If Ketchup Were Blood

The Heinz lesson: Grow our own food and make our own food products


In early 2013, mega-billionaire American investment guru Warren Buffett said, “Pass the ketchup, please,” agreeing to buy H.J. Heinz Co. for a mere $23.3 billion.

That purchase, described as the richest deal—ever—in the food industry, involved the decision of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife, an heiress to the Heinz fortune, to exit the ketchup and condiments business while making a handsome profit from the sale.

But soon after Buffet bought Heinz, the city of Leamington, Ontario suffered when the town’s Heinz ketchup plant—which had operated there since 1908—was closed in mid-2014.

If ketchup were blood, Leamington was nearly bled dry. Some 800 plant workers were canned. Canadian tomato growers who had long supplied Heinz were also hit. Leamington is known as the largest tomato processing region per-acreage in the entire world.

Canadian media downplayed the fact that Mr. Buffett is the one who elected to close “His” Heinz plant in Leamington. The rather cruel corporate world had struck again, with the “Oracle of Omaha” at the helm.

Any production shortfalls caused by closing the large Leamington plant are being made up in Ohio, Iowa, other parts of Canada, and in California.

The Leamington plant had operated in one of the most water-rich areas on earth. However, that Heinz operation, which requires a large and steady water supply, is being absorbed into the other Heinz locations, including arid California, where chronic drought is an unwelcome and almost permanent guest.

The lesson here is that Americans, Canadians and other interested peoples need to back away from the corporate-food system.

Consider the community gardens that have been flourishing in Detroit where rows of houses once stood. Yes, it’s regrettable, and quite scandalous, that the Motor City has taken such a bad economic turn. But as the “clouds” lift, we see community gardens that grow food which is eaten locally.

Such a thing encourages good will—a common sense of purpose. It not only can mean healthier food without genetic tinkering and hybridized seeds. It also means food security, since it reduces dependency on the corporate food system.

And also consider these towns, which are far from the only examples of food autonomy:

MILWAUKEE: Retired athlete Will Allen supervises a massive community garden called Growing Power. It even includes fish hatcheries. The less fortunate have access to excellent produce and sources of protein. And imagine if every sizable town and region returned to widespread gardening. Consider the positive impact it’d have on food quality, accessibility and security, while lowering prices.

AUSTIN: The urban garden movement within the city limits of this Texas capital contain legal vegetable, poultry and modest livestock farms. Herbs are grown, too. Local chefs and various eateries order fresh produce from these city farms.

Naturally, in Austin and elsewhere, area food processors use the local produce to make salsa, relish and various other condiments—even ketchups, though usually with jazzier recipes.

This writer toured the Austin urban farms and tasted the superb products. And an associate visited the Milwaukee community garden and enjoyed a magnificent meal made of the very best of ingredients.

Who knew? Growers of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables don’t necessarily need to sell their produce to large, mega-rich corporations like Heinz. Communities can grow their own produce, make their own condiments and sell them at the local stores and at farmer’s markets. And oftentimes sales can go statewide or beyond, much like the cottage beer industry has done.

Companies like Heinz make us all believe that ketchup and their OTHER products can only come from them. That’s pure bollocks—although it’s understood that selling large amounts of tomatoes to a place like Heinz generates good earnings for growers, which is a hard thing to lose all at once.

Nevertheless, if Leamington has taught us anything, it’s that Heinz and other corporate food giants, regardless of the media-hyped aura surrounding the investment “heroes” who own them, are not as important as we’re led to believe. It’s time to invest in ourselves and enjoy the harvest. The Buffets of the world can stand on the sidelines for a change.

Mark Anderson divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email truthhound2@yahoo.com

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2016


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