The produce section in your local supermarket bulges, even in February, with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes. They almost seem like our birthright as Americans. But in a new book Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, 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 100 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 14 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?