‘Tomatoland’: A Shocking Exposé on the Industrial Food System

Big costs loom behind those cheap supermarket tomatoes. Learn about the environmental and human toll of our nation’s $5 billion fresh tomato industry.
By Oscar H. Will III
October/November 2011
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“Tomatoland” exposes a food system gone wrong, and explains how we can make it right.

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You walk into the grocery store midwinter, spy those perfectly smooth, red tomatoes and instantly experience a visceral urge to buy a few. You pick one up and place it below your nose, inhaling deeply. Is that the scent of tomato ... or just your memory of last summer’s fruit? No matter — you so crave the tomato’s culinary potential that in your mind, you’ve already sliced it and added it to a sandwich or chunked it atop a pile of spinach from your cold frame. You buy several firm, red ones and take them home. And then you bite into one — blech! 

In investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook’s book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, you’ll 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 $5 billion fresh tomato industry negate any justification for consuming the so-called fruit, not to mention that if you do, you get a good dose of at least 35 pesticide residues, some of which are considered among the most dangerous for human consumption. Furthermore, who wants to support an industry that uses modern-day indentured labor, choosing to employ non-English-speaking, undocumented workers because they’re easier to exploit?

Tomatoland is a must-read for anyone who eats. I don’t care if you are in the commodity cattle business or if you feed your family with a small garden. I don’t care if you are a policymaker, extension professional, molecular biologist, industrial mogul, minister, teacher or what have you. Tomatoland illustrates how fundamentally bankrupt our current commodity-based, industrial food system has become and offers a glimmer of hope for a healthier food future for all. Read it and try not to weep.

Check out an excerpt from Tomatoland. — MOTHER 

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