Would A 20% Tax Keep You From Buying Most Imported Winter Produce?

January 27, 2017

Winter tomatoes (and avocados and Mexican Coke), we hardly knew ye.

This week, atop the barrel of executive orders that have been issued by President Trump, sits the directive to build the Mexican border wall he has been talking about since the beginning of his campaign. Trump doubled down on his statements that Mexico would pay for the wall (despite Speaker Paul Ryan's comments about Congress "fronting the money") while a scheduled White House visit from the Mexican president was cancelled.

Let's be honest, avocados aren't the only thing at stake. But we like them? Photo by James Ransom

Amid this kerfluffle, the New York Times reported that, on Thursday during the GOP retreat in Philadelphia, the President "appeared to embrace" an option for paying for the wall that would enact a stiff 20% tax not just on Mexico, but on all imported goods "with which the U.S. has a trade deficit".

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If you take a look in your fridge or pantry, or peruse the produce section at your local grocery, what amount was made or grown south of the border? Mexico is the United States' third-largest trading partner (coming in after Canada and China, respectively). They import close to half of all the U.S.'s imported fruits and vegetables (in 2015, the USDA reported that the number was 44%, compared to 12% from its closest challenger, Canada).

Just think about that: Half of all of our imported fruits and vegetables come from our neighbor to the south, and the President is entertaining the idea of putting a 20% tax on it, plus other products (hello, tequila, mezcal, and beach-y beer) that come from them. Eater puts the effects plainly, and lists out several products we hold dear—avocados, tomatoes, sugar—whose prices could be expected to go up:

Higher import prices translate to more expensive goods for consumers and businesses—and if Mexican products are more expensive, domestic producers won’t have to lower their own prices to compete.

Suffice to say, this would only end poorly for America's lower and middle class.

Do you think a 20% import tax would affect you or people you know? If not, we'd like to know that, too. Tell us in the comments below.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that 44% of all U.S. fruits and vegetables come from Mexico—it is, in fact, 44% of all imported U.S. fruits and vegetables.

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Betsey February 2, 2017
I try to eat locally and humanely as much as possible. That can be hard living in Minnesota. We don't exactly have a long growing season or a diverse variety of produce. I do buy citrus in the winter because it is in season then, no matter that it is trucked halfway across the country to me, and I also buy the occasional avocado for the same reason. I DO NOT buy berries in the winter. The carbon footprint alone makes me faint. Since my purchases are limited anyway, I don't think a large tax would affect my avocado-buying.
Catherine February 1, 2017
Speaking as someone who lives in the Southwest, most of our imported produce comes from Mexico, so I would be none too pleased to see something like this pass, both in financial and political terms. Some of us would be more affected by this taxation than others. Obviously those up in Washington haven't put much though into this.
Kate February 1, 2017
Now, I do love my avocados, but this really wouldn't be the end of the world. So much of the produce that is available at the stores now, wasn't when I was growing up in Ohio, with my dad working three jobs to make ends meet, yet somehow we managed to get enough fruits and vegetables to make it to adulthood. My mother-in-law bought an avocado for the first time in her life only 5 years ago. If she never were to buy one again, her life won't be any different.

Buy frozen (the nutrients are better preserved when it was picked and frozen at the height of the natural growing season anyway), buy canned goods on sale, buy what's in season, support local farmers, and learn how to grown and can food. My family loves homemade strawberry jam and home canned peaches much more than anything I've ever bought. Imported winter tomatoes don't even taste good. Yes, I have a yard to grow herbs and the few tomatoes the deer don't steal, but the community garden in our area is only $10 a year for those who don't, and there are always plots that are unclaimed.

