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Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  3,069 Ratings  ·  477 Reviews
Investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
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Nov 17, 2011 Andrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, 2012
This book reminds me of a lyric by one of my favorite bands, The White Stripes:

"White Americans, what, nothin' better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out, you're an immigrant too
Who's usin' who? What should we do?
Well you can't be a pimp and a prostitute too."

Certain segments of American society love to complain about how undocumented immigrants are taking "our" jobs, but I'll eat my hat if they can find one American willing to work sixteen hour days in the scorching sun, be sprayed with class
Nov 05, 2011 Marvin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
If you only read one book about tomatoes in your lifetime make it this one.

Thanks to investigative books and films like Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc., we have been exposed to the shady going-ons in the food industry that gives us unhealthy sub-standard food products and inhumane treatment of animals. After reading Tomatoland, I'm almost persuaded to start an humane society for the tomato. Anyone who buys a commercial tomato know that this once noble fruit has been reduced to a pretty but taste
Jul 03, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
This book is sort of a cross between The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and The Grapes of Wrath. It is both a description of the tomato and how agri-business has transformed the tomato into a tasteless commodity, and a sociological muckraking of the obscene conditions suffered by migrant workers in Florida. The middle portion of the book is extremely depressing. Decades ago, I remember watching the documentary, "The Harvest of Shame" about migrant workers. For so many migran ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Simone rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-read, food
Everyone. Go. Read. This. Book. Now, before you eat another bad tomato.

"Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave. That's not an assumption', said Douglas Molloy, a U.S. attorney in Florida, 'that is a fact."

And he's not talking, slave like, or something resembling slavery. He's talking legit whipped, kept in chains, badly fed, whipped for trying to escape slavery. If the conditio
May 20, 2011 Linda rated it it was amazing
“Tomatoland” is one of the very best investigative books I have read in many years. The topic is 21st Century slavery and related abuses in the tomato fields of Florida, in locations not far from Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Naples, one of the wealthiest communities in the US. I really respect and appreciate Barry Estabrook’s obvious compassion and empathy for the migrant workers whose tragic stories he includes in this very well-written, thoroughly documented and truly compelling book.
Barry is a
Jun 30, 2011 Gail rated it liked it
Shelves: food-and-cooking
I already know that after reading this book or before i even finish i will plant tomatoes in my yard and boycot supermarket tomatoes.
This was an eye-opening book and what the prediction I made above came true. The last couple chapters were slower going that the beginning ones, but overall this is definitely worth a read.
Nov 27, 2011 Adwoa rated it really liked it
Estabrook's Tomatoland offers an incredibly lucid and even-handed look at what is frequently a horrific industry in an unfair state - and for that, I commend him.

As a writer and garden grower of tomatoes who cares about both good food and human rights, Immokalee presents a complex problem. On one hand, you believe firmly that workers should receive fair pay, equitable rights, and a chance to band together: but it's hard to approach that while ignoring the fundamental truth that on a larger level
Jun 16, 2011 Sherri rated it it was amazing

There are certain books that have changed my viewpoint and shopping habits; this is one of those books. At some point in my consciousness, I knew that tomato workers were treated poorly. I vaguely recalled the time when Chipotle became the first restaurant to insist that its tomatos were purchased from sources that agreed to pay workers more. I knew that pesticides and other chemicals were used to grow tomatoes.

In Tomatoland, the author painstakingly details the multiple horrors of the tomato in
Jul 03, 2012 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an illuminating look into the modern day tomato business. I am going to be more careful about where and when I buy tomatoes from now on.
Oct 06, 2011 Dana rated it it was amazing
Rarely, if ever, has a book made me this angry. I had no idea that today, here in the USA, in Florida, people are being held against their wills' as slaves, beaten, subjected to cancer causing and birth defect causing caustic chemicals, living in horribly disgusting substandard conditions, sometimes locked up and killed, and we have all eaten tomatos that they picked. Our country, the land of the free, is not adequately protecting migrant farm workers from horrific abuse and working conditions a ...more
Lynn Anne
Jul 07, 2011 Lynn Anne rated it it was amazing
Tomatoland is an expansion of a James Beard Award-winning article Barry Estabrook originally wrote for Gourmet Magazine, for which he was a contributing editor before the magazine folded. The book is at once a meandering survey of tomato history, and a detailed expose’ of the modern Florida tomato industry.

