Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sustainable Bookshelf: Tomatoland

I had a tomato today in my lunch salad.  It came from one of my volunteer tomato plants, and I was pleased and surprised to realize that it was an accidental hybrid of a slicer and a paste tomato:  big, round, and smooth skinned, but meaty with very few seeds on the inside.  It was grown without pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers, and I nurtured it myself and harvested it just as it reddened, but before my critters could nibble it.  It was bliss.

But deep in Florida, there is another kind of tomato being grown.  Sure, it is also round, heavy, and smooth-skinned, but it grows nearly hydroponically in the sandy soil, doused with pesticides and herbicides that are known to cause birth defects, the nourished with the kind of over-use of chemical fertilizers that has dire consequences for the water table.  The plants are tended by migrant workers that are forcibly retained in camps that evoke the worst horror stories you ever heard about 18th century slave ships.  All of this is so that, winter or summer, American consumers can go to the grocery and cheaply purchase a mealy, flavorless fruit whose best attribute might be "travels well."

This is the story Estabrook tells in Tomatoland, a fascinating, readable account of the environment, social, and health consequences of our belief that tomatoes should not be seasonal.  Read this book.  Then go out and pick a few tomatoes from your own garden or buy a bunch from the farmer's market.  And, when the your vines are dead this year, commit to not having another tomato until next summer.  It will be worth the wait.

(Note:  As always, the below link that you can see when you are visiting the blog itself is an affiliate link, which helps keep FC&G in tomato-gardening supplies.  If you don't want to order online, visit your library or purchase from a local, independent bookseller -- and maybe take your librarian or bookseller a few tomatoes from your garden!)

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