Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook

10222093Nonfiction — print. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011. 224 pgs. Library copy.

It has been my experience that reading about modern industrial agriculture can be incredibly overwhelming if an author takes on the entire system without focusing on a single element – pigs, milk, tomatoes. Therefore, it’s also harder to change consumers’ habits when they feel overwhelmed and cannot figure out which item(s) to change. I was so intrigued when I heard about Estabrook’s book because it focuses on a single item that I use in almost every meal I eat.

I heard many people express disgust over how tasteless commercial tomatoes are but, honestly, I really have never noticed that much of a difference between my garden tomatoes and the tomatoes we purchase at the grocery story. I have noticed a difference in the texture as the seasons change and marveled over how the tomatoes at the grocery store always look the exact same no matter if it’s the dead of winter or the middle of summer. If you think you’re getting variety by purchasing grape or cheery tomatoes instead of slicing tomatoes think again – they are all from the same type of tomato and only differ in appearance.

At the halfway point of Estabrook’s book I was ready to decree no more tomatoes for my family other than those we grow in our garden during the summer because, if you’ve had a tomato from Florida, you’ve had a tomato picked by a slave. If that wasn’t bad enough, Estabrook explains how tomatoes are flavorless because of when they picked and the pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers used are poisoning both the land and the people who pick them. Yikes!

The book ends on a bit of a high note so please don’t think it is a depressing slog through the tomato fields of Florida. It’s actually a very informative, eye-opening read, especially if you enjoy tomatoes in your salad no matter the time of year.

The Honors Project:

I read this book for The Honors Project, my own personal challenge to read more books about economics, food, and/or geography in preparation for writing my honors thesis. My goal for this project is to learn as much as I can about these topics so I can formulate better questions and, in turn, produce a better honors thesis. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.


  1. I’ve noticed that garden tomatoes taste far better than store ones… but I still buy them in the winter anyways, even though they add little flavor to my burgers or salads. I should stop doing that.


    • It’s hard to stop though. I’m trying to pass over the tomatoes at the salad bar during the winter months but tomatoes are used in so many meals (pizza, sauces, soup) on campus that its hard to avoid them completely.


  2. Yikes! I loves me some tomatoes (especially with mozzarella). The problem with these books is that if you keep reading them, you’ll give up on almost everything you don’t produce yourself… but maybe that’s the idea?


    • That’s what my parents keep saying! “Christina, are you going to eat anything?” Personally, although I’ve read a wealth of information about how terrible most of the food I eat are, I have to be very realistic what I change. Switching to organic milk and local, grass-fed beef was much easier to pitch to my parents because I wasn’t demanding they switch to organic everything and drive up their food bill three fold. At school, the cafeteria serves non-hormone treated milk (not an issue in Europe) and some local foods.


    • I’m not the best tomato grower but my grandfather swears the garden ones are better than the store-bought ones. He’s been growing them even after he moved away from his family’s farm as a teenager.


  3. I just picked up the audio version of this one at the library. Ever since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle I’ve been reading more about industrial farming and not liking it one bit.

    To avoid pesticides I grow a lot of my own veggies. I do taste a difference between my tomatoes and store tomatoes but it’s subtle. There is a bigger difference in the taste of home grown beans and broccoli compared to the store version.


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