By Jennie Schmidt: Sudlersville, Maryland
Imagine a future with less guacamole.
It might be here sooner than you think—especially if the United States further damages its trading relationship with Mexico.
Perhaps you saw the recent news stories: “An Avocado Shortage Could Cause Issues on Super Bowl Sunday,” said a headline a couple of weeks ago on the website of Food & Wine, referring to the fruit that is the main ingredient of guacamole.
That’s rotten news: It could ruin parties all across America!
I’m not throwing a party this weekend, but like so many Americans, I’ll watch the game. As a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, I have a rooting interest—even though I’ve poked fun at star quarterback Tom Brady for his extreme diet and how he misunderstands what farmers like me do for a living.
If I were having guests, I’d probably serve them guacamole. Or at least I would if it were readily available at my local grocery store.
The cause of our supposed guacamole crisis is a gas shortage in Mexico. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, wants to crack down on fuel theft. Unfortunately, his new policies have created a problem of scarcity, making it more difficult for farmers and truckers in key areas to harvest and transport crops, including the avocados that Americans love to turn into guacamole and serve as a snack-food dip.
Obrador’s concerns are understandable: “Fuel theft is fast becoming one of Mexico’s most pressing economic and security dilemmas,” reports Reuters. The illegal tapping of gas pipelines, mostly by drug cartels, depresses the government’s annual revenues by $1 billion.
That’s enough to pay for almost 200 Super Bowl commercials, which this year are said to run a little more than $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. (At least one Super Bowl ad on Sunday will tout avocados.)
As news spread of the Great Guacamole Crisis of 2019, the media produced a series of stories that mixed amusement with concern: “Holy guacamole! Super Bowl fans could go without staple snack as fuel shortage may prevent Mexican farmers sending avocado to the US,” screamed a headline from the Daily Mail.
These articles seemed to vanish as quickly as they appeared: So far, consumers in the United States haven’t struggled to find guacamole on the shelves of their grocery stores. Apparently we’ll eat tens of thousands of tons of the stuff, as we have around every Super Bowl in recent years.
In addition to breathing sighs of relief, we’d be wise to learn a lesson from the guacamole panic: Our food supply is global, and we depend on a good trading relationship with Mexico as well as many other global trading partners to move food products around the world. We take for granted the fact that we can buy year-round fresh produce at the grocery store that would never be in season this time of year in most growing regions of the United States.
If you like guacamole, you can thank the North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated a generation ago. The advent of NAFTA led directly to guacamole’s big boom in popularity in the United States.
Before we strengthened our trade ties with Mexico, it was virtually impossible to import fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Avocados were outright banned. Americans who wanted guacamole turned to avocado farmers in California, but their short growing season made this food rare and expensive.
Following NAFTA, however, we gained access to this delicious product from its native land, where farmers have cultivated it for thousands of years. Today, Mexicans grow avocados year round and supply the vast majority of the avocados sold in the United States.
Each year, the average American eats about seven pounds of avocados, up from just one pound when NAFTA was passed, according to the New York Times. Our hunger for them grows by 10 percent or more per year. In addition to their excellent taste, they’re a good source of unsaturated fat.
Even if you’re not a health-conscious, avocado-toast-loving Millennial, it’s possible to appreciate what this green fruit does for our economy: One study says that nearly 19,000 American jobs depend on this market. NAFTA also has created opportunities for U.S. farmers to sell corn, soybeans, pork, and more to Mexicans, generating billions of dollars in revenues that flow from south to north.
These benefits are the result international trade—and give us another reason to support the new NAFTA, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
Mexico’s fuel problems didn’t cause a guacamole shortage this year but upending our healthy trading partnerships could. That’s one more reason why we need USMCA.
I’m all for a U.S. trade policy that promotes our national interests. Let’s call it “Avocados First.”
Jennie Schmidt is a third-generation farmer growing grains, vegetables and wine grapes on a family farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As a farmer, mom and registered dietitian, Jennie is passionate about connecting people with food and farming. Jennie volunteers as a member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org) where this column originates.