By LAURA ROCOSK
Hungry? You open the fridge but absolutely nothing looks appetizing. You sigh: “there’s nothing to eat!”
So you head out to the grocery store, a place where the entire world has been condensed and categorized in one building. Take the produce section. You see the Asia countries controlling the more “unique” vegetable selection — Eggplant, Bok Choy, Bean sprouts. Europe has a tight hold on turnip, spinach and pears, while North America holds the more general fruits and vegetables like apples, grapes and tomatoes.
The concept of imported goods in Canada is quite simple – our climate is too cold to grow the types of foods that most of us enjoy.
But when we are hungry, it is easy to only focus on filling that craving — things are out of sight, out of mind. We see the tomato, we buy the tomato, we eat the tomato; problem solved, right?
Not quite. The truth is that these fruits and veggies do not just get replenished magically overnight, there is a whole background story behind the counter. Whether the item is coming from Canada, Korea or Mexico, there is a ton of time and work invested into that one plant.
Lets start at the root — in Mexico tomatoes are a large source of income. In 2003 it was estimated that Canada imported 5.9 tonnes of Mexico’s fresh tomatoes. These tomatoes they have to be planted, fertilized, irrigated, picked and shipped in order to make it to our households.
When I was in Mexico a few years ago, I was able to spend some time working in the fields with the local people. Throughout the day we quickly learned that there is a lot of work put into growing that one tomato, even if the product seems so small and insignificant.
Local workers start their day by hoping on a bus at around 5:00am. The buses take them to a field where the work is typically quite easy; they stay there for about 3-4 hours until a couple of new buses show up with more workers.
This second wave of busses is filled with older workers. This is a form of a ‘raise’ — the second wave of workers get the easier job and to start later. The first shift piles into the buses again to head off to their next destination, usually where they will stay for the rest of the day.
Typically, the workers receive an hour for lunch and can take short breaks if needed — but they must finish their tasks before they can take a break. If they were planting strawberries, they have to finish planting their row before they can take a breather.
These tasks are usually very hard and physically exhausting, and most shifts run between 13-15 hours a day. Just recently the Mexican government decided to raise the minimum wage to just under 65 pesos a day — about o $5.25 CND. When I worked in the fields, the people there were getting paid $10 per day. While that is double the minimum wage, It’s still a very small amount of money to be spread between average household of 3.9 people.
Some people would argue that it is probably cheaper in these countries to purchase things, like fruits and vegetables. But with a larger family — as typically found in mexico — comes more responsibilities, more mouths to feed, bodies to cloth and minds to mold. As the onion unravels, it is easier to see the larger picture and realize that everything has a background history beyond its physical appearance.