rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Playing ketchup with Heinz in the tomato wars

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

I'm not much of a ketchup-fancier, to be honest: the last time I used the store-bought variety was to make East-West sauce, and that was some time back. I purchased the bottle in my fridge far too long ago, well before the current Battle of the Ketchups broke out.

I don't like slapping that stuff on things: it's the great American democratizer, making everything taste equal. Yet I found myself caught up in the temper of the times and eager to buy a bottle of French's ketchup to show the flag.

It doesn't much matter which ketchup tastes best: in fact, a blind test indicated considerable confusion on that score. But we know that we aren't dealing with the real here. We are confronted, rather, by simulacra, defined by Jean Baudrillard as pure simulation having no relation to any reality whatsoever. Ironically, the notion of a "real without origin or reality" is located here precisely in the notion of origin, which is in itself yet another subterfuge.

The purchasers of ketchup buy and consume signs: and when those signs are in competition with each other, hilarity ensues. Taste, as we have just seen, is not at issue. Instead, representations of nationalism and anti-corporatism (cunningly fostered by corporations) are poured over your French fries (ha! the subliminal is also enlisted!) and slathered all over your hamburgers and hot dogs.

In 2014, ketchup-maker H. J. Heinz closed its plant in Leamington, Ontario, where prime tomatoes have been grown locally for generations. A thousand or so full and part-time jobs were lost. Then French's -- owned by a British conglomerate -- stepped up to make its own ketchup with those Leamington tomatoes.

The matter found its way onto Facebook this past February, and was duly amplified, indeed exponentially so. Buying French's ketchup was a blow struck for Canada. And no corn syrup! And no artificial flavours!

Heinz will continue to buy Leamington tomatoes, however -- to produce tomato juice. Under Canadian law, this must be made from fresh tomatoes, not the paste used in the U.S. So Heinz sold its Leamington plant to a new company, Highbury Canco, which manufactures the juice Heinz sells here. Highbury Canco now employs over 400 locals. As Tom Walkom points out, free trade "harmonization" has not yet lighted upon the tomato juice industry to destroy hundreds more jobs in Leamington.

Loblaws, meanwhile, rashly decided to remove French's ketchup from its shelves, not due to low sales, as it turns out, but the opposite. The upstart sauce was quickly upstaging Loblaws' own President's Choice brand. The threat of a consumer boycott, however, made the supermarket chain change its mind in a single day. Meanwhile, a petition has been circulating in Queen's Park, asking that only French's ketchup be served there to hungry legislators and staff.

As it happens, the author of the Facebook post, Brian Fernandez, is off to Queen's Park this Thursday to receive ceremonial recognition from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture. Apparently he will be joined by the president of French's, who will fly up from the U.S. to attend and to meet Fernandez and the family.

I haven't even tasted French's ketchup yet. But I know that I'll love it.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.