I heard a statistic one time about how much food goes bad and has to be thrown away at the US Mexico border waiting to go through customs, and it was horrifying. I wish I could remember the source now, but that detail is gone from my memory. So much emphasis prior to this election has been "buy local, buy seasonal, reduce your carbon footprint" but most people ignore it until it hits the pocketbook. If the 20% tax does happen, I know that I'll be more conscious about my produce decisions, getting to the farm market, and take better care of my garden.
BerryBaby January 30, 2017
I buy 'in season' and local.
breakbread January 29, 2017
In case this comment section is closed, I would like to post some thoughts I had during the night.
I clicked into food52 after an evening of difficult news. I came to the site at 1a.m. as a reprieve (as has been my way lately - can anyone really sleep?)
Because I care about my food and where it comes from and I've done plenty of solid fact-checked book reading over the years, I clicked on the article.
I agree - it's not a great article (there's probably opportunity to grow and do it better/diff if F52 authors want to delve into the bigger topics) but it brought up food issues I hadn't considered yet in the midst of larger news. So, I was interested.
Then I clicked on the comments. I don't disagree here either - there's need for facts and presentation and good dialog. And, me too - I'd also like Food52 to be what it has 'always been' for me: a fun, creative, beautiful site and community that also asks questions about sourcing, GMOs and FL tomato farm labor, just for example. But really, is that possible anymore? Should it be? Clearly, we are in different times and we need dialog. Our people and country are hurting so what has 'always been' is gone - no matter your views - and we need as much clear-headed dialog and fact-sharing, as possible. Even if that means I miss some sleep because my fave food site had me thinking.
So, if one good thing comes from all this, is that we listen, not criticize another's demographic and make assumptions about them (Brooklyn and avocado toast comments are not fair) and try to breathe clean air and eat as responsibly as our conscience and purses allow.
Thank you.
rachiti January 29, 2017
Another misleadin statistic you used... According to the economic research service in the USDA , "Monday, April 11, 2016
Canada and Mexico remain the United States' largest suppliers of agricultural products ($22.2 billion and $19.3 billion in 2013-15 respectively), mostly consumer-oriented goods such as horticultural products, red meats, and snack foods. The European Union is a close third, accounting for $18.9 billion worth of U.S. agricultural imports in 2013-15, with horticultural products accounting for more than half the value". Looks to me like Canada is much closer as is the EU when it comes to overall at imports than your stat appears to show. Yes, I realize you're quoting produce and mine is ag products overall but you do elude to other products in your article which are included in this stat but not yours. Between misreprestenting this aspect as well as getting the statistic you did use as the basis for the entire article wrong, you've gone to far. Misrepresentation of data to "further your cause" is irresponsible. I'm so out of here.
rachiti January 29, 2017
I meant your statistic was chosen to mislead as the following one gives a broader picture and shows how close Canada and Mexico actually are in ag imports to the US.
Rose January 28, 2017
Samantha, thanks for highlighting our reliance on Mexico for fresh produce (among many other products). Unfortunately, I need to point out an error in this article. The USDA report you referenced states that the "share of total import value" for fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico is 44%. This means that 44% of our produce imports come from Mexico, not that 44% of the produce we consume comes from Mexico.

What is not included in the USDA report is how much of what we consume is imported versus how much is produced in the US.

