Author Barry Estabrook's new book, Tomatoland, looks deep into the agricultural world that produces the country's tomatoes. Where is he looking? Urrrrr, Florida. What does he find?
Well, turns out that though the Sunshine State produces a huge chunk of the nation's tomatoes, and nearly all of the country's fresh tomatoes sold in fall and winter, the practices behind tomato production aren't so squeaky clean.
In this NPR interview with Terry Gross, Estabrook talks about the mindset behind mass-produced tomatoes. He says that, "As one large Florida farmer said, 'I don't get paid a single cent for flavor... He said, 'I get paid for weight. And I don't know of any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes before she puts them in her shopping cart.'"
Estabrook talks about how though Florida and California use around the same amount of land for growing fresh tomatoes, Florida farmers use eight times the amount of pesticides and herbicides as their California counterparts. Florida, as Estabrook explains (and as we know!), is humid, has sandy soil, and has a climate perfect for breeding mold, fungus, and bacteria. It does not have the dry and sunny conditions that help tomato plants thrive.
Estabrook also explores shocking work conditions for tomato pickers. The book came out of an article he wrote in Gourmet investigating a case of slavery in Southwestern Florida.
Estabrook tells Gross: "It was shocking. I'm not talking about near slavery or slavery-like conditions. I am talking about abject slavery. These were people who were bought and sold. These were people who were shackled in chains at night. Or locked in the back of produce trucks with no sanitary facilities all night. These were people who were forced to work whether they wanted to or not -- and if they didn't, they were beaten severely."
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For more information on Tomatoland, visit Estabrook's blog, politicsoftheplate.