Tomatoes, art and culture
According to history, the tomato was domesticated in Mexico thanks to the Aztecs, and other civilizations did the same in some Central American countries. The conquest of America would lead the Europeans to bring to their continent many species unknown to them, among them the tomato. Today it is a food that is an important part of our diet, whether in salads, soups, sauces or condiments such as exquisite ketchup. For my part, as a lover of Mediterranean food, I could not conceive a life without tomatoes.
But leaving food aside, almost without us realizing it, the tomato formed a close relationship with art and culture. It had leading roles in cinema, music and plastic arts. It is also responsible for my happiness every time I go to a new pub and discover that the Bloody Mary is available on the cocktail menu. Sometimes that simple item on the menu makes the difference in whether or not I become a frequent customer of the place.
In popular culture, there is an idea that in ancient times the public threw tomatoes at artists when they were dissatisfied with the quality of an artist’s creation. Although it was not the most common, there is no doubt that the tomato was used as a projectile in some conflicts. For example, in the city of Valencia, Spain, during a traditional parade of “Gigantes y Cabezudos,” dissatisfaction between the participants and the public resulted in a flying cataract of tomatoes and vegetables, which was intentionally repeated the following year. The event was repeated year after year for fun, generating the birth of “La Tomatina”, a mythical celebration where thousands of participants throw tons of tomatoes at each other for hours.
But the relationship between tomatoes and art and culture did not always come to blows. In 1962 the American artist Andy Warhol unveiled his mythical work of art “32 cans of Campbell Soup”, portraying on canvas the 32 flavours of Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) and turning the can of tomato soup into a Pop icon as Warhol claimed it was his favourite and had consumed one a day for the last 20 years. Criticism of capitalism?, Analyzing art? To this day, there continue to be differing views on the interpretation of the work. Still, Andy Warhol was simple and straightforward in asserting that his way of creating art was to reflect what he liked and identified with. Campbell Soup Tomato Soup (NYSE: CPB) had accompanied him on his long days in the art studio when there was not even time to break for lunch.
Decades passed, and Warhol’s work would become iconic, reproduced on posters, T-shirts, table covers and countless other applications, but today’s environmental issues would bring the relationship between tomato and art back to being linked to protests and dissent. Recently, groups of environmental activists carried out a series of irruptions in museums and art galleries, throwing tomato soup cans. Their aim seems to be to make visible the problem of climate change that shakes the world, generating an episode of such magnitude that goes viral in moments.
The socio-cultural relationship between humans and tomatoes is far from over. Currently, more than 180 million tons of tomatoes are harvested in the world. Thanks to companies like Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE: FDP), it is possible to enjoy the most natural taste of tomatoes since some of their farms around the world use the hydroponics technique. This method saves up to 50% of water while significantly reducing the space used and keeping pests away by not using conventional soil but a biodegradable and ecological substrate that results in a tasty and brightly coloured product.
On the other hand, the company Heinz (NASDAQ: KHC) demonstrated through an experiment in 2021 that it is possible to harvest tomatoes on Mars, and created a “Martian” ketchup, using tomatoes that were planted in environments that faithfully reproduce the qualities of the red planet. Proving that if mankind ever succeeds in establishing colonies on Mars, tomatoes will accompany us on our adventure. And who’s to say that future generations won’t be able to enjoy their virtues millions of kilometres away from planet Earth?