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How Industrial Farming 'Destroyed' The Tasty Tomato
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
One of the great pleasures of summer is fresh, homegrown tomatoes, but in the
winter, and even in the summer, lots of tomatoes are tough and tasteless. Why
can't or won't modern agribusiness deliver a decent-tasting tomato?
That's the main question that Barry Estabrook set out to answer in his new book
"Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring
Fruit." Much of his book is set in the tomato fields of Florida, where the soil
and humidity, he says, are actually very inhospitable to growing tomatoes. Yet
one-third of our fresh tomatoes are raised there, and from October to June,
virtually all the fresh market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from
Barry Estabrook won a James Beard Award this year for his blog Politics of the
Plate. He contributes to the Atlantic magazine's food website. He was a
contributing editor at Gourmet magazine for eight years, writing investigative
articles about where food comes from.
Barry Estabrook, welcome to FRESH AIR. You tell a great story at the beginning
of your book, about how you got interested in researching why so many tomatoes
are hard and tasteless. Tell us the story.
Mr. BARRY ESTABROOK (Author, "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture
Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit"): It happened several years ago, when I was
driving along Interstate 75 in southwestern Florida. I came up behind a truck -
I first took it for a gravel truck. It was one of those open-back trucks.
And then as I pulled closer, I realized it was full of green orbs of some sort,
and again, I thought, well, they look like Granny Smith apples and then
realized, oh wait a second, Granny Smith apples don't grow in Florida. And as I
came closer, it was full of tomatoes, perfectly green tomatoes. There was not a
hint of pink or orange or red, just green tomatoes.
And the truck hit a bump in the road, and a few of these flew off and nearly
went through the windshield of my car. I sort of pulled over, chastened, and
noticed in the ditch that the ditch was littered with these green tomatoes.
And I realized that, wait a second, these things have survived falling 10 feet
off a semi trailer, smacking onto the pavement of an interstate highway at 60
miles an hour, and they've landed in the ditch, and they're not only not
smashed, I couldn't see that any of them had even been cracked.
GROSS: And what did that tell you?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, it put me in mind of my own garden tomatoes back home,
where if I pick more than one or two and sort of cradle them under my arm and
try to get them back into the kitchen, half the time they've spontaneously
split in the 25-yard stroll.
And it's - you know, I thought how did we get here? How did we take something
so tender and create these things, these killer tomatoes?
GROSS: Now, your book focuses on Florida tomatoes, which is where the incident
that you just described took place. And you say that Florida accounts for one-
third of the fresh-tomatoes raised in the U.S. And from October to June,
virtually all the fresh market field-grown tomatoes in the country come from
You write that Florida tomatoes are bred to be this way, to be perfectly
formed, green, hard orbs. Why is that? Is that so that they could travel
effectively, like this truck full of tomatoes? I mean, these tomatoes were not
going to get damaged in, you know, in the ride from Florida to whatever
supermarket they're going to end up in.
Mr. ESTABROOK: Right. For the last 50 or more years, tomato breeders, people
who breed commercial tomato seeds, have concentrated, essentially, on one
thing, Terry, and that is yield. They want plants that yield as many or as much
And they also want those fruits to be able to stand up to being harvested,
packed, artificially ripened - artificially turned orange, ripened is too
polite a term for what happens to them - and then you're right, shipped away
and still be at least holding together in the supermarket produce section a
week or 10 days later.
GROSS: Now, if the tomatoes are picked when they're green, and they're hard,
and they're shipped that way to the supermarket, I mean, that would be fine if
they eventually ripened and got delicious. Do they eventually turn delicious?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, you know, supermarket tomatoes can speak for themselves on
that point: no, in my opinion. The trouble is these green tomatoes, the
industry likes to call them mature greens. And to you and I, they're simply a
green tomato. And in fact to really tell the difference between a mature green
tomato, which evidently will have some flavor, and a simple green green tomato,
you have to cut it open, and they don't do that when they harvest. They just
harvest all the tomatoes of a certain size.
