Once Our Most Alluring Fruit

In his book, How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, Barry Estabrook explores the ills of modern commercial agriculture with a focus on the beloved tomato.

He leads us through the sorrowful journey the tomato has taken, with the advent of modern agricultural practices the tomato has seen ever increasing mono-cropping, genetic modification, soil depletion, and increased use of toxins and chemicals used on the fruit.  In unending attempt to make more profit the commercial tomato industry has ‘built’ a tomato that lasts ever longer, stands up to greater shipping distances and has an unreasonable (and unsavory) resilience.  The tomato on today’s grocery store produce shelves is a distant, less tasty and less nutritious, relative of it’s original stock.

Estabrook’s book brings many interesting points to light, one of which is the industries terrible treatment of commercial farm workers:

“An industrial tomato grower has no control over what he spends on fuel, fertilizer (which requires enormous quantities of natural gas in its manufacture), and pesticides, but he can control what he pays the men and women who plant, tend and harvest his crops.  This has put a steady downward pressure on the earnings of tomato workers.  Those cheap tomatoes that fill produce sections 365 days a year, year in and year out, come at a tremendous human cost.  Although there have been recent improvements, a person picking tomatoes receives the same basic rate of pay he received thirty years agoAdjusted for inflation, a harvester’s wages have actually dropped by half over the same period.  Florida tomato workers, mostly Hispanic migrants, toil without union protection and get neither overtime, benefits, nor medical insurance.  They are denied basic legal rights that virtually all other laborers enjoy.  Lacking their own vehicles, they have to live near the field, often paying rural slumlords exorbitant rents to be crammed with ten or a dozen other farm workers in moldering trailing with neither heat nor air conditioning which would be condemed outright in any other American jurisdiction.”

Click below to read more of Estabrook’s article: