Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher, combining practice, teaching and research in the field of communication, media studies and film theory. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

By using production of tomato paste as an example, The Empire of Red Gold gives an astonishing insight on the uncomforting workings of globalism, and the means of production that has up until now never been revealed.

The Empire of Red Gold

Jean-Baptiste Malet and Xavier Deleu

France 2017 70 min

If you see only one documentary film this year, make sure it’s The Empire of Red Gold. The director Jean-Baptist Malet, an investigative journalist working for (among others) Le Monde Diplomatique and Charlie Hebdo, has written a book on the same issue: both his book and the film reveal the results of two years of research by Malet and his crew from 2014 to 2016 exploring the production, marketing, and consumption of tomato concentrate from France to China to the US to Italy.

Not only tomato paste

Today, the tomato is the key ingredient in a great majority of world cuisines. The biggest market for tomato concentrate is Africa with its fast-growing population. Nigeria has close to 200 million inhabitants – the farmers there traditionally grow tomatoes, but at the moment the local tomato paste factories only repackage the imported tomato paste. The Nigerian government analysed various tomato paste brands available on their market.  Some contained little or even no tomato at all. One of the reasons for this is that most of the tomato paste produced comes from China, which interestingly does not include tomatoes in its cuisine.

Still, China is the leading producer of tomato concentrate in the world. So much so that even when the paste and its derivatives, for example ketchup or tomato juice, are sold in packages that declare that the product was produced, say, in France, there is a great probability that the paste itself was imported from China.

«The Nigerian government analysed various tomato paste brands available on their market.  Some contained little or even no tomato at all.»

The changes China has introduced to the production and marketing of tomato paste put China at the forefront of global capitalism.

Investigative journalism at its best

One of the fascinating things about this documentary is that it is a living proof that media and journalists are still constitutive of democracy. Malet meticulously researched the background of the globalised production of tomato paste, and also constructed a masterful presentation of the results of this investigation.

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