It’s been a long time since I’ve written about books here. As much as I theoretically love to read, I’m terrible at making the time to do so. By some miracle, I recently finished reading Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabook. Ideally, I would’ve finished it in 2011 when I won a copy from a blog giveaway, but I only got around to picking it up this spring.
From reading various articles over the years, I had a pretty good handle on the premise of the book. Tomatoland discusses the mass production and distribution of the modern tomato, the poor working conditions of those who pick them and the movement to improve the situation. But the book turned out the be much more. Estabrook explores the biology, history and technology of tomato breeding, a topic I found to be much more interesting than I expected. The book also features the point of view of the tomato production company owners, farmers, heirloom breeders and the modern day slaves that pick most American tomatoes.
If you’re interested in the politics behind our food, where food comes from or the history of food in America, you’ll enjoy this book.
There has, of course, been some updates to the story since the publication of the book. You can search “modern slavery” or “florida tomatoes” and likely find a lot of information, but here are a few topical links:
Mexican Authorities Rescue 275 Workers from ‘Slavery’ at Tomato Packing Camp (LA Times, June 2013)
A triumph for organized labor: Walmart agrees to pay 1 cent/pound more to tomato pickers (Food Politics, January 2014)
Online resources from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the group spearheading the movement for fair wages and respect for Florida’s workers.