I finished this provocative, eye-opening, daring and insightful book within just a few days. I was enthralled, despite my initial fears of ruining my “ignorance is bliss” mentality when it came to tomatoes. I feel silly having written about my heirloom tomato salad (How My Conscience Failed Me: Heirloom Tomato Panzanella). I was in awe of the tomatoes I had purchased at Whole Foods Market; they looked so delectable, how could I possibly not eat them? I now know that these Mexico-grown tomatoes that I purchased were ripened by ethylene gas and picked by a laborer in meager conditions. The tomatoes would not be the freshest or the tastiest, and once again I had fallen into the trap of the marketing world. There is a consumer market where people embrace uniqueness (think people buying vintage clothing, or seeking out artisan ceramics, or being a so-called hipster). The word “heirloom” makes people, me included, feel like they are buying something special. Yeah right.
I also have this problem. I read a book and become so moved and engaged in some new philosophy that I make considerable changes in my life. A perfect example is The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I first limited my meat consumption but soon stopped eating meat altogether. Keep in mind my diet had little meat in it to begin with. (At age 8, I went to my aunt’s for dinner and she asked how I wanted my steak cooked. I replied, “what’s steak?” That shows you how much red meat was consumed in my family.) So when my mother saw me reading Tomatoland by Barry Estabrooks, she asked “are you now going to stop eating tomatoes?” My answer: no. But I most certainly will be re-thinking where my tomato is from, and how it tastes.
Barry Estabrook unveiled the disturbing situation that many farm laborers in Florida face today. I knew that pesticide use was wide-spread, to the point of endangering the workers, but I had no idea that number of cases that could be considered slavery. The author also explains in a succinct way how our tomatoes have evolved into a fruit with much less nutritional content than those in the 1940s.
I can go on and on with the incredible facts that I have learned from Tomatoland, but instead I suggest you go out and find a copy. Enjoy some bruschetta or pizza sauce, but know that, like all other produce, there is a time and place that is perfect for harvesting.