Tasteless Tomatoes: Tomatoland Or How Our Most Alluring Fruit Was Destroyed

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You walk into the grocery store mid winter, spy those perfectly smooth and red tasteless tomatoes and instantly engage in a visceral emotional battle to buy a package. You pick up the loveliest of those tasteless tomatoes and place it below your nose, inhaling deeply &ndash; is that the scent of tomato or is that the memory of last summer&rsquo;s fruit you detect? No matter, you so crave the tomato&rsquo;s potential for culinary complexities that in your mind you&rsquo;ve already sliced that tasteless tomato and applied it to a sandwich or chunked it atop an out-of-season salad. And then you bite into it &ndash; Blech!
<p>In investigative food journalist <a title=”Barry Estabrook&rsquo;s” href=”http://politicsoftheplate.com/?page_id=2″ target=”_blank”>Barry Estabrook&rsquo;s</a>&nbsp;upcoming and quite possibly greatest work, <a title=”Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit ” href=”http://politicsoftheplate.com/?page_id=831″ target=”_blank”>
<em>Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit</em>
</a>&nbsp;you will discover just how and why commodity tomatoes came to be nothing more than hard, fibrous, potentially poisonous and completely unappealing stand-ins for the real deal. You also will discover that the human and environmental costs associated with the $10 billion fresh tomato industry simply cannot justify consuming the so-called fruit, not to mention that when you do, you get a good dose of at least 35 pesticides, some of which are among the most dangerous. And besides, who wants to support any industry that uses modern-day indentured labor, preferring to employ non-English-speaking illegal aliens because they&rsquo;re easier to enslave? </p>
<p>Estabrook&rsquo;s narrative begins with an animated analysis of uniformly hard, and perfectly shaped, green orbs flying off trucks at 60 mph (all safely hitting the pavement and rolling to a stop none the worse for wear) and reveals the inner (and often very dark) workings of Florida&rsquo;s winter tomato farming industry. Along the way you will meet true villains who would keep workers in the field, picking while spray rigs douse them with a cocktail so toxic their babies are born without limbs &ndash; and worse. You will meet modern-day slavers, growers in denial, mothers beaten for taking time off for pre-natal care, lawyers and public officials doing their best to elicit change, scientists and breeders just doing what they do. <em>Tomatoland</em> illuminates the seedy labor contractor lurking in the shadows and calls the uber-powerful Florida Tomato Committee on everything from keeping good-tasting tomatoes off grocery store shelves to threatening growers with six-figure fines for paying pickers a fair wage.
<p>Barry Estabrook is a masterful story teller with an uncanny ability to render intricate intellectual pathways entirely accessible. <em>Tomatoland</em> deftly leads us through a complex maze of interrelated occurrences, legal decisions and cultural practices (human and tomato) in a narrative that reads a little like a thriller. I finished the book in two sittings and found myself identifying with farmers, migrant workers, lawyers and even some large growers. </p>
<p>Perhaps the most important lesson from Barry Estabrook&rsquo;s <em>Tomatoland</em> is that no matter how hard the PR voices and online advocates try to make industrial agriculture all about &ldquo;feeding a hungry world,&rdquo; the fact of the matter is that corporate wealth is No. 1. When large corporate (so-called family) farms are willing and able to exploit, poison and otherwise despoil people and environment alike, all while delivering a product that appeals only to their large corporate customers, not the end consumer, the motive is all about money. </p>
<em>Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fr</em>uit is a must read for everyone who eats. I don&rsquo;t care if you are in the commodity cattle business or feed your own family with a small garden. I don&rsquo;t care if you are a policy maker, extension professional, molecular biologist, industrial mogul, minister, teacher, or what have you. <em>Tomatoland</em> illustrates how fundamentally bankrupt our current commodity-based, industrial food systems have become and offers a glimmer of hope for a food future that&rsquo;s healthful for all involved. Read it and try not to weep. </p>
<p>Estabrook&rsquo;s <em>Tomatoland</em> will be available June 7. <a title=”Pre-order your copy today” href=”http://politicsoftheplate.com/?page_id=831″ target=”_blank”>Pre-order your copy today</a>. &nbsp;</p>
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<a href=”http://www.grit.com/biographies/oscar-h-will” target=_self>Hank Will</a>
<em> raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on </em>
<a title=Google+ href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/117459637128204205101/posts” target=_blank rel=author>Google+</a>.</p>