book reviews

July 14, 2011 |
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books


reviewed by Jim Duncan


'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit'


By Barry Estabrook

Andrews McMeel Publishing


240 pp


Barry Estabrook's "Tomatoland" does for Florida tomatoes what Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" did for the Chicago meat packing industry. The only other literary comparison that comes to mind is from EE Cummings — "there is some shit I will not eat."

Estabrook tells how industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit. The Florida tomato industry he reveals is a wonder of natural defiance. Tomatoes are native to the Atacama Desert, which is 50 times drier than Death Valley. They hate humidity and require abundant nitrogen to grow. Yet Florida tomatoes, one-third of all fresh tomatoes eaten in the U.S., are grown in nitrogen-free sand in the most humid part of the U.S. amid rampant fungal diseases, hoppers, beetles and worms.

The industry does that with the vegetarian equivalence of chemotherapy. Methyl bromide kills everything to prepare the sand for planting. Florida growers then also apply five times the fungicides and six times the pesticides that California tomato grower's use. Thirty-five pesticides have been found on Florida-grown tomatoes in supermarkets, three are known carcinogenics, six are neurotoxins, 14 are endocrine disrupters, and three cause birth defects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found Florida tomatoes responsible for 17 percent of all food borne illnesses in the country, the most of any single food.

The Florida industry also accomplishes this triumph over nature with slave labor. In last 15 years, Florida law enforcement freed more than a 1,000 tomato workers being held and forced to work against their will. Estabrook's interviews with these former slaves will surely stop you from ever eating another Florida tomato. CV