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The tomato is more than just a "vegetable fruit." It is a food generating great economic wealth and major controversy among the countries that farm, process, exchange, and consume it. It is a crop infused with national pride and passion for those who grow it, and a symbol of Old World nostalgia for those who believe they own its history and legacy. The tomato has embodied a range of values and meanings over time. From its domestication in Central America, it has traveled repeatedly across the Atlantic, becoming the main ingredient in a story of aspiration and growth, agriculture and industry, class and identity, desire for tradition, and global transition.
In this entertaining and organic history, David Gentilcore's recounts the surprising rise of the tomato from its New World origins to its Old World status and present significance. From inauspicious beginnings in Renaissance Europe, the tomato came to dominate Italian cuisine and the food industry over the course of three centuries. Gentilcore explores why the tomato took so long to infiltrate Italian cooking and its place in both elite and peasant cultures. He traces its appearance in learned medical and agricultural treatises, travel logs, family recipe books, kitchen accounts, and Italian art, literature, and film. In focusing on Italy's fascination with the tomato, Gentilcore paints a larger portrait of changing trends and habits, starting with botanical practices in the sixteenth century and attitudes toward vegetables in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and moving through to the emergence of factory production in the nineteenth. He follows the transformation of the tomato into a national symbol during Italian immigration and Fascism and examines the planetary success of the "Italian" tomato today in its production, representation, and consumption.
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