Tomato Fight in the City of Buenos Aires

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A beautiful homegrown tomatoBuenos Aires is the romantic, Tango capital of the world famous for its steaks, wine, and virile soccer players. For most of this millenium, it’s been on sale at a ridiculously low price – considering it’s the “Paris of Latin America” – with an exchange rate at three pesos to the dollar. That has meant a tourist could enjoy a steak dinner for under $10 or buy a bottle of wine at a grocery store for $0.75 – one that might cost $12 in NYC.

It’s a fabulous place to go shopping amidst architecture that evokes Southern France, at prices that have felt like Chinatown, with it’s neighborhoods varied and full of history. From Evita’s tomb in swanky Recoleta, to La Boca’s Caminito – painted by Italian immigrants who’d run out of paint, Buenos Aires has been an affordable and fabulous alternative to the capitals of Europe. But Buenos Aires is currently experiencing accelerating inflation.

Architecture in Buenos AiresI measure price by one basic commodity – lunch. Since my arrival in Buenos Aires, the cost of a price fixed lunch has jumped from 12 pesos to 18 pesos. That is a 50% increase, yes indeed, in a six month period. The official government measure of inflation in as many months is closer to 10%, with “official” critics – putting it at 20%. I have to assume the economists don’t hit the same corner bistros I do.

Loose tomatoes at a produce standIn response to the price of tomatoes tripling in a week, the Association of Consumers organized a national boycott. Official statistics list tomatoes at 3.99 pesos ($1.3) a kilo, but vendors are selling the vegetable at up to 18 pesos ($5.8), putting it out of the reach of many Argentines (Bloomberg.com). With its culture of protest Argentines complied and yes, we have no tomatoes. Elections are coming up at the end of the month and inflation is the hot topic with tomatoes currently occupying the hot seat. In response to public concern over inflation, President Kirshner supports the boycott and has been negotiating with grocers to control prices of everything from soda to produce.

Produce on the sidewalk in Buenos AiresJust before I left The States, my cat’s veterinarian in New York City was excited to hear that the kitty and I would be moving to Buenos Aires. His first reaction to the news as an Argentinian was to praise local produce. He’s been an expatriate for 25 years and rather than expressing nostalgia for the steak or wine, he was quick to extoll the virtues of Argentine vegetables. “You’ll taste an eggplant and it will be incredible,” he said, gesturing enthusiastically. “You’ll taste a tomato and it will be the best tomato of your life.” At this point, I’d be real happy to taste any tomato, since markets have removed them from their shelves entirely.

4 Comments

Marce on October 15, 07

yeah, the situation is getting ridiculous, but this boycott needed to happen. I´ve been boicotting expensive tomatoes that aren´t even great-looking for months, but drastic measures needed to be taken, not to keep this cheap for tourists, but to allow people to live off their salaries.

eve on October 16, 07

obvio, inflation is most painful for the people who make the economy function – the locals.

Dan on October 16, 07

It’s really dependent on where in the city you are, too. The vegetable stand near me sells them for $7.80, not even half what some places are ripping you off for.

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