In Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99), based on his James Beard Award-winning article, investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $10 billion fresh- tomato industry.
The story begins simply, with Barry finding himself behind a heavy truck in Florida, laden with what appear to be green Granny Smith apples. Some of these orbs begin to fly off the truck, but they turn out to be tomatoes “so plasticine and so identical they could have been stamped out by a machine.” A few have cracks, most are unblemished, and not one is smashed, despite the long drop at 60 mph.
The story ends with Tomatoland, an exposé of today’s agribusiness systems, which produce industrial tomatoes as lacking in nutrition as they are flavor. Of all the fruits and vegetables we eat, none suffers at the hand of factory farming more than a tomato grown in the winter fields of Florida, which accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes grown in the United States. Modern agribusiness can’t deliver a decent-tasting tomato in large part because it’s essentially against the law; regulations set by the Florida Tomato Committee determine what a tomato should look like, and the older, tasty varieties don’t conform to the rules of color and shape.