansas City : Andrews McMeel, 2011
ISBN: 1449401090
9781449401092
Branch Call Number: 635.642 E792t 2011
Characteristics: xvii, 220 p. ;,24 cm
Alternate Title: Tomato land

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"In this eye-opening expose, 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." -Publishers Weekly

An investigative journalist "...reveals the huge and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry." "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 ... Read More »


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"Tomatoes are both a multi-billion dollar industry and a carefully crafted agricultural commodity. Expanding on his 2010 James Beard Award-winning article in Gourmet Magazine, investigative journalist Barry Estabrook traces the life cycle of the mass-produced tomato, from its birth in Florida (which produces one third of the nation's annual crop) through its distribution to supermarkets across the United States. In between, commercially grown tomatoes (bred not for flavour but to facilitate shipping) are given a potent cocktail of pesticides and herbicides (to combat the 60 combined insect species and diseases that attack the plants); harvested (by low-paid migrant workers) while still green; and then artificially ripened by exposure to ethylene gas to create the illusion of a perfect piece of fruit." Nature and Science June 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/eaa85527-59b9-4794-85a8-16a62e26054a?postId=f3c1543b-4239-4258-a283-3e26e8d3608f

Feb 24, 2012
  • zjacobs rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Eye opener to the world of industrial farming and the real costs to such massive production.

Feb 20, 2012
  • wac6 rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

This book was about three things, really:

(1) the industrialization of the tomato, which is what I thought the whole book would be about;

(2) slavery in contemporary America, which I did not know about and was shocked by, and efforts to redress modern slavery; and

(3) organic tomatoes making a comebook (a PA farmer who grows 'em and trucks 'em into NYC - good story in and of itself).

It was written well enough, though it's a bit annoying that the promotion of the book is misleading.

Feb 13, 2012
  • cloverdover rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

After reading this excellent book I will be looking at my grocery store fresh produce purchases differently.
I'll also choose my garden tomato cultivars differently
If you enjoyed this book try reading The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Nov 14, 2011
  • maxmillan rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

What an excellent read! Eye-opening and very candid expose on the growing practice of tomatoes in the USA, mostly in the SouthEast. Although the main subject is on tomatoes, I can only imagine how this is representative of the questionable big farm practices, especially in the USA.

A good read for anyone who cares about the source of food on their plate. The message nurtures a more conscientious shopping and dining habit. This has instilled a greater derision of produce I see in big corporate businesses such as Costco, Walmart, Superstore, Safeway, Save On Food, WholeFoods and even distributors to smaller retailers.

Not only is Tomatoland extremely informative and full of follow up reads, it emotionally involved me where I could not put the book down. It contained a small amount of political jargon and what it did have it was well explained.

Finally, the passion of the real-life farmers who produce quality tomatoes and the ethical and moral goodness of their business is quite uplifting.

Aug 17, 2011
  • zipread rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This is a good book. But you gotta remember it’s not fiction, it’s about the real thing. It starts quite logically telling you where tomatoes came from and then it goes on to wisen us up about why most store-bought tomatoes no longer taste like tomatoes. (Do you remember what real tomatoes used to taste like?) But the real nub of the matter, and this is where the story gets really interesting, is how they are grown today. That deals with super-poisonous methyl bromide used to kill pathogens in the soil (methyl bromide is is an even more destructive player that CFCs when it comes to ozone layer destruction). And then there’sensive way in which the plants are planted and harvested. Workers (usually migrant workers, illegally in the United States, illiterate in any language, unable to speak or understand English, sometimes not even to speak Spanish. This is a recipe for a naïve and helpless work force extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And exploited they are. Dosed by toxic pesticides; assaulted by crew bosses; malnourished and, in many cases, kept in slavery. Not virtual slavery: real slavery. After you’ve read this book you may never be able to go to the store and look a Florida tomato in the eye again. And if you don’t buy the tomato you won’t be missing much anyway: after all, they’re not real tomatoes anymore. Just ersatz tomatoes.

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