If the answers to those questions are a.) within the past few months, b.) it had no taste at all, and c.) it came from the store or a restaurant, chances are you ate a modern-day relative of a real tomato.
“Perhaps our taste buds are trying o send us a message. Today’s industrial tomatoes are as bereft of nutrition as they are of flavor. 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 its 1960s counterpart in one area: It comtains fourteen times as much sodium.” – from Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabroak.
That quote came from a new book that has caught my attention in a big way. I’ve noticed for quite some time that supermarket tomatoes have zero taste. But I like tomatoes in salad and other favorite dishes. I know they aren’t like “real” tomatoes from the garden or the farmers market, but I still buy them.
Not any more. Tomatoland made me take a good look at the tomato industry and I didn’t like what I saw at all. The author, Barry Estabrook decided to find out why we can’t buy a decent fresh tomato and discovered that it’s not a simple question and answer.
He learned that Florida “accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the U.S., and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes..” It’s an example of industrial agriculture at it’s worst.
In addition to growing a taste-less fruit, many Florida tomato growers are responsible for some very shameful practices: modern-day slavery and inhumane treatment of the tomato workers. There are shady legal and political practices as well. Numerous herbicides and pesticides are sprayed on the tomato fields, often right on the workers.
Besides learning how awful these growers are, Tomatoland taught me a lot about plant biology and the genetic and political history of our beloved plant. For instance, I had no idea tomatoes originally came from Peru and were the size of peas. The book is filled with the stories of the people surrounding the subject of tomatoes. Barry Estabrook brought them all to life.
There is no doubt about it – this is good reading. It’s part expose, part history, and all very good journalism. I dare you to read this book and not want to DO something. That’s what happened to me.
I’m now calling myself a Tomato Activist. What does that mean? For me, here’s how I’m defining it:
- For one thing, I’ll never again buy or eat a fresh tomato unless I know exactly where it came from and under what conditions it was grown.
- I will ask at restaurants where their tomatoes came from. If I’m not satisfied, I’ll ask to have the tomato removed and I’ll let them know why.
- I have letters drafted to my senators and congressmen asking them to stick their noses into the working conditions for Florida tomato growers.
- I’ll can enough tomatoes to keep us supplied with tomatoes until the next season.
- I’m telling everyone I know to read Tomatoland.
I hope you’ll join me and become your own Tomato Activist.
About the author:
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. He lives and grows tomatoes in his garden in Vermont.
Ask for this book at your local library and/or your local bookstore. Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook is also available at Amazon. (I am an Amazon Associate.)
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