While Mexico is definitely an important trading partner and our pocketbooks would certainly be hurt by a 20% tariff, it is erroneous to state that half of the fruit and vegetables we eat come from Mexico.
rachiti January 29, 2017
Rose Thank you. I thought the stat seemed awfully high but failed to check it myself. That's what I get for trusting this site. I won't make that mistake again.
rachiti January 28, 2017
There are plenty of domestic fresh produce options even in the winter. Regular tomatoes in my area are $3.50 per pound in the winter. I live in the Midwest so winter lasts quite a while. My family makes $20,000 per year. So, what do I do? I cook differently. I've dehydrated tomatoes that I can use crumbled up in salads for the flavor or I buy a small pint of grape tomatoes and spread them out. I can. I shop Farmer's Markets and stock a chest freezer in my bedroom for the winter. I live in an urban area. I have an Aerogarden (an investment) for fresh herbs because store prices just aren't viable. I also bought a ton of dill and froze it so I still have plenty until it's fresh again. I bought a 40 pound bag of onions in October and I'm still using them at the end of January. They've been sitting in the middle of my kitchen the entire time. Eat seasonally/Can/Dehydrate/Freeze/Have a cold frame (for those who have the space)/buy items that keep well at room temperature in late fall etc. There are plenty of alternatives to eating imported produce from Mexico if you can't afford to do it. Yes, it would mean I would have to suck it up and pay for a few items at a higher price - fresh lemons and limes, for example, but these are already items I ration (along with the few tomatoes I buy) because they are so expensive in the winter - even without the 20% import tax. Unless we can keep our economy viable - and import taxes are one way to ensure the GDP grows - we won't have some of the food security or assistance programs we have now. If half our fresh produce comes from south of the border, perhaps it's time we revisit how and where we're buying our produce as we should be supporting our own economy first and foremost.
René C. January 28, 2017
During the Obama years I received at least one email a week from the Department of Agriculture with millions of dollars being spent to get people to develop and grow their own local food. So hopefully those who received this money has restarted growing food locally. (These grants were all in rural areas) We need to grow our food locally and with all the advances in growing vegetables in green houses and hydroponics there is no reason we should have to import tomatoes (especially). As we have already experienced from Mexico in the past, quality control is an issue.
Bevi January 28, 2017
Thanks for this article. If sourcing produce, domestic or foreign, becomes an activity for the affluent only, then that will have an adverse effect on the "joy" of cooking for many of us.
Julie January 28, 2017
I ran a farmers market program which provided a voucher for seniors to purchase fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers during the summer growing season. I received endless calls and notes of gratitude because they could not afford to buy the fresh produce available during the summer season -- can you imagine not being able to afford a fresh peach -- it is a reality for a lot of people. So yes, this will have an impact on the poor. We served 5,000 elderly every summer - it was a drop in a sea of need.
charmor January 28, 2017
For the record, I hope you will continue to cover these issues surrounding how food gets to our plate. Some of us are mindful about what we cook and eat. There are plenty of websites for those who prefer to burrow their heads in the sand and ignore off the plate realities.
SarahInMinneapolis January 28, 2017
Res ipse loquitur.
hardlikearmour January 28, 2017
Since you seem to want to school everyone, you should probably spell "res ipsa loquitur" correctly.
Bevi January 28, 2017
E January 27, 2017
THANK YOU for raising the issue, it is definitely a relevant topic for Food52 SO KEEP IT UP! Love it (though hate the potential tax/Darth Orange). Please keep writing thought pieces and articles that allow us readers to have to think deeply :)
SarahInMinneapolis January 27, 2017
E. Exactly my point. If you refer to our current President as "Darth Orange," and you think the original post was a "thought piece," and that this post made you "think deeply," well then, you are part of the problem. Amanda Hesser, are you reading this? This is where the insipid political insanity goes. It starts here and eventually hits your bottom line. You can stop it or watch your bottom turn red. [Kind of like the country did.]
SarahInMinneapolis January 27, 2017
Bottom line, not bottom. Wish we could edit posts.
Saffron3 January 28, 2017
I really don't understand what you just posted. However, I think it will be tragic for the poor, elderly, average, hard-working folks to not have fruits, vegetables, meats, and many other foodstuffs.
C January 29, 2017
Sarah were you marching for all people on 1/21/2017 , "Darth Orange" is a fitting name given the fact his trolls want to go after the freedom of the press, women's rights, immigration...etc. with his approval. We marched for all human rights for everyone,even you, and the freedom to call the president whatever . Those with the means will pay whatever price as long as they want it. Buy local is the way to go but available for all people. I do think Food 52 should stick to recipes. They had to know this would turn into a political discussion, That is to be saved for voting again at the end of 4yrs .
C January 29, 2017
My error should have said that buying local is unavailable for many people.
Carol I. January 27, 2017
I was raised to, and continue to eat seasonally. Farmer's markets are long gone due to the weather, and won't reappear until June. Until then, we nosh on home preserved, local, organic produce and supplement that with cold storage, purchased produce such as cabbage, greens, squash. For seasonal fresh fruit, we are currently enjoying FL strawberries, CA oranges and lemons, TX ruby red Indian river grapefruit. It really is fine. I refuse to buy imported produce.
SarahInMinneapolis January 28, 2017
Perhaps the most sane post in this thread. Won't please the people in NYC who insist on avocado toast and tomatoes when out of season. But that's the point. Way to go, Carol in CT. LOVE TX red grapefruit, by the way.
Teri January 28, 2017
Indian River grapefruit is from Florida.
Saffron3 January 28, 2017
And you clearly have enough money to eat so luxuriously. I'm not concerned about you, but I am concerned about the regular folks.
rachiti January 28, 2017
Hi Saffron3,

