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.