So if you get a tomato that isn't mature green and expose it - they expose it
to ethylene gas in a warehouse, and that turns them the right color. It's the
same gas that the tomato plant will emit when it gets ready to ripen its fruit.
But it doesn't add any flavor. So if there's no flavor there to begin with,
there's going to be no flavor when the process is over. It will look ripe, but
there'll be nothing inside it.
GROSS: Why isn't there more consideration given to the taste, as opposed to
just the ability to withstand a long trip and the color?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, as one large Florida farmer said - he said I don't get
paid a single cent for flavor. He said I get paid for weight. And then he went
on to say, and I don't know of any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes
before she puts them in her shopping cart.
So the emphasis has - taste has simply gotten lost in the process. It's not
worth commercial plant breeders' while to breed for taste, because their
customers, the large farmers, don't get paid for it.
GROSS: Do you think a part of the fault lies in us, the consumers, that we want
perfectly round, perfectly red, unblemished tomatoes?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Exactly. I think that wanting a tomato in the middle of winter,
or wanting a little bit of orange on the plate, or not really thinking that
this is almost a bait and switch, that pretty fruit is not going to deliver the
promised flavor - it's inherent in a lot of our shopping decisions.
We expect an ingredient to be on the supermarket shelves 365 days a year,
whether or whether not it's in season or tastes any good.
GROSS: Okay, and that's part of the issue here, is most of the tomatoes that we
get in the winter come from Florida, and you say that Florida really isn't the
ideal place to grow tomatoes because of the climate, because of the soil. What
are some of the inherent problems of growing tomatoes in Florida?
Mr. ESTABROOK: First and foremost, the state is notoriously humid. And
tomatoes, their ancestors, are native to extremely dry areas of the western
coast of South America, desert conditions. And, you know, it's why tomatoes
grow so well in Italy and parts of California - they love dry, sunny days.
Florida's very humid, perfect conditions for all manner of molds, funguses,
bacteria, insects, nematodes, you name it - that prey on tomato plants. So the
climate, to begin with, the climate is simply not right.
The second big problem is Florida's soil, where tomatoes are grown - and soil
is probably a misnomer. Most Florida tomatoes are grown in sand, pure and
simple. It's the same sand you find on Daytona Beach. And so it's got no
nutrients. It's got no organic matter in it. And the farmers have to,
essentially, add everything - all the food the plant is going to get in its
lifetime into the ground before they plant, seal it over with plastic, then put
the plants in and hope there's enough nutrients artificially put in that sand
to get a harvest.
GROSS: You also write about the pesticides that have to be used because of
Florida's insect population, which is never killed off in the winter by a hard
frost, by days and days of hard frost, or months and months of hard frost, and
all the funguses that you mentioned. So do you think insecticides become a big
issue for Florida-grown tomatoes, more so than for tomatoes grown in other
Mr. ESTABROOK: Oh, totally. The - in order to get a crop, a successful crop of
tomatoes, the official Florida handbook for tomato growers lists 110 different
fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, 110 different ones, that can be applied
to a tomato field over the course of the growing season. And many of those are
what the Pesticide Action Network calls bad actors. They're kind of the worst
of the worst in the chemical - the agricultural chemical arsenal.
And they have to apply these weekly. They have people go through the fields
called scouts, and they kind of do up a menu as they walk through the fields
looking at the plants, hand it to the guy in charge of the field and say this
week, you have to spray these chemicals.
And that - it's really chemical warfare from the time the plants - from before
when the plants are put in the ground because they sterilize the ground before
they put the plants in, until they're harvested.
GROSS: Is this very different from how other fruits and vegetables are grown in
other places? Is what you're describing really unique to tomatoes in Florida,
or is this just the state of agribusiness now?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, Florida and California grow almost exactly the same
acreage of fresh market tomatoes. Florida farmers apply eight times the amount
of pesticides and herbicides to their crops than California growers, eight
GROSS: Now, isn't that in part because the California tomato industry is
largely for canning? So, like, the looks of the tomatoes don't count. They
don't have to be trucked a long way looking unblemished because they're going
to be canned.
