Some people think of Friday as the happiest day of the week, but for me, it was always Saturday. Every Saturday without exception my family and I would go to a café to eat breakfast. I remember the ecstasy of reading an entire menu that contained typical breakfast foods: eggs, pancakes, waffles, French toasts, chocolate milk… you name it! As I grew older and I changed, the menu of the café started to change as well. What before was comfort-food paradise was now full of acai bowls and turmeric-ginger drinks. Saturday breakfast became the perfect excuse to post the delicious and aesthetic $9 avocado toast. With over 16K posts, #avocadotoasts became the embodiment of “health” and “popularity.” Influencers, Britney Spears, and the person next to you at the café were compelling you to order one. The increase in popularity increased the demand dramatically. In January alone nearly 320 million pounds of avocados were imported to the US, setting a new import record (Rabobank). The 33% annual increase in demand has been so powerful that it converted avocados into something more than an Instagram post: a political weapon.
When we sit at the table, we rarely think about the origin of the products we eat. The same occurs with avocado toast. There is a tendency to oversimplify agricultural product origin by thinking that most agricultural products are farmed in America. Truth is, only 10% of avocados are grown in the United States. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Mexico was the principal source of American-consumed avocados. This became germane when president Donald Trump tried to impose a 20% tariff on Mexican imports in order to pay for his famous “wall”. His new policy was the incarnation of his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.” On the surface, what appeared to be a nationalist move would have impacted the millions of avocado toast consumers in the U.S. The $9 avocado toast would have been an $11 dollar toast.
The increase in demand does not only impact American politics. In Mexico, avocados are known as “green gold” for growers. Avocados are the opportunity for agricultural communities to thrive; a thriving that has also sparked the interest of the cartels. The states of Michoacán and Jalisco are the leading avocado producers in Mexico. They are also breeding states for criminal groups like Nueva Generacion and the New Michoacán Family. Thirsty for more power and money, the cartels have seen the opportunity to earn money from the exports without having to grow the avocados themselves. Cartel extorsion comes in different flavors, from stealing trucks with imports, to kidnapping, raping, and killing the families of the farmers. In exchange for protection farmers have to pay a quota that amounts to up to $2,500 U.S. dollars per hectare. The government action to protect its own people has been minimal, therefore offering the opportunity of self-defense groups to arise. The farming communities’ children now carry guns instead of avocados.
Farming communities in Mexico tend to be populated by indigenous people. Faced with external hardships like poverty and lack of education, the indigenous communities in Mexico are confronted with yet another issue. While in some instances self-defense groups are able to eliminate the threat of the cartels, other groups are outgunned by the cartels. A 2017 study by Global Financial Integrity estimated that a cartel income is between $426 billion to $652 billion U.S. dollars a year which exceeds Walmart’s revenue in 2017. The arsenal of cartel weapons and technology is hardly able to be paralleled by the farming communities, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Additionally, self-defense groups run the risk of becoming integrated with other better established criminal groups.
The growth in avocado popularity is in no way to be blamed for the U.S. or Mexico’s political problems. In fact, indigenous and farming communities could potentially benefit incredibly from the demand growth. However, the world is a more complex entity than we conceptualize. We sit every Saturday to eat avocado toasts and post them on Instagram without really understanding the sweat and blood that the avocado represents. More than feeling guilty, it inspires a certain sense of humility and thankfulness for having the opportunity to eat such a nutritious dish without having to pay the violent consequences of harvesting them.