I'm a "regular" folk who uses a large part of her budget for groceries. I work full-time as a grocery store cashier, and I'm the only working member of my family. I spend more on produce in the winter then on meat, grains, and dairy combined. I rarely buy prepared foods. I still try to buy as much domestic as I possibly can. I also can, dehydrate, buy frozen vegetables harvested and stored domestically, freeze produce from the farmer's market all summer long (my chest freezer - an investment - is in my bedroom), stock up on sales etc. I have 1/3 of a bag of onions I bought in early November (40 pounds) that has sat in my kitchen since then (middle of the room - still in a bag - nothing fancy). I eat seasonally as much as possible. My family lives on 20,000 per year with absolutely zero government subsidies. Yes, I would love to be able to eat more fruit and vegetables whenever I wanted them or to have more variety, but I live in Wisconsin. It's not in the budget and it's bad for the environment so I don't do it. The farmer's market doesn't really get going until July and ends in October. I'm partially disabled so I can't manage a garden and squirrels eat everything I try to grow in pots. Yes, it eats up a lot of my budget and is time-consuming to live this way, but it's so worth it. I'm supporting our local economy, I'm reducing my carbon footprint, and I'm eating healthy. Yes, there are people who have less money than I do - that is what food stamps is intended for-to give them the same access to produce that I have IF they're willing to be as frugal and invest as much time into it as I do. I grew up eating out of my family's garden. We did the same things I do now only they had a root cellar. My winter squash are tucked on top shelves scattered around my house, and my canned goods (including tinned tomatoes and beans I buy on stock-up sales) are in cardboard boxes in my closet. The only ones who can't do things this way are those who do not have a stable living environment, have rodent infestations, or are disabled. They are currently not supported as well as I would like in our society anyway. Perhaps import taxes will raise our GDP to the point that they can get better support - while eating the plethora of seasonal domestic produce available in the meantime.
Saffron3 January 28, 2017
I appreciate your post. You work, I work, we each do our best. Take care.
PHIL January 27, 2017
I don't think this will come to pass. the administration is already walking it back. This would be a tax on us so this would not be Mexico paying for it. the 20% tax at the wholesale level will lead to 30% or more at the retail level. Any domestic producers will likely raise prices since supply may tighten. Stay Tuned, the fun is just starting.
SarahInMinneapolis January 27, 2017
I am hard-pressed to find a better way for Food 52 to lose its charm and relevance than posts like this. A self described millennial "fully reformed Brooklynite" (from her bio on this web site) is in no position to write an intelligent post on the complexities of what Trump Administration ag and trade policy mean to the country. I respectfully suggest she talk politics among her Brooklyn pals while bowling. Amanda Hesser? Please don't start down the road of demeaning all your good work here with facile political tripe. Epicurious did that and all that's left there is a darn good recipe database.
Smaug January 27, 2017
I am curious as to what you find political about this article. How taxes will affect food prices is a simple matter of economic science, and certainly of interest to anyone who eats. To suggest that the policies of the current, or any past, administration may have unpopular consequences is simple reporting- would you suggest we censor it? Forbid discussion of the issues? Or limit them to news outlets approved by the administration? Whatever you may feel about America's current degree of "greatness", surely we're better than that.
SarahInMinneapolis January 28, 2017
Res ipse loquitur.
Smaug January 28, 2017
I s the misuse of this Latin phrase intended to intimidate, or a merely to evade?
Saffron3 January 28, 2017
Ah but facile political tripe, for me, with a grain of salt and some puckery lemon is delicious.
petalpusher March 25, 2017
Poor Sarah. Poor Miss Sarah. Put her cards behind the 'tangerine snatchgrabber'. Would stay tuned, but I gotta go bowling. Peace, love and free speech y'all.
petalpusher March 25, 2017
Oh I almost forgot to ask. Are you still bothered by that Latin ear worm and your red bottom? Get well soon - we hope you get well soon!
Katelinlee January 27, 2017
I'm glad you are raising this issue. If you want to also write about how our food prices are affected by immigrant labor, in stores and in restaurants, I would be interested in that too.
cheese1227 January 27, 2017
Yes, who will pick the domestic fruits and vegetables if immigrant labor is not available?
Smaug January 27, 2017
In California, at least, agriculture couldn't function without immigrant labor. With the preposterous cost of living and outlandish expectations of high paying jobs, even fields like medicine and law have been somewhat marginalized. Second generation, and a lot of long term immigrants, have moved up to construction jobs and contracting and the like, if not to white collar, and have no interest in returning to seasonal field work.
Gretchen K. January 27, 2017
While some of us are lucky and can afford to buy local organic seasonal produce, most Americans must buy the most economical choice. This tax would put fresh produce out of the hands of many people who are already stretched to buy them. Which in turn will make health issues worse. Everything is political and it's ignorant to think you can hide from them. Thank you for shedding light on this issue Food 52. Education empowers us all.
Nancy S. January 27, 2017
I appreciate the question being raised. Personally I buy mostly in season, and as local as possible.
Rarely buy produce from out of US.
Smaug January 27, 2017
The price of domestic produce is likely to increase more than that when they boot out all the farm workers.