Early on, Estabrook takes readers through rural Peru on a hunt for the modern tomato’s tenacious forebears, then follows the tomato through to its place on the modern American plate. But much
Linda Watson
Oct 25, 2011 Linda Watson rated it it was amazing
Tomatoland is this year's irresistibly juicy page turner. Investigative journalist Barry Estabrook first exposed the horrific conditions in Florida's industrial tomato fields in Gourmet magazine. The article won a James Beard award (think Oscar) and allowed him to continue investigating sunny Florida's dark secrets about the $10 billion fresh-tomato industry.

Much of the book tells the story promised by the subtitle: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit. You'll lear
Aug 27, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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 ye
Sep 10, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it
This is definitely one of my top five books about tomatoes. OK, OK, it's my absolute top book about tomatoes.

In "Tomatoland", Barry Estabrook discusses modern tomato farming practices in Florida, and how the ridiculous situations has gotten to this point. Tomatoes like dry conditions -- not humid, like Florida, where they are susceptible to fungal diseases; like most plants, they require nutrients from the soil -- although in Florida, tomatoes are typically grown in nutrient-free sand; tomatoes
Oct 20, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it
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 gree ...more
Linda Harkins
Aug 10, 2012 Linda Harkins rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Following in the footsteps of Frances Moore Lappe and Michael Pollan, this James Beard award-winning journalist provides insight into American tomato growing practices. Not only do we learn that supposedly mature green tomatoes are actually "gassed" to make them appear ripe in the produce section of the supermarket, but also how Florida manages to use loopholes to continue to spray vines with poisonous pesticides. These chemicals are linked to birth defects as ...more
David Harris
Sep 27, 2013 David Harris rated it it was amazing
Read the chapter called Re-Building the Tomato. Great info about how people are working hard to rehabilitate the tomato after decades of abuse by large agri-businesses. If you don't have time to read the book, at least read this chapter.
Aug 05, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it
This is potentially the library book I've had checked out the longest (approximately three and a half months now) that I still actually managed to finish. (Although Wildwood was probably pretty close.) This book didn't really grab my interest in the first 40 pages, and it languished in my bag, next to my bed, on my desk at home, on my desk at work, for many weeks before I was able to really pick it up again. Good thing I had some time to give it another chance!

I came to this book with a desire t
Dec 31, 2011 Jacquelyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: sustainability
After seeing Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (by Barry Estabrook) on sale at Barnes and Noble this summer, I added it to my reading list. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy until yesterday. I expected to be bored with a history of industrial tomato production in Florida.I read the whole thing between last night and this afternoon. Bored would have been an improvement over how I am feeling right now.

As someone who lives not far from Im
Robert Beveridge
Jan 24, 2013 Robert Beveridge rated it really liked it
Barry Estabrook, Tomatoland: How Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)

I picked up Tomtoland expecting a kind of first-world-problems foodie lament about how factory farming had turned the tomato from that red, bursting, joyous thing one finds occasionally during the summer at farmer's markets to the half-green, impossible-to-slice globule one can now find at the local hypermarket year-round. And yes, there is a good bit of that, but there are
Greg Zink
Aug 19, 2011 Greg Zink rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
The funny thing about food these days is the more you know, the harder it is to eat. I watched Food, Inc. and gave up industrial beef. I read Bottomfeeder and had to make a point to know which species were overfished. So it goes with Tomatoland. If you're perfectly happy eating winter tomatoes and don't want to have that peace challenged, don't read this book. However, if slave labor bothers you, or even if you simply find that tomatoes don't taste like much anymore, it's an interesting read.

Dan Schiff
Jul 06, 2011 Dan Schiff rated it liked it
Tomatoland is empathetic and interesting, but seems incomplete. Estabrook's dedication shows immediately where the book's heart is: "For the men and women who pick the food we eat." This notion, which so often gets lost in the discussions of "foodie" culture, forms the backbone of Tomatoland. Estabrook's look at modern-day agricultural slavery -- though not limited to tomato-picking -- is a harsh reminder of who pays the costs of cheap, abundant food.

