As soon as I saw that title I had to know more. The book by Barry Estabrook uncovers some very disturbing truths about a food item we love and use in great quantities. Here are a few significant details:
- Compared to nutrient data from the 1960’s (the delectable tomatoes of my youth), today’s commercially grown tomatoes have 30% less Vitamin C, 30 % less thiamine, 19% less niacin and 62% less calcium.
- There’s a Florida Tomato Committee that imposes export controls on tomatoes shipped out of state for fresh use. It stipulates all tomatoes must be flawlessly smooth, evenly round and of a certain size….not a word about taste (that explains a lot).
- Field tomatoes grown for export are picked green and hard then gassed with ethylene to turn them red. There is no ripening going on in the true sense of the word – they may be red but they are still stone hard.
- Florida is a bad actor in the realm of tomato growing with an appalling history of labour abuse.
And here is how I’ve changed my food life after reading this book:
- I love tasty tomatoes in my salad and on my sandwiches. When there are no farmer’s markets or if I’m in a hurry, I get cherry or grape tomatoes from the grocery store because they usually have some flavour. I sometimes buy the vine ripe tomato clusters, but I now look for a country of origin on the sticker, preferring local and avoiding Florida.
- You never know how a tomato is going to taste until you get it home and you’ll never really know what it’s been through (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, chlorination, gassed or maybe misted with mineral oil) unless you grow your own. I don’t have much sun in my nicely treed neighbourhood but I do have large planters that will accommodate 4 or 5 tomato plants and this summer I will remind myself what a real, fresh picked tomato tastes like (and that sometimes they are bumpy with weird folds…).