Mr. ESTABROOK: That's true, Terry, but I was talking about what's called fresh
market tomatoes in the industry, which are the tomatoes you buy. Yes, most of
California's tomatoes are canning, and they may as well be apples and oranges
they're so different. But if you're comparing fresh market tomatoes to fresh
market tomatoes, California and Florida grow about the same amount of acres
each year, and Florida farmers apply eight times the pesticide and herbicide
and fungicide that their California counterparts on the same acreage.
GROSS: Again, is this kind of like the fault of consumers who - you know, we
want tomatoes in the winter, and this is the price that we pay for getting
Mr. ESTABROOK: It's the price we pay for insisting we have food out of season
and not local. I mean, we foodies and people in the sustainable food movement,
you know, we chant these sort of mantras: local, seasonable, organic, fair-
trade, sustainable. And they almost become meaningless because they're said so
often, and you see them in so many places. If you strip all those away, you
know, they do mean something, and what they mean is that you end up with
something like a Florida tomato in the winter which is tasteless.
It doesn't have near the nutrition that a tomato did in the 1960s. My mother in
the '60s could buy a tomato in the supermarket that had 30 or 40 percent more
vitamin C, way more niacin, way more calcium. In fact, the only area that the
modern industrial tomato beats its Kennedy-administration counterpart is in
sodium. It's got 14 times as much sodium in it.
GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guest is Barry Estabrook, and he's
the author of the new book "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture
Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit." He writes the blog Politics of the Plate,
which won a James Beard Award this year. Let's take a short break here, and
then we'll talk some more about tomatoes. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Barry Estabrook. He's a writer
about food. His new book is called "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial
Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit." He also writes the blog
Politics of the Plate, which won a James Beard Award this year.
So we have been talking about why winter tomatoes that are grown in Florida are
so tasteless and kind of textureless. You'd think maybe that although the
Florida tomato industry doesn't produce the tastiest of tomatoes that it would
lucrative business, but you write that it isn't, that the industry is often at
risk. They have a lot of problems. So it's not like they're making money hand
Mr. ESTABROOK: well, what it is is a high-stakes gamble. The Florida tomato
industry now is controlled - almost all the commercial tomatoes are grown by a
dozen huge farming corporations. A few years ago, there were hundreds. Now it's
down to that. They've been falling by the wayside.
And it's a high-stakes gamble because, well, almost every year or certainly
every other year, there's a freeze in Florida in the wintertime, which kills
the tomato plants. It happened this winter. It happened the winter before. They
were wiped out.
So they lost millions of dollars per acre because of the weather. It's a high-
stake gamble because they're competing with tomatoes that are coming in from
Mexico. And again, often the weather conditions or whatever in Mexico are good
at a time when they're not so good here in Florida, and so again, they can lose
their shirts even if they are getting a crop.
There are times when the prices are high, and Florida has tomatoes, and these
big companies make a lot of money that they can salt away for periods when it's
not so good. But by and large, it's an industry that's losing ground.
I mean, a few years ago, Mexico accounted for something like 20 percent of the
tomatoes we consume. It's now up around 30 percent. Canada and the Northern
states are biting into the Florida tomato market with greenhouse tomatoes in
the spring and fall that really didn't exist 10 years when Florida had the
market to itself.
And the other thing is that the Florida tomato industry was really born of the
era when you would go into a grocery store, and every single tomato was sold in
those cardboard containers, sort of three tomatoes in a row wrapped in
And, you know, I live in a little town in Vermont, and you can go into my local
supermarket in December, and I did this past December, and there were 11
different tomato choices being offered. There were grape tomatoes, Roma
tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, organic tomatoes, hydroponic tomatoes. It's a
changing industry, and Florida growers have been slow to pick up on that.
GROSS: Well, you not only write about how the tomatoes are grown in your book
"Tomatoland," you write about the conditions of workers who pick the tomatoes.
I'd like to talk about that a little bit with you. What were some of the
problems with working conditions that you found?
Mr. ESTABROOK: I have to say that of the legal professions, legal jobs that are
available to people in the United States, picking tomatoes in Florida is
probably at the very bottom of the economic ladder.
