Tomatl and the Corporate Tomato

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A commodity change analysis..
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Global Commodity Chain: The network of
labor and production processes whose end
result is a finished commodity.
Global Commodity Chain Analysis
Producer-driven commodity chains
Buyer driven commodity chains
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Aztec word for tomato
The “love apple”
Campesinos
Monoculture
Polyculture (multi-cropping)
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The tomato originated as a wild plant in what is now
Peru.
The seeds were probably carried by birds north to
Mexico.
It was first domesticated by the Mayans and
Aztecs.
The fruit was named tomatl, which means something
round and plump.
For many years the tomato was used to feed families.
Traditional agricultural practices were being used, they
grew tomatoes in variety interplanting them with other
crops and rotated crops from year to year.
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In the 16th Century the Spanish conquistadores
took the tomatoes back to Europe with them.
It has since been bred into hundreds of
crossbreeds; the most common is the large
round red version.
In the 18th Century it was brought to Quebec
and Louisiana by the French.
Now the tomato is the most widely grown fruit
in the Americas.
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The transformation of human labor into a
commodity…
The multinationals and the technology package
NAFDA and Revolution
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Indigenous people have struggled for land for
centuries especially after the Spaniards arrived, and
forced them to work in mines and plantations.
In the 1980’s Mexican neoliberal policies privatized
communal land and encouraged foreign investment.
In the 1990’s NAFTA increased agroexports.
Since then campesinos from southern Mexico have
migrated north to work as salaried labor for large
agribusinesses.
Some may still own land but the land has been
degraded through endless cycles of fertilizer and
pesticides.
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Now with large monocultural agribusinesses
dominated the tomato production, the campesinos who
work seasonally for theses companies cannot survive
without also growing their own staple crops.
Empaque Santa Rosa, a Mexican agribusiness, shows
that the low wages of industrial agriculture are based
on the assumption that workers will combine salaried
work with subsistence agriculture.
But for poor migrant farmers this becomes less possible
because they need to move and then lose their access to
usable land in their home state.
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There are few that maintain their subsistence farming.
Barndt talked about a certain couple Tomasa and Pablo
who maintained their subsistence knowledge and more
environmentally sustainable practices by growing basic
foods in plots on hillsides (milpas) outside their village,
working in their cornfield after returning from picking
tomatoes in large plantations.
They may work double each day but it assures their
survival and keeps traditional ways of farming alive
alongside the industrialized practices.
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What do woman do in the modern production
chain?
What do men do?
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Tomatoes were the first fruit produced for export by Mexico, this
happened in the late 1880’s.
In the 1920’s in Sinaloa production intensified with the
development of capitalist production.
Mexican companies started to adopt the American industrial
practices after WWI.
The work was divided into smaller manageable units, and
technology was being used that didn’t use physical force, which
gave openings for females to get a job.
By 1994 tomatoes accounted for 22.6 percent of the fruit and
vegetable production in Mexico even though they took up only 3.5
% of the usable land.
Due to monocultural and cash crops most of the varieties in
tomatoes have been eliminated. 80% in this century alone.
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In Empaque Santa Rosa’s large greenhouses in Sinaloa
young women plant seeds and cultivate them into seedlings;
which later are planted around the country to be planted.
At Empaque Santa Rosa the tomato workers usually begin
picking at 7:30 A.M. stop for lunch at 10:30 and are finished
by 2:30.
(By this time the sun is unbearably hot) The pickers pick fast
so that they can fill their quota of forty pails a day.
They are only paid 28 pesos a day which was worth only $5
in 1997. Men, women and children all pick, but women
pickers are generally more gentle so there is less damage to
the crop.
The men normally are stacking crates on flatbed trailers.
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What makes a perfect tomato?
Where do the perfect ones go?
What about all the rest?
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First the tomatoes are washed in 90% chlorinated water to remove
the dirt, bacteria and pesticide residue then they are dried by
blasts of warm air then they are coated with wax to keep the
moisture in and the bacteria out.
This also protects them from further breakdown during the long
journey north, but beyond this it also give the tomato a wonderful
shine that makes them more attractive to wholesalers and
shoppers.
