What is a Tomato Worth? You Might as Well Ask What is a Person Worth.


Overproduction? Underutilization? Or …?

Or maybe $2.54 each down at Save-On Foods?

It’s not labour that makes the price. A friend of mine, a Mexican temporary worker, works his summers here in Canada because in the States he got paid US 25 cents for every 5 gallon bucket of grass green field tomatoes he picked, and that wasn’t enough to live on, not to mention the back-breaking work. Is it energy, then? The difference between the $3.49 for German tomato paste (from where? Spain? Algeria?) and paste tomatoes at $.59 each (from Mexico? Chile?), is that the energy needed to boil them down? What is that in that container? 4 paste tomatoes? So, like $2.40 in tomatoes, with an extra $1.10 split between energy, shipping and packaging? That would be a deal. But, hardly. The tomatoes probably had a processing price of a nickel a piece, so, like, I dunno, 20 cents, with $3.29 split between energy, shipping, packaging, retail costs, and profit. I tell ya, one is not buying tomatoes. They have almost no value. It’s the offering of them that has value. So, with that in mind, let’s look at our Okanagan tomato farm again:

This is a U-Pick Tomato Marketing Model.

You come, you pay, you pick your own and leave the rest for someone else on another day.

See that? The offering is not being received by taking. What the grower does receive is half of the retail price, which is a huge amount more than the nickel for processing, if there were even processing here. There was once, but cheap transportation made it redundant. Half the retail price, without the labour of picking, that’s not a bad deal. However, it is predicated on private, fenced land, and ownership rights. For the tomatoes and the soil, the slaves in this enterprise, it’s a bust. 100% of the output, for half the retail price, minus, what, 75% culls and abandoned fruit, leaves, what, half of 25% of the retail price, or 12.5%, or 7 cents a tomato. With that in mind, let’s look at our 3 offerings together:

The two on the left are sold as food, but they are identical with the image of waste on the right, an image that would (and does) fail to create the desire that transforms them into a social purchase. All three, however, hold in themselves the identical social and environmental subsidy, of, say 87.5%, following our off-the-top-of-the-head-but-not-a-bad-guess math above, which is used to support industrial and petrochemical culture, in other words, the elite classes. In order to purchase the social offering (food), we have to work for them, to further their ownership of these social interchanges. It’s a neat aristocratic trick, so neat that it gets replicated and, rather than growing tomatoes, or even picking them, the desirable model is to pay for the image of tomatoes and grind down labourers and the Earth more with every passing year. When one is celebrating harvest, and the bounty of the land, one is not really celebrating that, because the whole process discredits and industrializes it. Consider the German brand name: “Mutti.” That’s “Mommy” in English. Mom’s kitchen, you might say, the pot boiling on the back of the stove all day, but you might also say Mother Earth, or Mommy Earth, really. Hey, we’re not talking about a mature culture here, just one that waits around in the kitchen until Mom serves lunch, without having to deal with all the work that Mom (and others) did before the steaming bowl was set on the table, and this omission makes work appear to have no value in itself, and just, like, freely given, because we’re hungry, and so not deserving of pay. This terrible cascade of problems is why there is Fair Trade cocoa and coffee. Until we have Fair Trade tomatoes, we’ll only have placed the tip of the nail on our smallest toe on the path and tomatoes, and people, will still be worth only the image they can be used to make.

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