I came into this book chronicling a case of slavery in southwestern Florida
that came to light in 2007 and '08. And it was shocking. You know, I'm not
talking about near-slavery or slavery-like conditions. I'm talking about abject
slavery. These were people who were bought and sold. These were people who were
shackled in chains at night or locked in the back of produce trucks with no
sanitary facilities all night.
So these were people who were forced to work whether they wanted to or not, and
if they didn't, they were beaten severely. If they tried to escape, they were
either beaten worse, or in some cases they were killed. And they received
little or no pay. I mean, it sounds like 1850, not 2010.
GROSS: Was there a legal case that came out of this?
Mr. ESTABROOK: There have been seven in the last say 10 or 15 years, seven
cases successfully brought to justice in Florida involving slavery. And 1,200
people have been freed. And the U.S. attorney for the district in Southern
Florida claims that that just represents a tiny, tiny tip of an iceberg because
it's extraordinarily difficult to prosecute a modern-day slavery case.
GROSS: So of the cases you mentioned, the prosecution won?
Mr. ESTABROOK: They either won, or the defendants pled guilty.
GROSS: So many of the workers who are picking the tomatoes in South Florida are
undocumented workers from Mexico. Does that leave them more vulnerable?
Mr. ESTABROOK: It's true. You know, I've seen estimates that nationally, 70
percent of the low-ranking farm workers are undocumented people from - largely
from southern Mexico and Central America, Guatemala area. And you're exactly
right. These people arrive in this country. They're often shipped here from
their home villages, and they arrive in a land where they certainly don't speak
English. Many of them don't really speak Spanish very well because they're
indigenous people, so they're more comfortable in these indigenous languages.
They're stuck in the middle of the Everglades in some trailer camp. They don't
know where they are. They're frightened to go to the police for - because
they're here illegally. They're completely vulnerable. They don't want to make
any noise. They just want to sort of work, make a bit of money, and that leaves
them totally vulnerable.
GROSS: Barry Estabrook will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our
Most Alluring Fruit." He writes the blog Politics of the Plate. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross back with Barry Estabrook, author of
the new book "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most
Alluring Fruit." Estabrook won a James Beard Award this year for his blog
"Politics of the Plate." For eight years he was a contributing editor at
Gourmet magazine, where he wrote investigative articles about where food comes
When we left off, we were talking about the abuses men and women who pick
tomatoes in South Florida have had to endure. There have even been convictions
for enslaving workers.
Now things took a turn for the better last November. You wrote in an article
that the Florida tomato industry went from being one of the most repressive
employers in the country to being on the road to becoming one of the most
progressive groups in the fruit and vegetable industry. Would you describe the
change that took place?
Mr. ESTABROOK: It was unbelievable. One worker, tomato worker's advocate says
it was a difference between a Dickensian workhouse and a modern factory, a
modern car factory in terms of labor, the sea change in labor relations.
There's a group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. It's named after a
small city in southern, southwestern Florida called Immokalee. And the
Coalition of Immokalee Workers is this loose, grass-roots collection of people
who've been working, really since 1993, to improve labor conditions. And the
growers had steadfastly refused to so much as speak to these people until last
November when the growers came forward and said okay, we will sign on to what's
called the fair food agreement, which it doesn't sound all that radical to me.
It gives the workers the right to get an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes
Now a penny a pound again - big deal. But that's the difference between making
$40 or $50 a day and $70 or $80 a day for a tomato worker. You know, the
difference between barely being able to feed your family, if that, and a
crummy, but okay wage.
And in addition to that, there's such radical concepts as time clocks in the
fields so that they can punch in and actually record the real amount of time
they work. The requirement that they put up little tarpaulins so that there can
be a shady area in these fields where the people can have lunch, which is also
a new concept that was recently introduced. So this came to pass last November.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. So what's responsible for this sea change? What changed in the
industry that brought them around to signing this agreement?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, beginning in the '90s, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
had been working and working and working to get the growers to give them an
increase. The basic wage of a tomato picker today is the same as it was in
1980. And the growers refused and said - with some reason - we can't do this
because we're getting squeezed by all our big buyers, the Wal-Marts, the
Safeways, the Krogers are squeezing us for every penny. We can't give a raise.
