Is love of avocado toast the reason millennials cannot afford houses, as some baby-boomers would have it? It may be time to put the intergenerational internet squabble aside to consider the international implications of our taste for the fatty fruit. According to Hass Avocado Board data, the volume of avocados consumed in the United States has been rising fairly steadily since at least 2004. We can likely thank millennials, who fuel avocado-heavy dining trends including Mexican cuisine chains and the infamous toast. When a period of low crop yields in Mexico and California, the major suppliers of avocados to the United States, caused prices to soar during the spring and summer of last year, public attention turned towards the implications of the avocado trade. The fruit unwittingly remains relevant to both economic and moral aspects of international relations.
One the one hand, this trade is an exemplar of international commerce as a mutually beneficial enterprise rather than a zero-sum game. California, the United States’ domestic source of avocados, cannot expand production to meet rising demand, lacking additional land and water, so imports from countries with favorable geography for the crop provide an efficient solution to the shortage. Farmers, drivers, and other workers thus gain employment and GNP rises in a country like Mexico as it exports avocados to its northern neighbor. Contrary to the fears of tariff proponents such as President Trump, these benefits do not come at the expense of employment in the importing country: in fact, according to a 2016 study, the avocado trade has been responsible for the creation of 19,000 US jobs and for $2.2 billion of the country’s GNP. Thus, the vivid example of the avocado bolsters arguments promoting international commerce and condemning trade war tactics.
But the economic benefits to Mexico and the United States come with serious human costs to the exporter, and it is worth considering what responsibility its neighbor has in dealing with the problem. Violence has emerged in Mexico due to the highly lucrative avocado business. According to a 2017 report by InSight Crime, criminal organizations such as CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) and the Cuinis supplement revenue from the narcotics trade by extorting from avocado producers. The groups routinely kidnap and kill farmers and their families. Vigilante groups of avocado growers have responded with armed defense of their livelihoods. Thus, our consumption has moral costs on an international scale not only when we choose to purchase illicit drugs, but even when we buy innocuous-seeming products, making this issue personally relevant to the average citizen.
The horrors of the narcotics trade may seems distant to many Americans, but now, eating guac calls to mind a similar problem. To what extent is it right for us to continue to import Mexican avocados without lending aid to the farmers or pressing the Mexican government to increase protection for them? Are such measures under the purview of the United States, or would they be unduly interventionist? Is the government’s responsibility to regulate trade salient here, or is each consumer’s choice of product just as relevant and powerful? And how should the moral-economic tradeoff influence our decisions? The avocado trade illustrates that such questions, though difficult to answer, are worth considering in addition to economic effects in determining trade and personal consumption decisions.