Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The faces behind a can of ravioli

Tomatoes from the Yauco Cooperative in Puerto Rico, 1942 (courtesy of Jack Delano


In the Canadian winter months farmers markets can be bare. If I am lucky I can usually find a few varieties of squash and a selection of canned jams. Fresh vegetables, on the other hand, are no where to be found. What I miss most in the winter is a selection of fresh tomatoes. My tomato cravings often bring me to a large grocery store where I succumb to selecting fresh fruits from Mexico. Satisfying all my cravings in winter would be hard if I only shopped locally.

Sometimes I also eat canned tomatoes. I have pondered whether canned may be a better choice than eating fruit from the South. I've found a company that produces cans of organic tomatoes a little closer to home, in California to be exact. Canned tomatoes however, bring another concern and that concern is the can. I have often wondered where the cans come from and if the aluminium used to make the can is sustainably mined. I have found it hard to answer these questions. Recently however, I found a lead when I stumbled upon a video called Canned Dreams

Canned Dreams, made by Finnish filmmaker Katja Gauriloff, is a beautifully done documentary about where a can of European ravioli comes from. Katja starts her documentary with the origin of the aluminium can. The aluminum is mined - and the can itself is produced - in a barren Brazilian landscape, which is quite a distance away from Europe

Katja then examined each ingredient that goes into a can of meat ravioli; her findings are quite surprising. First, we travel to pick tomatoes with women in Portugal. Then in Denmark we are crammed into pig pens, and in Romania into cow cells, to meet the animals behind this pasta. Next, we venture to Ukraine to work long hours with women in a flour mill. Canned Dreams shows us the real people behind our globalized food chains. 

For those readers interested in learning what is behind their food choices, this is the documentary to watch. Although this documentary is specific to European ravioli, I suspect similar stories are behind other canned foods. I tried to map the distance my pizza ingredients traveled from their farm to my plate, but I left out a major part, the people behind the ingredients. This documentary puts a new spin on what it means to talk about global food systems; it reminds us there is a face and a family behind each and every ingredient we eat. 

I would love to hear your comments regarding Canned Dreams; you can watch it free on Al Jazeera's program Witness




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