And then one - it was actually a worker at a meeting who said, well, you know,
why don't we go for the end user then? And they started out with Taco Bell and
it took them four years of demonstrations, hunger strikes, sit-ins. They got
college students working to get Taco Bell outlets kicked off college campuses,
and eventually Taco Bell came aboard with this extra penny a pound and basic
fair labor agreement.
And then they moved on to McDonald's and Burger King, and eventually all of the
major fast food chains signed on to this agreement and then were quickly
followed by the food service companies that provide food for universities and
museums and hospitals, they all came aboard. And about this time the tomato
growers realized that there was a problem and two of them broke ranks. And once
that had happened the game was over.
GROSS: So among the things you did was get the point of view of the Florida
tomato growers industry. And what did you learn from that that helped broaden
your perspective of what goes on?
Mr. ESTABROOK: I think what I learned from that was that it is - it's an
industry that is under tremendous financial stress itself. The trouble is a
Florida tomato by our standards they're big. You know, they have thousands of
acres. But in the ballpark in which they're playing they're the smallest
player. They have to deal first of all with the Wal-Marts and Krogers and
Safeways and that's who they sell their tomatoes for. And you know how these
big store buyers work is every year they come back and say we want a few more
cents off the price. We want lower, lower prices - always lower.
On the other side underneath that the people the farmers deal with are the
Monsantos of the world, the Duponts of the world, the oil companies. I mean not
only oil that the petroleum that goes into their farm equipment and shipping
tomatoes, but fertilizer is basically natural gas. It requires huge amounts of
natural gas so those are set prices. The only place that they really have any
play is what they pay the workers so the workers have been caught in this
I think the tomato growers have been at fault for turning a blind eye toward
the abuses that were going on in their fields. But I think they've been forced
to reduce, to keep the amount they pay their workers low because of these
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Barry Estabrook. He's the author
of the new book "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our
Most Alluring Fruit." Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more
about tomatoes. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Barry Estabrook. His new book is called "Tomatoland: How
Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit." He also
writes the blog "Politics of the Plate" which won a James Beard Award this
Let's talk a little bit about the taste of tomatoes and the difficulties of
breeding for taste. One of your criticisms of the Florida tomatoes, especially
the ones that we eat in the winter, is that they might look pretty but they
don't taste much. There isn't much taste there. You were, you visited a couple
of people who breed tomatoes. You were on a tomato tasting panel. It's
apparently very difficult to breed for taste because the taste of a tomato is
so complex. What is so complex about the taste of a tomato?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, there's several things at play. The sort of - the
foundation you first have to build is getting the right balance of acids,
citric acid and malic acid, and malic acid is the acid that gives apples their
tartness. You have to get those in balance with sugar, and that's the
foundation. But then on top of that foundation you have to lay down, they don't
know exactly but there's probably 15 or 20 chemicals called aromatic chemicals,
which means chemicals that you can smell - and, you know, taste and smell are
one in the same thing - that go into a tomato to give you that signature tomato
You compare that to a banana. There's really one chemical that goes into a
banana that gives you a flavor that you would instantly recognize as banana.
Tomatoes have these 15 or 20 and none of them smell or taste anything like a
tomato in and of themselves. I smelt one, it smelled to me just like a nice
rose. I smelt another and it smelled like Juicy Fruit gum. I smelt another and
it smelled to me like a freshly mown lawn and so on. But together in the right
quantities they deliver this taste. But so breeders have to be juggling all
these in the right proportions to get a good tasting tomato.
GROSS: So what's one of the most interesting innovations in the tomato breeding
industry going on right now?
