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A US-Mexico border shutdown would affect far more than avocado prices

So why do people continue to freak out about them?

The price of Hass avocados from the Mexican region of Michoacán rose by a staggering 34 percent on Tuesday.
Getty Images

You may have heard that the president is threatening to “shut down” the border unless the Mexican government stops Central American migrants from entering the US — something it is already working to do. You also may have heard that if the president does make good on his threat, the price of avocados could skyrocket.

A number of outlets have written about the possibility of an impending avocado shortage — CBS warned that the US could “run out of avocados in 3 weeks” if the border were to close. Importers seem to be taking heed of these warnings: The price of Hass avocados from the Mexican region of Michoacán rose by a staggering 34 percent on Tuesday, which, as Bloomberg notes, is the commodity’s biggest one-day gain in a decade.

But as the New York Times wrote on Monday, the price of avocados is just one thing that would be affected by a border shutdown. Shoppers on the US side of the border would see the price of many fruits and vegetables — including tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, and mangoes — jump. American manufacturers, many of which export goods to Mexico or use Mexican materials in their products, would suffer under President Trump’s proposed shutdown. The million-plus people who commute across the border each day would face major disruptions as well.

So why is everyone focusing on avocados?

The simplest explanation is that Mexico grows more avocados than any other place in the world — about one-third of all avocados are grown in Mexico, according to a 2018 report by the New York Times. The average consumer eats about 7 pounds of avocado per year. The fruit has been hailed as a superfood and, more recently, derided as a signifier of millennial excess. According to Bloomberg, almost half of all restaurant menus across the country include avocados in some form. There’s even a Shark Tank-funded avocado-themed restaurant.

Avocados are everywhere: in our grocery stores, on our brunch menus, and in viral stories about the personal and professional failures of an entire generation. As Emily Atkin wrote for the New Republic, all these stories about avocados are a way of tricking people “into caring about something that [they] might not otherwise, whether it be climate change or a border shutdown or millennial spending habits.” It makes sense that journalists would use a potential avocado shortage as the hook for a story about the effects of a border shutdown. After all, it’s easier to imagine not being able to buy an avocado than it is to wrap your head around the fact that American manufacturers could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Atkin also points out that instead of using a potential avocado shortage as a lead-in to a bigger story about the implications of the border shutdown, many outlets are focusing on a still-nonexistent avocado catastrophe as if it were one of the bigger — or only — consequences of shutting down all ports of entry along the southern border.

Yesterday’s jump in avocado prices can be thought of as a warning about what could happen to a number of products and industries if Trump gets his way — but if the border does shut down, an avocado shortage will be the least of our problems.

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