How much is a tomato?

Three tomatoes are walking down the street […]. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, squishes him and says, ‘Ketchup.’
(Pulp Fiction – Q. Tarantino)

Thousands of years ago, pure snowflakes fell on the vast Artic region. Throughout the centuries, they froze in the depths of the soil, keeping their whiteness away from all the pollution of the outside world. Today that same ice is Earth’s purest water, which you can savour for around 26 euros per litre. After all quality is priceless and, to be honest, glacier water is not even the most expensive one. Surely it’s not the same water that comes out of your tap for 0,00054 euros per litre (in Milan) but there’s one thing that these two waters have in common: you can drink them both. But then, why does this water cost 48.000 times more than the other? Isn’t water always just… water? Clearly not, and the same applies to all the food items and, consequently, to their price.

We can see it with our own eyes every time we go grocery shopping, finding it hard to locate ourselves among the different shelves. Like in many other sectors, even in the food and drink industry we are witnessing a decrease in consumption, as more people opt for low cost products to save as much as they can. The thing in itself is not entirely negative; it is good to pay attention to how much we spend on what we get however, looking exclusively at the price can be risky. Indeed, the risk is to buy products that are low in organoleptic, environmental and social quality: just have a think about all the contaminated and corrupted food or about the agro-mafia business. Another risk is to believe that we are saving money, but the actual saving is lying somewhere else.

First of all, in order to save money when buying groceries we need to know what is the “right” price to pay for the food we are buying and how it is determined. For example: how much is a tomato? To know that, we would have to discern among the characteristics of the product we want to buy (Pachino tomatoes are different from San Marzano’s ones). Then we would have to know in what ways the product travels from the fields to the place we buy it (whether it is a supermarket or a market), which one is the right season to buy it (a tomato doesn’t cost the same in the winter or in the summer), which format we are getting (for example, olive and sundried tomatoes croutons can be more than 70 euros per kilo), and so on. In other words,  in order to know how to save money we need first and foremost to know what we are buying, reading the labels and making a distinction between the “raw” product’s cost and the one resulting from the many transformation proposed by today’s food industry.

At the end of this journey, we could come to the realization that the true saving lies in our own hands, when we choose what we buy, when and where. Finding out that, for example, there are farms “just outside the corner” that produce amazing tomatoes, perhaps even organic ones, and that they are now equipped with the necessary tools to send them our way with a click at a price very similar to the one we can find at the supermarket. Ultimately, we could even find out that we can grow our own tomatoes. It is not complicated and the final result is as much as thrilling as it is affordable… just make sure you don’t use glacier water!

Wrtitten by Giordano Golinelli, Fondazione ACRA-CCS

Originally posted on

Translated from Italian by Marta Catalano

Photo Cherry Tomato Mix (cc) Dwight Sipler