Tomatoland author, Barry Estabrook, on the winter tomato – taste, nutrition and slavery


I made a quick trip to St. Paul’s Mississippi Market over the noon hour today. I’ve been a member of the food co-operative for 20+ years and feel comfortable using the bulk bins of flour, beans, and rice. I checked the diary case for my favorite Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota cheeses, and then made my way to the deli and espresso counter.

I was finishing up my reuben sandwich and cappuccino when my brain began to tumble. No, it wasn’t vertigo, at least, not the physical kind. But all of a sudden, my head was spinning because of the stark contrast between the great place in which I was sitting and the ag and food issues I’ve been reading and talking about for the last 25 years.

Here I was, seated in small cafe area, a friendly place surrounded by some of the most beautiful, nutritious and delicious foods available in the world: red-fleshed oranges, organic carrots and collards, bright green cukes and mouth-watering dates. Organic milk, bottled teas, canned tomato sauces, olive oils from all over the world.

Not only that, but because this co-op is committed to environmental stewardship and fair trade, I was confident that swiss chard and grains in my shopping bag were grown in ways that’ll restore our soils, protect groundwater, and promote living wages.

It’s after midnight and my head’s still buzzing because I’m frustrated. Why aren’t these foods readily available to every family in the Midwest and across the nation? What has me in a funk is that so much of the cheaper food-stuffs available everywhere are produced in ways that usually sacrifice naturally-grown nutrition and farm worker safety. What’s really disturbing is that most food lovers, me included, have little exposure to information about how most of America’s food is grown and processed.

Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland, believes consumers are intentionally kept blind to the thousands of men and women who work in fields wet with toxic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. I’ll bet that if more of us knew what really goes on, we’d be amazed to the point of absolute disbelief. Could it be true that slaves pick our winter tomatoes? Impossible!

I don’t want to shock and run, but I’d like to know: Would you like to know what’s going on so that you can make more informed choices?

A quick, first step would be to listen to last week’s Deep Roots Radio podcast with Barry Estabrook, who was also a contributing editor for Gourmet magazine, and contributes to the New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Health and other publications. His blog, politics-of-the-plate, shines a light on the impact of politics and regulations on our foods, human health, animal welfare, economics and the environment.

Let me know what you think. Me? I’m picking my jaw up off the floor. [Audio below]