Mr. ESTABROOK: There's a group of professors, including molecular biologists,
food science people, taste psychologists, who are working to basically rebuild
a tomato, a good tasting commercial tomato from the ground up. They're finding
the chemicals, there's about five or six of those 15 or 20 that are really
important and they're finding out which ones those are and are isolating and
then going one step further and isolate the genes that manufacture those
chemicals. And then they're reintroducing those genes through conventional
This isn't true genetically modified; it's through old-style breeding. But
they're reintroducing plants with those genes into tough tomatoes to work the
flavors back in. It's sort of one - it's almost molecule by molecule that
they're working. But they're about halfway there and are saying within five or
10 years you could reach what, you know, tomatodom's Holy Grail...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: ...which is something that can stand the indignities of modern
agriculture and still deliver some taste. Theyâll admit it's not going to be
the full wattage of a summer garden tomato, but a decent tasting tomato, which
is saying something.
GROSS: Let me just ask you a couple of questions about shrimp which you've
written articles about. Shrimp is pretty cheap now relatively. But you say
nearly 90 percent of the shrimp we eat comes from Asia and most of the shrimp
are farmed in fetid pools. One commercial shrimp fisherman described it to you
as sewage lagoons. What are these shrimp being grown in exactly?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Well, youâre right. Ninety percent of the shrimp we eat come now
mostly from countries in Asia; Thailand is a major producer, Vietnam,
Bangladesh. And these shrimps are often grown in areas that used to be mangrove
swamps, so they, you know, which are very valuable ecologically and
And they clear the swamps and they build these ponds and stock enormous
quantities of shrimp into these ponds, and in such concentration that it, this
is, you know, shrimp defecate like anything else and they basically become
sewage lagoons. And they pump the water back out of the ponds into the sea
killing whatever fish happened to be left after they've destroyed the
Oftentimes, they have to keep these shrimp on pretty much steady diets of drugs
and antibiotics in order for them to survive. And some of those are antibiotics
that are illegal to use period in food animals in the United States. Every so
often, the FDA finds a shipment of shrimp coming into the country that contain
traces of some of these very potent antibiotics which are not supposed to be
used in food animals.
GROSS: Is this what's making it possible for us to have relatively cheap
Mr. ESTABROOK: Exactly. I mean the shrimp used to be a luxury food. You know,
the sort of going out to a steakhouse with your father getting a shrimp
cocktail, and the little shrimp hanging over the crystal glass. And now
they're, you know, they're a cheap food. They're almost getting to the level of
hamburgs. You know, you can go to restaurants and have shrimp specials and that
sort of thing and it's because these are mass produced on farms in countries
where you don't have to pay people a lot of money, and where some of the
environmental laws either don't exist or aren't enforced.
GROSS: So how do you know where the shrimp is that youâre buying or that youâre
eating in a restaurant - where it came from?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Itâs difficult. In a restaurant, in a supermarket or a fish
store fortunately we have laws called Country of Origin Labeling - C-O-O-L. And
so if you look sometimes you have to look very hard at the fine print on a
package of frozen shrimp, you will see which, it'll say, you know, product of
Mexico, product of Thailand.
It's interesting because again, when I was doing research into the shrimp I
went to my local supermarket and there were these bags of frozen shrimp in a
one freezer, self-standing freezer compartment and it was sort of like a United
Nations of developing countries. There's Ecuador, Mexico, Bangladesh, China...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: ...all in the one cooler.
GROSS: Hmm. So are there countries that you try to buy shrimp from?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Yeah, the United States.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: I think that the best environmental choices for shrimp are the -
they're called pink shrimp off the West Coast or the main shrimp off the East
Coast. They're little tiny guys, but they're caught wild and they're caught
If you're very lucky and live in the Northwest and can get a hold of spot
prawns, same thing. They're caught in an environmentally sensible way. Those
are caught with like mini lobster traps that sit on the bottom and the shrimp
go in. The next better thing is probably wild caught shrimp from the
southeastern United States or the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentally they're not
perfect because they have huge what's called bycatch in the industry, which
means catching species other than the one you're fishing for. And most
bycatches, juvenile fish, it'll be valuable either as food or just as valuable
because of their environmental contribution, and they're thrown over dead. But
that's sort of the order I would go with shrimp.
And I'm leery about shrimp that come from Asian countries, just because of the
experiences with the FDA finding these things in them.
