Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Tomatoland" a book review

Are you concerned about human health? The environment? Social justice? Taste? Locally grown organic food? My guess is "yes" to these questions or you would not be reading this blog. Barry Estabrook has written a stunning expose of modern factory agriculture in "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit" (2011: Andrews McNeel Publishing).
I have not bought a winter "fresh" tomato in decades and the main reason is because they are totally tasteless. When you grow a tomato in your own backyard, or get them in season from a farmer, who knows how to handle them, at a farmer's market, the uniform pink balls called "fresh tomatoes" in the grocery are disgusting in comparison. These tomatoes are picked green and turned red using ethylene gas (I refuse to say "ripened" because the gas just turns them red, and does not change the flavor to one of a ripe tomato). But Estabrook gives me many more reasons to shun these winter tomatoes, grown in Florida at great expense:
1. More than 100 chemicals may be sprayed: 60 pesticides, 31 fungicides, 19 herbicides, in addition to chemical fertilizers. Some are associated with cancer, neurological problems, endocrine disruption (this early puberty and breast cancer) and birth defects. Some of these chemicals are banned in Europe.
2. 54% of tomato samples purchased on grocery stores have detectable levels of these chemicals, some within the fruit that cannot be washed off.
3. Workers are poorly paid, work under horrible conditions, and are, at times, held in virtual slavery.
4. Workers are routinely sprayed with chemicals as the fields are getting doused and have infants with high rates of birth defects and their own health problems. Thye wear no protective clothing and are given no training, nor access to emergency medical care if exposed.
5. Pollution of Florida's vulnerable ecosystem, where all these tomatoes are grown, is killing wildlife and permanently damaging the environment in countless ways.

Do we need winter tomatoes? No, we don't. We used to eat seasonally and locally- remember anticipating that first sweet corn and watermelon? Eating out of season presents many moral dilemmas that can be solved by eating seasonal foods.

After this post, my usual tag line of "happy gardening" seems out of place. How about "thoughtful eating?"

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