The tomatoes can’t have any cracks, scars, or blemishes, and must
be large, well-shaped, and firm.
The domestic tomatoes are sent to big food terminals in
Guadalajara and Mexico City where they are sold 1/3 of the price
that they will draw.
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Mini-processing detours
Trucking methods
Borders
Quality
Pests
Brokers/wholesalers
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The tomatoes going north are packed in cardboard
boxes with Styrofoam or plastic dividers that hold the
tomatoes in their place with “Mexican Tomatoes”
written in English on the outside.
Those destine for domestic consumption are packed
without separators in wooden crates marked with the
company’s Mexican label.
The real bad ones are put in a truck and hauled out to
be sold to local farmers as animal feed.
Mexico ships Seven hundred thousand tons of
tomatoes annually to the US and Canada.
Their journey to those destinations may be delayed
while company owners wait for prices in the US to rise
so that they can be sold for more profit.
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Sometimes they are stored in refrigerated
rooms at a temperature that keeps them from
ripening too quickly.
They could be in there for a few days up to a
week.
The tomatoes may be gassed with ethylene, the
natural substance that causes ripening, so that
the ripening process that is slowed down is
now speeded up.
The doors of the storage room are closed for 24
hours while the tomatoes are gassed.
It is too dangerous for humans to inhale.
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Second rate tomatoes are sometime shipped to
food processing plants.
Santa Rosa for example supplies Del Monte
with tomatoes for processing into canned
tomatoes, ketchup or salsa.
These products add to the frozen foods that are
increasingly replacing fresh food in North
America they are sometimes called “addedvalue” products…the added value is reflected
in the price.
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How does weather affect tomato production?
El Nino or Global warming
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If premature freeze does occur the tomato is
worthless and causes the company economic
losses, and they end the season prematurely
which leaves many campesinos poor.
The same is with too much rain.
The changes in the weather are blamed on el
nino.
Global warming is accelerated by the emission
of greenhouse gases, a culprit of this are the
large trucks that transport the tomatoes.
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Hidden ecological costs
The “ecological footprint” of green technic and
global transportation systems
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Once passing the inspections the tomatoes are sent to
warehouses.
These warehouses are owned by exporters and brokers.
Once the tomatoes reach the warehouse, they are
stored there temporarily while the brokers sell them to
wholesalers and retailers in the US and Canada.
In example Loblaws Supermarkets in Ontario bring up
3 truckloads of tomatoes daily.
It takes about 3 days for the trucks to get from Mexico
to Canada.
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Migrant workers in American fields
Designer supermarkets and the local tomato
High tech tomatoes
Homogenized tomatoes
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Appearance over taste
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In the summer, fewer tomatoes are imported
from Mexico. What is imported?
Migrant compensation…why is it
advantagious for the Mexican laborer to
“commute” to Canada?
The high-tech corporate tomatoe mediates a
complex relationship between the worker and
the technology: the electronic devices that
control pricing and inventory can also monitor
the productivity of workers…
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Did you remember that the Big Mac doesn’t
have tomatoes? Why?
Given the roll the tomatoe plays in the “image”
of McDonalds, it becomes clear that tomatoes
and hamburgers are not just food, but symbols
of a way of life…a mcdonalization of life.
Homogenizing food production relates to food
desire. Predictability and control are key
factors.
What suffers as a result of this process?
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Loblaws and donations
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Tax right offs for food banks, experimental farms,
and personal donations at the cash register
McDonalds “total life cycle” and waste
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Not only “organic” waste, but also “solid waste” in
the form of cardboard…
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Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon are philosophers from the 17th
Century.
Descartes’ concept is that nature and culture are separate and
spirit is separate from matter.
Bacon’s concept has framed that nature not only is separate but as
such to be conquered and subdued.
Judith Soule and Jon Piper suggest that reductionist science have
shaped modern agriculture-simplification, quantifications and
objectivity as well as the conquering of nature.
Vandana Shiva suggests that the world view of most Indigenous
people incorporate an ecological perspective that considers human
beings as part of nature and all of nature as self –generative and
self organizing.
The colonization by Europe of the Americas, Asia, and Africa
framed land as “dead land and therefore manipulable” rather than
“mother earth”.
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