Don’t Eat the Tomatoes – Unless You Grow Them Yourself

In The Indignity of Industrial Tomatoes, Barry Estabrook says that industrial tomatoes are tasteless, indestructible and picked by literal slaves.

If you have ever eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or restaurant, chances are good that you have eaten a tomato much like the ones aboard that truck. Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Today's industrial tomatoes are as bereft of nutrition as they are of flavor. According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh tomatoes today have 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than they did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame its 1960s counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium.

Tomatoes' wild ancestors came from the coastal deserts of northern Peru and southern Ecuador, some of the driest places on earth. When forced to struggle in the wilting humidity of Florida, tomatoes become vulnerable to all manner of fungal diseases. Hordes of voracious hoppers, beetles, and worms chomp on their roots, stems, leaves, and fruit. And although Florida's sandy soil makes for great beaches, it is devoid of plant nutrients. To get a successful crop, they pump the sand full of chemical fertilizers and can blast the plants with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides, including some of the most toxic in agribusiness's arsenal.

Pesticides, so toxic to humans and so bad for the environment that they are banned outright for most crops, are routinely sprayed on virtually every Florida tomato field, and in too many cases, sprayed directly on workers, despite federally mandated periods when fields are supposed to remain empty after chemical application. All of this is happening in plain view, but out of sight, only a half-hour's drive from one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with its estate homes, beachfront condominiums, and gated golf communities. Meanwhile, tomatoes, once one of the most alluring fruits in our culinary repertoire, have become hard green balls that can easily survive a fall onto an interstate highway. Gassed to an appealing red, they inspire gastronomic fantasies despite all evidence to the contrary. It's a world we've all made, and one we can fix. Welcome to Tomatoland.

Here's a tomato from our garden.

tomato from InspiredGardening.com

The Battle over our Food – the Pesticiders Hate Organic Gardens

Jim Hightower provides some political insight into symbolism and lobbyists.

Link: Jim Hightower | SPREADING THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT COAST TO COAST.

What's the number one outdoor activity in America? Not baseball, soccer, jogging or golf. Instead, it's gardening!

I happen to be part of this happy activity. Maintaining a small organic garden in my yard lets me dig in compost, rejoice at ripening tomatoes, clip fresh herbs – and devour the luscious results. So, when Michelle Obama recently planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, I joined gardeners and organic food advocates all across the country in applauding this symbolic stand for good food, the environment, and common sense.

Not everyone joined in the joy, however. An outfit called the Mid American Croplife Association (MACA) was in a full-tilt snit over this "First Garden." MACA is the lobbying front for such pesticide purveyors as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont – not a bunch that's simpatico with the organic movement. Indeed, MACA executives zipped out an alarmist notice to their members: "Did you hear the news," they asked? "The White House is planning to have an 'organic' garden… The thought of it being organic made [us] shudder."

Well, they'd better get used to shuddering, for political leaders from coast to coast are getting on board with the good food movement. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for example, is putting an organic garden on the National Mall to encourage visitors to plant their own back home. Also, governors and mayors – from Annapolis to Sacramento – are vying with each other to put in the biggest and best organic gardens. In Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon notes that her plot in front of City Hall is nearly twice as big as the White House garden.

Yes, these are symbolic gestures, but symbolism is a powerful tool for educating the public and affirming the virtues of local, sustainable, non-chemical food production. Spread the word.

"Farms Race: The Obama's White House Garden Has Given Fire to an International Movement," www.alternet.org, May 1, 2009.

"Organic White House Garden Puts Some Conventional Panties in a Twist," www.lavidalocavore.org, March 28, 2009.

"MACA lobbyists and Michelle Obama's garden," Email from Julie S., April 13, 2009.