Sunday, February 19, 2012


I love reading to learn.  Lately, I've begun reading a variety of food related books to educate myself on choosing foods more wisely.

I just finished an informative and highly disturbing book, Tomatoland, by author Barry Estabrook.  The subtitle sums up the book, "How Modern Industrial Agricultural Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit".

I figured the details of commercial tomato growing would be disgusting, environmentally destructive, and produce flavorless fruit.  In fact, those thoughts were confirmed with a series of detailed descriptions of the types of chemicals that are applied.

About 1/3 of the tomatoes in America are produced in Southern Florida, an area naturally devoid of nutritional soil because of the year-round humidity, ripe for bacterial growth.  To provide "nutrition" for the plant and stave off insects and disease, Florida growers use a "category I acute toxin", methyl  bromide.

Methyl bromide can damage the lungs, throat, eyes, skin, kidneys, central nervous system and has been linked to birth defects and cancer.

The tomatoes are picked green and sprayed with ethylene to ripen them on their way to the discount grocery store shelves or fast food restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell are all buyers of Florida tomatoes).

The ethylene, methyl bromide and host of other chemical applications are all produced by the petrochemical industry.  Therefore, as gas supplies are depleted, food costs naturally increase.  Our food is literally grown on unnatural and harmful fuel derivatives.

Perhaps more disturbing than the extreme chemical applications, was my ignorance to the modern slaves who pick these tomatoes.  These workers, most of whom live in Imokalee, Florida, are paid little for their daily back-breaking work.  Many are illegals from Mexico smuggled by coyotes into work they had hoped would provide them a better life only to be trapped by a life of low pay, severely inadequate housing and ridiculous fees that keep them enslaved to contracted tomato picking agencies.

The Museum of Modern Slavery highlights these human atrocities and has been working for better conditions for the tomato pickers.

The stories from field workers and the suffering of their families, the birth defects on their children, and the low wages they receive makes me think twice about where I buy tomatoes.

As if toxic tasteless tomatoes weren't enough reason to choose differently, here is one more tragic reason to buy from known sources and avoid the restaurants and grocers who support them.  Or even better, consider growing your own tomatoes from organic heirloom varieties and preserve your harvest through canning or drying for winter use.  We just bought our seeds from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, but there are many providers.

I checked out this book from the library.  It is an easy read, informative, with the history of the tomato and its fall from taste.  It is a book that will forever change the way you look at a tomato.

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