David's Reviews > Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook
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's review
Aug 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-cooking

Like other reviewers, I note that the book concentrates almost exclusively on Florida tomato growing. I urge the author to consider Tomatoland 2.0 as a future project, expanding his view. Are Florida conditions unique to Florida? Why or why not? I'd like to know about conditions not only outside Florida, but outside the US.

I've lived in the US, southeast Asia, and Europe, and found tasteless tomatoes in each. Here in the Balkans, yummy local tomatoes are available in abundance for six weeks a year, after which the pale, dry, tasteless variety return to the supermarkets for a long and sad 10+ months. (Consistent with local culture, the evil machinations of neighboring nationalities are blamed.) I'd love to know: how is the situation here the same as the US, and how is it different? What, if any, conclusions can be teased out of the similarities and differences? Have Floridian commercial agriculture practices and results been deliberately exported around the world, or did the unhappy model which created the Cardboard Tomato appear spontaneously in several different places?

In addition to the (probably correct) assumption that Americans will only read about the US, it's a sad commentary on the US that this book had to be misleading marketed as primarily concerned with the question “Why do supermarket tomatoes taste so bad?”, but you do what you have do to get published and get publicity. If it had shown its true colors as an exposè of the exploitation of Florida agricultural workers, most potential readers people would have said “Yeah, whatever, Cesar Chavez, that's so 1970's.” The author certainly wouldn't have been able to get the attention he has, and maybe might never have found a publisher.

That said, the book answers the bad-tasting tomato question, using about 30% of the space of the book to do so. The rest is an appalling catalog of ill-treatment of illegal immigrant labor, which is the price of cheap food in our supermarkets.

Finally, a tip of the electronic hat to whomever formatted this book for Kindle. When necessary, the main text is clearly and accurately hot-linked to the book's end notes, making navigation back and forth easy. Other recent non-fiction works I've read apparently felt that the effort necessary to do this was too great.
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message 1: by Neil (last edited Sep 13, 2011 09:19AM) (new)

Neil Like all produce, locally grown tomatoes are always the tastiest. Once the season is over (even if it's only six weeks) any future produce available for purchase was grown elsewhere in the world and has been refrigerated. That's why it doesn't taste so good. The author probably wrote of this. I haven't eaten at Taco Bell since 2003 when I saw a bulletin posted in the lunch room of a former audit client, the Unitarian Universalist Services Committee, condeming them for buying their tomatoes from megafarmers who exploit migrant workers. Another sad commentary on the U.S: according to my wife's favorite aunt, Caesar Chavez is a "Mexican drug lawd."

David Tomato talk: not only have they been refrigerated, but they have been grown and bred with taste as the last consideration, thus I learned from the book. As for Taco Bell, you may return to them with a clear conscience, per this book, as they responded adequately to worker pressure to improve conditions. On the other hand, the last time I went there, I got a terrible stomach ache, so I can't really recommend it.

message 3: by Neil (new)

Neil Viva Gorditas! Chalupas, here I come!

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