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RIPE by Arthur Allen

RIPE

The Search for the Perfect Tomato

By Arthur Allen

Pub Date: March 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-58243-426-1
Publisher: Counterpoint

A robust tale of how tomatoes get to the table and why some don't taste very good when they get there.

For the denizens of the northern portions of the East Coast outside the growing season, writes former AP foreign correspondent Allen, tomatoes mean the round red things grown in Florida. More precisely: “Roughly 85 percent of the areas east of the Mississippi were served by Florida tomatoes in the October-June months, with about the same percentage in the West buying Mexican products.” Lucky Westerners: Tomatoes from Mexico still taste something like tomatoes, and a small army of plant scientists and agronomists from all over the world have descended on the country to keep the supply coming. Poor Easterners: Tomatoes grown there are “flawed” save for one thing—they fit a fast-food hamburger bun perfectly, and even if they have no taste, they are big and firm and can be sliced quickly by a machine without being turned to pulp. Implicated in that fast-food maw are issues of food justice, about which Allen writes from an unusual firsthand perspective. He ventured into the fields and picked tomatoes with immigrant workers, coming in with about half their yield owing to his inexperience but netting the same amount of pay, with a champion picker earning about $70 for a load of tomatoes that would likely bring $360 in a grocery store. Not a bad profit for an industry supported by such corporate types as “a mild-mannered flak who produced reassuring explanations for why a socially responsible company like Burger King couldn't pay a bit more for its tomatoes.” Ultimately, Allen suggests, the factory system will endure alongside the boutique, heirloom, organic-garden variety of tomato production, with perfection not likely coming from the former.

An eye-opener for foodies, consumers and social-justice activists alike.