12 Sept 2012

Book review part 1: Tomatoland

This was originally one long piece but I’ve cut it into two. Read part 2 here.

I like reading about cooking and eating and food. I feel comforted by Nigel Slater’s writing about the emotional ties we have to certain dishes or the immediate sensory experiences of different ingredients. I feel the ups and downs with Stephanie Alexander as she records her vegie garden challenges and successes in her regular Gourmet Traveller column. And I like introductory those paragraphs cooks write before the recipe, sharing a story about its providence.
However I also like to read books that challenge my thinking about food.
If you thought ‘lack of taste’ was the worst accusation you could throw at a tomato and its producers, then think again. In the American book ‘Tomatoland’, Barry Eastabrook reveals:
  • the appalling quantity and truly toxic nature of the chemicals used to grow tomatoes in the nutrient-deficient fields of Florida
  • the devastating health effects of these pesticides and herbicides (often applied unsafely) to the workers and surrounding communities
  • the human trafficking that enslaves illegal immigrants who cross the American borders in search of a better life
  • the government officials and agencies who turn a blind eye to the human misery and environmental wrongs, yet continue to support and be supported by the tomato producers.
It really makes you think differently about a tomato.
I don’t think we have illegal immigrants crossing borders and being enslaved by our agricultural industries. I’d like to think our industrial relations and safety laws protect people from being underpaid or poisoned. But am I being naïve?
Because I don’t know how our food producing industries operate. Media coverage (especially in Tasmania) is usually ‘look how this small family-run business is now supplying lettuces/walnuts/potatoes to the world!’ - in other words, marketing success stories, not objective or critical appraisals of their practices. And what about working and pay conditions, especially for seasonal workers?
Buying organic gives you some assurances about chemical use. And buying seasonal is another way of making a stand against the mega-industrialisation of produce. But who knows the seasonality of fruit and veg these days, especially if you don’t grow it? A supermarket magazine recently trumpeted ‘in season recipes’ for zucchinis; I thought they were a summer-only crop. I guess it’s summer somewhere; let’s pay the food miles and bring it to Hobart a few months early.
‘Tomatoland’ makes me want to know more about what happens in Australia, though I have no idea how to find out. What are your thoughts?


  1. I think I know the recipe you mentioned - I saw it too. Didn't it feature asparagus and zucchini? Where in the world are those two ingredients in season together? If it's cool enough for asparagus it's way to cold for zucchini. I don't think the big supermarkets have quite got it yet.

    1. I agree with you! i really want to eat seasonally so it frustrates me when i see recipes mix things up like that.
      i know in tassie we can't grow pineapples or bananas or mangoes or great oranges, so it's hard to stick to eating local 100%!

  2. Sounds interesting. I don't know much about the subject but would love to learn more. Will be tracking down this book.

  3. there was a lot of discussion of it on american food blogs; that's how i ound out about it. i then loaned it from my local library. even though it's american, it's incredible; eye-opening.


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