Time on “Tomatoland.” Read the review

Estabrook gives the history, science and politics of the tomato, all in service of laying the blame for the ruination of a wonderful fruit. He looks through the lens of the fast-spreading movement to draw attention to the sources and quality of our food. In that, he taught me a lot—not just about farmer’s markets and heirloom tomatoes. I learned that even in the most soulless supermarket you can find better-tasting tomatoes grown in appropriate climates. You just have to look in the canned vegetables aisle.

Yes, canned tomatoes are superior to the smooth, red orbs in the produce section. They’re grown in the suitably dry air of California and allowed to ripen before they are picked and processed.

Perhaps you’ve noticed in recent years that agribusiness has become a stock villain of Hollywood thrillers. Instead of terrorists or rogue agents of the CIA, good guys like Liam Neeson in “Unknown” and George Clooney in “Michael Clayton” find themselves battling the evil minions of the food industry. That seemed strange and excessive to me—after all, these are the people who keep us fed.

But “Tomatoland” is a strong reminder that much of this damaged image the farmers and food processors have brought on themselves. If they want to be loved, Estabrook suggests, they need to clean up their age-old problems, and stop callously engineering new ones.

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4 comments

  1. Joe says:

    It’s a tiny detail, but I wonder at your decision to refer to Tomatoes as a vegetable, and not a fruit? I assume this was something you and your editors went back and forth on? Not to make light of the serious issues discussed in the rest of the book, just curious really.

  2. Barry says:

    Good point, Joe.

    Well, scientifically and biologically, tomatoes are a fruit. However, in its wisdom, the Supreme Court declared them a vegetable in the late 1800s–no kidding. Google it! The reasoning was that they are cooked like vegetables and used like vegetables in cuisine. But it also might have had something to do with tarriffs that existed then against importing vegetables (not fruite) into the United States.

    The USDA lists them as vegetables in its stats.

    Who am I to referee the fruit/vegetable debate. So I whipmed out and called them both.

    Barry

  3. Ed says:

    Oh dear I’m afraid mr Worstall is making a bit of a figure out of him with his little rant. Shouldn’t look one for the real price, it is hard to argue that what is basically pumping to cheap oil in the ground in the form of pesticides and fertilizer is done at the right price. What about the polution it causes. Secondly not paying decent wages? And than in the end you end up with a crap product not worth a cent basically, what use has it? Since mr Worstall is so keen on quoting famous economists he might be familiar with this one as well:
    ‘It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”
    There is hardly anything in the world which someone can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper – and people who consider price alone are this man’s lawful prey.’ Now who wrote that? Basically price stuff the right way and no one will eat tomatoes in midwinter and why should they when there are fanatastic tasty vegetables around that can whithstand extremely low temperatures. Btw Couldn’t be bothered to sign up to Forbes, gave up my subscription many many years ago because of all the utter nonsense they wrote as proven by the piece by Mr Worstall he can’t be really a leading light in journalism I’m afraid. Maybe he’s cheap? Interesting paralel between forbes journalists and tomatoes from Florida …..?

  4. william stockdale says:

    If Worstall (what a name–worst all) doesn’t come cheap, he should.

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