The out-of-season tomato. It's beautiful to behold, tastes of cardboard and holds questionable nutritional value. And according to food writer Barry Estabrook, it embodies much of what's wrong with industrial agriculture.
PAN sat down with Estabrook and spoke to him about how he got interested in the unsavory story of winter tomatoes from Florida, and what he learned. Estabrook's initial research on tomatoes for Gourmet Magazine evolved into the powerfully compelling story he tells in his recent book: Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.
According to the author, the saga of the conventional tomato is quite dark:
If you strip away — or in some cases deliberately contravene — all things sustainable, organic, seasonal, local and fair trade you end up with a winter tomato, along with a litany of horrors that range from abject slavery to workers being regularly sprayed with pesticides.
Estabrook reports that while California and Florida produce roughly the same amount of fresh-market tomatoes on the same acreage, Florida farmers apply eight times more pesticides to produce their winter tomatoes.
Florida’s tomato industry has nothing to do with botany and horticulture. If those were the criteria, Florida would be one of the worst places imaginable to grow tomatoes.
The New York Times calls Tomatoland "potent and scathing" but containing pleasures "subtle and sustained." PAN is currently offering the bestseller as a premium for our supporters. Find out more about Estabrook's research, interests, and recommendations for moving us toward a healthier food system by reading the full conversation with PAN.