I’ve mentioned before, I am fascinated by grocery store consumerism. It always strikes me as a stark naked representation of our culture. “Don’t think. Just buy!” We are bombarded with constant stimulation to make us keep spending our money. We are all hairless monkeys. Going to the grocery store is so banal yet so meticulously engineered at the same time. Grocery stores want to keep us stocked with our intentional items, but keep us pliable so we thoughtlessly toss impulse purchases into our carts. And marketers have to keep us entertained somehow with NEW packaging or an IMPROVED feature so that it catches our attention. Do you think you are immune? Do you? The deck is stacked against thoughtful consumerism. We’re monkeys. Sorry.
So, I like tomatoes. But like any person with a tongue and a half-working brain, I like good tomatoes. Good, red, ripe, juicy flavorful REAL tomatoes. We are entering real tomato season where we may actually obtain such a prize. But most of the year, supermarket tomatoes are soulless, barely edible ghosts. And you could play baseball with them, they are so hard. Why would we eat them? And why would they keep sending them to us?
Tomatoland takes us to origins of wild tomatoes, in the barren stretches of South America, to the sandy Florida farms that pump out the industrial tomatoes we see in our grocery stores. In my personal experience on the west coast, most of our tomatoes come from California, Mexico or Canada. But much of the United States get its tomatoes from Florida.
Parts of this book were completely gut wrenching. Stories of modern day slavery, brutal working conditions, broken laws, complicit regulators, super toxic pesticides, babies of workers being born with horrible defects. You don’t think of these things as you pass by gleaming piles of red fruit in your neighborhood supermarket.
But there were also stories of progress, of worker advocacy, improving conditions, less toxic chemicals. And also of consumer awakening for real food, and the farmers that are filling in the demand.
Even with some heavy subject matter, it was easy to read and had a story to tell. If anything, it will make you examine the little stickers on the tomatoes you buy. I appreciate a book that makes you ponder something that we are not encouraged to think about. Our food does come from somewhere.