I just finished reading Tomatoland and learned way more than I ever intended about the tomato industry. Tomato agriculture actually has quite a sad and shocking history. Ever had a bright, red tomato in the dead of winter? Chances are that tomato was harvested by a slave. Modern-day slavery is alive and well in many produce industries, but none more than what was depicted in this book in the Florida tomato agriculture. Thankfully, steps have been taken to abolish slave labor and provide better wages and housing for farm workers, and that story is well documented in the book. But there’s still a long way to go.
Also well-documented in the book is the stringent checklist of attributes a tomato must possess to be deemed worthy by the Florida Tomato Committee, none of which is taste. Is the fruit the right shape? Check. Is it the right size? Check. Is the fruit the right color? Check. (By the way, nearly all tomatoes are picked when they’re green and then stored in a warehouse where they’re treated with ethylene gas to give them the red color we’ve come to cherish. Exception being organic tomatoes.) Has optimal taste been ensured? Um…uhhh…. No. The answer is no. Taste is almost never a factor in the cultivation of tomatoes. Ever had a mealy, bland tomato? I bet it looked beautiful because it passed all the other points on the checklist.