• Tomatoland

  • How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit
  • By: Barry Estabrook
  • Narrated by: Pete Larkin
  • Length: 7 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (137 ratings)

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Tomatoland

By: Barry Estabrook
Narrated by: Pete Larkin
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Publisher's Summary

Supermarket produce sections bulging with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes have become all but a national birthright. But in Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, The Price of Tomatoes, investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry. Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. How have we come to this point? Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States. He visits the laboratories of seedsmen trying to develop varieties that can withstand the rigors of agribusiness and still taste like a garden tomato, and then moves on to commercial growers who operate on tens of thousands of acres, and eventually to a hillside field in Pennsylvania, where he meets an obsessed farmer who produces delectable tomatoes for the nation's top restaurants.

Throughout Tomatoland Estabrook presents a who's who cast of characters in the tomato industry: the avuncular octogenarian whose conglomerate grows one out of every eight tomatoes eaten in the United States; the ex-Marine who heads the group that dictates the size, color, and shape of every tomato shipped out of Florida; the U.S. attorney who has doggedly prosecuted human traffickers for the past decade; and the Guatemalan peasant who came north to earn money for his parents' medical bills and found himself enslaved for two years.

Tomatoland reads like a suspenseful whodunit as well epos of today's agribusiness systems and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases.

©2011 Barry Estabrook (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[A] thought-provoking book." ( Publishers Weekly)

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What listeners say about Tomatoland

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Neat Book

If you're interested in where your food comes from but not in a lot of preachy, unsolicited advice on how you should behave yourself, this is a fantastic read.

I'm pretty well versed on the whole food subject, but I was not aware of how bad the slavery issues in Florida had gotten.

All in all a very good read.

6 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Do I Really Want to Eat Another Tomatoe Ball?

What made the experience of listening to Tomatoland the most enjoyable?

Great exposure of how our "industrial" tomato might not want to be part of my food intake.

Any additional comments?

Sometimes repetitious on some points. Still kept me glued to the speaker to the very end.

6 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Racism Unwelcome!

What would have made Tomatoland better?

The premise of the story was what led me to purchase. However, after three blatantly racist remarks, I had to call it quits. I doubt Mr. Estabrook met many the tomato farmers of Florida who he characterized as middle-aged white men in the "good ole boys club" made up of "rednecks and crackers". I had really hoped for a story of the progression of industrial agriculture and how it impacted the tomato industry. Instead, with just about an hour into the book, the author takes repeated jabs at the farmers and opines that the current large-scale techniques are the result of farmers being white, not the market, demand, oppressive regulations etc.Shame on you Mr. Estabrook!

What was most disappointing about Barry Estabrook’s story?

His racism. I know he's white but I still found it offensive.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Tomatoland?

I think I would have left it as is. Otherwise it would be disingenuous for the reader to not be able to weigh the material in the milieu of the author's racist, South-loathing agenda.

5 people found this helpful

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Terrific. Challenging. Eye opening.

I had no idea the complexity of this subject. This book covers abused farm workers, labor struggles, artisanal tomato growers, government regulations and the search for a good tasting tomato with equal detail. It's all fascinating and has me curious about where my food comes from and the impact of how it's harvested. Such a joy to listen to this book.

1 person found this helpful

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huge update from the previous book.

Rather than just stop at horrible behavior of farmers, this work actually investigates the social services that helped out the workers. It also gave a side to the farmers. I especially enjoyed listening to the work of Mr Stark. All in all, a good read. The performance was nice and the story -- scary but enlightening.

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Delicious

Very well done. Mr. Estabrook does a fine job weaving together together all the delicate flavors of the Florida tomato industry. Well worth the time.

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  • GC
  • 10-14-20

False Advertising

5% of this book is about the 🍅 industry. 95% is about migrant workers. Title should be "The treatment of migrant ag workers in Florida" I want a refund credited to my account.

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interesting book- decent content

it wasn't difficult to listen to while driving, but I think reading would have been more difficult. the author does a good job trying to connect the ideals of migrant and immigrant worker inequity with crappy tomatoes due to industry mis-regulation. it was a bit of a stretch to combine the two in the first place.
My opinion is that it should have been two books that went more in depth on each issue.

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Great Book !

This is a must read for anyone who cares about their food. I never knew that growing commercial food was so corrupted!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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farmers market here i come

decent book, history of the tomato and hiw it has changed. adresses working slave labor conditions, and some glimmers of hope for the tomato industry. leaves the reader wanting to get involved. doesnt really give a solution to the problem and why cost are so high for the seller to create such conditions for its workers.