GROSS: You live part-time in New York and part-time in Vermont. And in Vermont
you have - was it 30 acres?
Mr. ESTABROOK: I do.
GROSS: And you have chicken and livestock?
Mr. ESTABROOK: My chickens are my livestock.
GROSS: Oh, okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: I don't have - I'm not a major, a major farmer by any stretch of
the imagination. I have 30 acres, 10 of it's forest, 20 of it's a hay field I
rent out to the neighbor, and I have enough left over to have a great big
garden and 11 chickens. There used to be 12 but one had a run-in with a hawk
GROSS: Oh gosh.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Okay. So you use the chickens for eggs?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Eggs. Yeah.
GROSS: How much work is that?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Chickens are great. Chickens are a lot easier than keeping a
garden. You know, you feed them, you fill their feeders once a week or so, fill
their waters once a week or so, and every day, every morning you go out and you
get wonderful eggs. Get a bit of(ph) egg per chicken.
GROSS: Do you have a relationship with them?
Mr. ESTABROOK: Yes, I do. I eat their eggs every morning, period.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: No, I mean like do you feel like they have personalities and like...
Mr. ESTABROOK: No, I don't. No, I don't...
GROSS: ...they're your friends and...
Mr. ESTABROOK: They're not my friends. They do have personalities. The
interesting is these chickens, because I live in Vermont, in the wintertime
they become indoor - they go into the shed and they spend their winters there,
living the life that most chickens, most industrial chickens probably live.
They're probably better than most industrial chickens, they have more room. But
still they're inside. And on the first day of spring, when I open the door and
I let them out, it's like kids getting out of school. You don't think a chicken
would remember. You don't think - and they just rush outside and they flap and
they, you know, I find it hard to believe these people who say that battery,
chickens that are kept in cages, you know, as big as a loose leaf sheet of
paper for their whole lives are in any way content, seeing that.
GROSS: Just one more question. What were your favorite foods when you were
Mr. ESTABROOK: My Madeleine. Proust had Madeleine?
Mr. ESTABROOK: My Madeleine was actually tomatoes.
Mr. ESTABROOK: Yeah. It was, I think...
GROSS: Not pizza, just tomatoes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: We didn't have pizza in Indiana, I don't think.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ESTABROOK: No, we did. But no, you know, I'm sure I need some therapy on
this, but my father was a very busy traveling businessman and I was really
crummy at sports and things. But the one thing we did have in common was on
weekends he always had six or eight tomato plants. He was a one crop gardener
but always had six or eight tomato plants. And I can still remember sort of
being out there when he was showing me how to plant them and smelling the
leaves - that tomato leaf smell that you can never forget once you get it in
your head. And I remember picking them with him and just having them for lunch.
He'd, you know, he'd slice them in half and put some salt and mayonnaise on
them, period. And so that - I love tomatoes. I love a good tomato, which is one
of the reasons I'm upset with the stuff we're getting today.
GROSS: All right. Well, Barry Estabrook, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. ESTABROOK: Thank you, Terry. It was a pleasure.
GROSS: Barry Estabrook is the author of "Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture
Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit." He writes the blog Politics of the Plate.
You can read an excerpt of his book on our website, freshair.npr.org.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
'Rave On Buddy Holly' Pays Tribute To Holly's Soul
TERRY GROSS, host:
Buddy Holly would have turned 75 in September of this year. He died in a 1959
plane crash when he was 22. Over the course of about three years, he wrote and
recorded an exceptional number of songs that have helped define the sound of
rock and roll. A tribute album was released today called "Rave On Buddy Holly."
It features musicians as varied as Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, My Morning Jacket,
and Cee Lo Green, covering his songs.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Every Day")
Ms. FIONA APPLE and JON BRION (Singer-songwriters): (Singing) Every day it's a
getting closer, going faster than a roller coaster. Love like yours will surely
come my way. Hey-hey. Hey-hey-hey. Every day...
