One of Sao Paulo’s most traditional Italian restaurants is urging its clients to forgo the tomato to protest what it considers President Dilma Rousseff’s policy of promoting growth at the expense of higher inflation.
Augusto Mello, owner Nello’s Cantina, last month began curtailing his tomato purchases to protest a tripling in prices for the vegetable over the past year to 150 reais ($75) for a 20-kilogram crate. A sign on the entrance of the 38-year-old restaurant urges patrons to become “conscientious consumers” and help fight inflation by ordering dishes without red sauce.
The one-man crusade may be touching a nerve with consumers, whose pockets are being squeezed by surging prices for food and services. A report tomorrow will show that inflation breached the 6.5 percent limit of the government’s target range in March for the first time in 16 months, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists, even as the economy struggles to regain its footing after its second-worst performance in 13 years in 2012.
“Brazil grew less than 1 percent last year and inflation is now sky high,” Mello, 49, said in an interview.
Rousseff, while visiting South Africa, surprised investors March 27 by saying she disagrees with anti-inflation policies that sacrifice growth. While she distanced herself from the comments six hours later, saying her comments had been “manipulated,” the damage to the government’s inflation- fighting credentials had already taken place.
‘If 1 percent is all we’re able to grow without inflation, then we have to be content with that,” said Mello, who since his protest began has cut by half the roughly 900 kilograms of tomatoes he buys weekly. “It’s not worth risking all the progress the country has made recently.”
Rousseff’s office didn’t immediately return a phone call and e-mail seek comment.
Finance Minister Guido Mantega last week repeated that the “villain” behind persistently high monthly inflation readings has been a weather-related spike in food prices that should begin to ease as a result of a better harvest this year.
Food prices rose 10 percent last year, with a 141 percent surge in manioc flour over the past 12 months exceeding all items. Tomatoes, a staple of Brazilians, an estimated 25 million who trace their ancestry back to Italy, jumped 106 percent.
Excessive rain in some growing areas, and a decline in prices last year that led some producers to plant other crops, have spurred the rise in tomato prices.
Mello has never been one to hide his views when he sees policy makers going soft on inflation. Five years ago he took beef off the menu to protest a similar rise in meat prices.
His latest stunt has drawn 800 messages of support on a Facebook page and spawned similar online protests.
In an April 6 post on a Facebook page spoofing the president, a spurious Rousseff unveils her new “My Tomato, My Life” policy, a play on the name for her hallmark housing program, to guarantee that all Brazilians “can have beautiful red Workers’ Party tomatoes for lunch.” The site has garnered more than 260,000 views.
The real Rousseff may also be taking notice.
The government is studying a cut in import tariffs on select items, including tomatoes, to contain price pressures, Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper O Globo reported today. Imports of processed tomatoes from China jumped 232 percent in the first two months of the year compared with the same period of 2012, O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro at Jgoodman19@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at firstname.lastname@example.org