At just under 200 pages, Tomatoland is short
Jan 25, 2013 Barry rated it really liked it
I purchased this book for a friend a few months ago with the intention of eventually reading it myself. After her stellar review (calling it the best book she has read all year), I knew I had to check it out. This book characterizes many known and unknown facets of the tomato's moden life, and its relationship to people, other plants/fruits, and business. I was very surprised to learn about the conditions in which Florida's slicing tomatos are grown and harvested. It is hard to believe situation ...more
Jul 25, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
Estabrook, Barry. TOMATOLAND. (2011). ****.
Although often written in a tedious manner, this book provides an expose of the tomato farming practices in Florida that most of us don’t know about. We know that Florida tomatoes have no taste. They are grown for taste, but for size, weight, and uniformity. The problem is that Florida soil is mostly sand, not sandy soil, but sand like you find at the beach. It contains no nutrients. They have to be added. Add to this drawback the fact that sand and th
Jul 10, 2011 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have-own-copy
If you've ever tasted a homegrown tomato and then compared it to the one you may have purchased in the grocery store, you'll know there is no comparison. The store-bought variety is generally lacking in taste, texture and nutrition. How surprised should we be when we learn that most commercially grown tomatoes are picked green and artificially ripened with ethelyene. Blech.

From investigative food journalist and author Barry Estabrook, Tomatoland delves into the tomato industry and what it takes
Apr 11, 2012 Terra rated it really liked it
I grew up on small family farms, always having access to fresh and ultra local produce. There are baby photos of me chomping on home grown and delicious tomatoes and while my mother spent time tending the garden, I'd spend time picking beans and tomatoes straight from the vine and eating them immediately.

As an adult, I've maintained a small backyard garden, always with tomatoes, as they've also been an easy crop for me to grow and tomato season is always my favorite. There is nothing like the f
Due to reading this book, I am now afraid to eat any produce (not just tomatoes) that is grown non-organically (the chemicals used are terrifying!), and I have a better understanding of the hardships faced by undocumented field workers. I can also tell you a bit about the history of tomatoes. I'm sure to be a hit at future dinner parties by telling them that the Aztecs prepared a large amount of the original recipe for salsa in anticipation of eating it with the flesh of their vanquished Spanish ...more
Jun 07, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arc
I feel a personal connection to Tomatoland since tomatoes are always a source of drama in my home. My husband has a fear of tomatoes that has only grown more severe over time. I've never cared much for them, but I grew up in California, so "fresh" sliced tomatoes came on everything: burgers, tacos, milkshakes. . . Okay, maybe not the milkshakes, but just about everything else. I've become accustomed to just picking them off and going along on my merry way, but after reading this book, I now know ...more
Sep 20, 2011 Sara rated it really liked it
I never buy those tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store--I save my green ones from the garden in the fall in a cardboard box where they continue to ripen and then I do without. This book explains how the Florida Tomato Committee (a strictly growers assn not a government agency)has forced all producers to use only a perfectly round tasteless tomato that they must pick when green and can be shipped and then ripened artificially so that it is at least somewhat red in the stores. Whenever anyone ...more
Connie Mayo
Jun 28, 2011 Connie Mayo rated it really liked it
Shelves: luddite-books
It was very satisfying for me to read in print what I have known for a long time: tomatoes from the grocery store are awful, and they are awfuler than other vegetables, which is to say that the zucchini you can grow in your backyard are not a quantum leap better than the store bought zucchini, but tomatoes grown in your own dirt are orders of magnitude better than the ones at Stop 'N Shop.

What I didn't know was how Florida tomatoes are grown in a state that is actually very inhospitable to grow
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The author of Tomatoland and Pig Tales and a three-time James Beard Award winner, Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet. He blogs at and lives in Vermont.
More about Barry Estabrook...

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“According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of fresh tomato today has 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than it did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame it's counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium.” 7 likes
“Workers who pick the food we eat cannot afford to feed themselves.” 3 likes
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