KEN TUCKER: Tribute albums tend to be terrible. Whether well-intentioned or
cynical exploitations, they skate by on the idea that the musicians
participating transcend criticism because they're doing it from the heart -
when in fact they often mangle the songs they profess to adore, inflating them
I'm pleased to report that "Rave On Buddy Holly" is the rare tribute album that
by and large succeeds artistically. I led off with Fiona Apple's fairly
straightforward, pretty version of Holly's "Every Day," her collaboration with
producer-singer Jon Brion. But the album teems with more idiosyncratic versions
of Holly's songs, such as Cee Lo Green's stripped-down, sped-up version of
"(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care," a Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller song that
both Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley had hits with.
(Soundbite of song, â(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Careâ)
Mr. CEE LO GREEN (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) You don't like crazy music. You
don't like rockin' bands. You just wanna go to a movie show and sit there and
holding hands. You're so square. But I don't care.
I don't know why my heart flips. I only know it does. I wonder why I love you
baby. I guess it's just because you're so square. But I don't care.
TUCKER: At once both predictable and surprising is Paul McCartney's presence on
the album. The Beatles were deeply influenced by Holly's music - it's often
been said that the group's name was a playful nod to Holly's band The Crickets.
But the raw, rave-on version McCartney gives of "It's So Easy" is almost
(Soundbite of song, "It's So Easy")
Sir PAUL MCCARTNEY (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Well, it's so easy to fall in
love. It's so easy to fall in love. Well, people tell me love's for fools. So
here I go, I'm breaking all the rules.
It seems so easy. Seems so easy, seems so easy, seems so easy. Yeah, so doggone
easy. Doggone easy, doggone easy, doggone easy. Oh it's so easy. Seems so easy,
seems so easy, seems so easy. Well where you're concerned my heart has learned.
Now, it's so easy to fall in love...
TUCKER: Inevitably on a 19-cut album, there are duds here and there. It's too
bad that Julian Casablancas of The Strokes does a version of "Rave On" that is
worthless - an example of the self-absorbed performance that dooms so many
tribute albums. And Modest Mouse's version of one of Holly's biggest hits,
"That'll Be the Day," is reduced to exactly the sort of indie-rock mopiness
avoided by Holly's own, more elegant melancholy. At least Florence and the
Machine's take on "Not Fade Away" is a charming chunk of clatteration.
(Soundbite of song, "Not Fade Away")
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE (Rock Band): (Singing) I'm gonna tell you how it's
gonna be. You're gonna give your love to me. I wanna love you night and day.
You know my lover not fade away. You know my lover not fade away. My love is
bigger than a Cadillac.
TUCKER: Lou Reed takes on nothing less than "Peggy Sue." I would never say that
Reed improves upon Holly's version in any way, but if you're going to
drastically rearrange a song and then give it your all, Reed, like Paul
McCartney, provides a lesson in full-bore reinterpretation to some of the
album's other performers on this album.
(Soundbite of song, "Peggy Sue")
Mr. LOU REED (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) If you knew, Peggy Sue, then you'd
know why I feel blue without Peggy, my Peggy Sue. Oh well, I love you, gal. I
love you Peggy Sue.
Peggy Sue, my Peggy Sue, oh how my heart yearns for you. Oh Peggy, my Peggy
Sue. Oh, well, I love you gal, yes I love you Peggy Sue.
KEITH: Buddy Holly was at once one of the most revolutionary and most
comforting of rock artists. He was the first to double-track his voice and use
a string section on some of his songs. His band The Crickets instituted the
iconic rock-band line-up of lead, rhythm, bass guitar and drums. His displays
of dreamy sensitivity were captivating, with his quiet but urgent insistence on
"True Love Ways," a love "So True and Rare," and the romantic supplication of
"Crying, Waiting, Hoping." Beneath the horn rim glasses and the beseeching
voice was a core of toughness, the soul of an artist striving to cut across the
conventions of his nascent form. At its best, the variety of "Rave On Buddy
Holly" captures many of the man's marvelous contradictions.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Rave
On Buddy Holly," which was released today. The entire album will be streaming
today only at nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song, "True Love Ways")
Mr. BUDDY HOLLY (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Just you know why, why you and I
will by and by. Know true love ways. Sometimes we'll sigh. Sometimes we'll
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