Tomatoes and Oxen from your own Village


For more than 20 years in Europe and in the rest of the world, the transport of freight is growing at a rate that is almost double the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thousand of millions of tons of goods go backwards and forwards on roads, rail, in the skies and on the sea. And each year this increases and they go further.

Progress can’t be stopped, they say. As if progress were like a locomotive in descent and without brakes. The only thing that has not already been affected by progress is the idea of progress. I’m fed up of imagining progress as Marinetti and the futurists imagined it at the beginning of the last century: roaring, clattering machines, always bigger, always more powerful.

If we want to continue believing in progress, we need to progress the idea of progress.

A progressive progress is one that whispers, that doesn’t roar. It’s a progress on tiptoes, not a progress with jangling chains. “From the atom to the bit” was the promise of the technology gurus of twenty years ago. I understood that instead of moving ever more atoms, we would be moving ever more bits, (that is information).

I understood wrong.

What’s actually happening is very different.  There is an explosion in the exchange of material goods and the use of thousands of millions of tons of infrastructure and of combustible material to transport more stuff longer distances and for more insane reasons. It’s very clear to me that the communication routes have been the arteries of civilisation and that free and fair trading has brought advantages to all.

But the situation has changed. For more than 2,000 years goods have been transported with various forms of indirect solar energy, that of beasts of burden, of wind, of water. Today the means of transport no longer use solar power but energy from petroleum, hundreds of millions of tons a year, that become thousands of millions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere and that produce economic damage in the form of the greenhouse effect, typhoons, hurricanes, and droughts.

Economic historians estimate that for centuries the rates of economic growth have been in the region of a few points per thousand each year. Now the rates of economic growth are a few points per hundred each year and the monetary exchanges of the economy double every 10-30 years. As well as that, material commerce increases even faster than the monetary economy. It thus seems clear to me that the current rhythm of growth in transport is a monster that has never been seen before and that can never exist in the future. We are living through a few decades of madness.

If the prices of a bottle of Australian wine transported as far as Piedmont or of San Pellegrino water transported as far as Sidney, burning at each journey a bottle of petroleum, were also to cover the costs of the environmental damage generated, that wine and that water would cost double, triple or quadruple.

Why do sausages sold in Nuremberg have to be made with pigs from Bavaria transported for slaughter at Mola near to Naples? And the pyjamas made and sold in Switzerland have to go as far as Portugal to have the buttons sewn on? And the shrimps from the North Sea sold in Germany have to go to Morocco to be washed? And in the supermarkets of Stuttgart Irish mineral water has to arrive at prices lower than German prices? And our local “speck” from altoatesino has to be made from Belgian pigs? And the dried meat of the Grigioni with Brazilian beef? And corn flakes in Geneva with corn from Argentina? And the pizza in Naples with Chinese tomatos? And the Genovese pesto with basil from Vietnam?

Every year Great Britain imports 200,000 tons of foreign pork every year. But it also exports 200,000 tons of British pork. And if we all ate our own pork?

In a planet that is ever more populated, where thousands of millions of people want a better standard of material well-being, we can only satisfy everyone if we return to producing and consuming locally as far as possible leaving long distance commerce for the rest.

A tomato produced in China, should be costing 50 Euro in Italy, 10 cents for the product and 49.90 for the environmental damage.

Then those that want the exotic tomato can still buy it.

In this mad back and forth across the planet of planes, ships, ferries, lorries and trains still more TAV, what gains is commerce not production.

On the contrary, the farmer and the craftsperson, are expelled from the production system by the hypermarkets, points of loading and unloading of goods on the planet.

Gatekeepers of the multinationals who tell us what to eat by means of information and publicity.

And then if the meat, the honey, the milk produced locally is more wholesome and costs less, who cares?

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 10:30 AM in | Comments (5)
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I fully agree with your point of view.
You also have Dutch tomatoes I noticed. They are a little bit cheaper than the Italian ones, probably because they have been exported with EU subventions, payed by us tax payers.
So in fact we pay more or less the same price. Unfortunately most people just look at the amount of money going out of their pockets when they buy.
But also unfortunately, that a vast majority does not see how things are interconnected in the economy. If the subventions would be terminated, we would pay less tax, price difference will be gone and w'll just buy the local ones.
Another thing is that the Dutch tomatoes are grown in greenhouses under artificial light, even during winter time. This is a great waste of energy!!
Apart from that, the resulting taste is like pure water. If I am in Italy I will never buy them only for the NO taste.
For the Chinese ones, I wonder what production conditions are being used over there. Are they genetically manipulated? What's the amount of pesticide used? So why do Napolitani accept these on their pizza?

Maybe another reason why a lot of goods are moved from one country to another for processing, is that there happens some manipulation, not allowed in the country of origin.

Beppe, I don't know if you're a cook. If so, you might have noticed that, if you buy meat from big (discount) supermarkets to make a nice steak, once the steak is ready, it's size has been reduced quite a bit. A lot of water the meat contained has been vapourized! Water you've paid for by the price of meat!

Posted by: Ellio Martina | December 19, 2005 12:52 AM

Great post. I have just seen a hair-raising "advert" on the TG3 NEWS (yes - "NEWS") program hawking genuine Parma products: ie "wild salmon" (You know the famous "salmone selvatica di Parma"!!). On a brighter note there are some wonderful farmer's markets initiatives around Europe. Here is a link to my local one in the UK, where I can go on Saturdays to buy fresh veg (no packing) fresh cheese, eggs and bread (no plastic bags) and homemade jam...a nice old man recycles glass jars and sells GOOD homemade jam in them. Buying directly from farmers in Lancashire is an agricultural college-sponsored project: Take a look at

Posted by: Maureen Lister | December 18, 2005 07:54 PM

Great post.
Support Slow Food, local production (artiginale) and biodiversity.

Posted by: George De Stefano | December 18, 2005 01:46 AM

I do not understand why nobody post something in English... I'm not referring to the usual italians but the others!!
where are the clever Swedish, French, Australian, Mexican....where are you fellas!?!?

Posted by: simona rossi | December 17, 2005 09:39 PM

Tomatoes and oxen ... great piece.
And what to say of the Exxon-FedEx generation celebrating the Holy Christmas. Grandparents sending cheap plastic toys (made by exploited chinese women, polluting too) from California to children in Ohio (stoned by too much TV), children in Ohio throwing in the garbage cheap plastic toys, grandparents in Ohio sending cheap plastic toys to children in California, children in California throwing in the garbage cheap plastic toys, chinese women exploited in order to make more plastic toys... more FedEx trucks (killing neighbourhood dogs to deliver plastic toys faster and faster), more perks for the Exxon CEOs. Let us all celebrate the Progress and the positive trend of our Economy, this Christmas. I forgot, God Bless America, not the Canadians beyond the borders, not the illegal Mexican immigrants, not the Arabs, please God, bless only the genuine legal US citizen.

Posted by: Pietro Guadalupi | December 17, 2005 02:50 PM

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