This month marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. This sweeping legislation has virtually changed the way we eat fruits and vegetables. Before NAFTA, the produce you would find available at your local grocery store was whatever was seasonal and grown relatively close to where you live (at least within US borders). Nowadays, you can get raspberries in January, conventional produce is comparatively cheaper than it was before NAFTA (taking into account inflation), and we’ve all become accustomed to a modern mode of life where we have sacrificed convenience for quality. As we celebrate (or don’t) this significant anniversary, here’s three ways NAFTA specifically as changed the way Americans eat.
1. Bienvenidos A Mexico
Or rather, Welcome to America from the enormous amount of fruits and vegetables that Americans now consume that have been grown in Mexico. Since NAFTA was signed in 1994, the volume of produce that is sold in the United States from Mexico has tripled.
There are a few reasons for this. First, NAFTA eliminated the tariffs previously associated with the importation of perishable goods. Second, it encouraged business investment from American companies in Mexican farms, which created year-round supply and demand for North American customers. Third, producing this food in a near-third world economic environment has kept labor costs, and therefore general costs, lower than they would be if grown on the United States.
While there are obviously relevant questions about food safety and fair and direct trade, the important takeaway is that we now get a substantial amount of conventional produce from another country, moving us further away from a more sustainable way of living and eating.
2. Easy Come, Easy Eat
As a direct result of the year-round supply and demand created by the multinational, agro-industrial operations south of the border, we are seeing food available more easily and more often than ever before. As a result of this, we as consumers have enjoyed a level of convenience previously unheard of, and it has changed us. Although there is a growing movement int his country to want to know where our food comes from (as well as what’s in it), the vast majority of Americans still care very little about where their food comes from, as long as it’s there when they want to purchase it.
This is the uphill climb that participants in the farm to fork movement are up against, and it is unfortunately a by-product of a particular attitude regarding the march of progress, somewhat reminiscent of the naive belief 50 years ago that we would all be riding around in flying cars and visiting our relatives at their home on the moon colony, and that’s what would make life better. Now, at least we can get green beans in the dead of winter. Ain’t life grand?
It takes a special kind of fruit or vegetable to travel over long distances to get to your plate. For one thing, it is one that is markedly less flavorful. I mean, just look at the average tomato sold at your supermarket; it’s more like a giant orange, flavorless softball! True, that is as much a part of the agro-industrial desire to produce better-looking produce, but better looking produce becomes more important when it has to still look good after the long trip from Mexico. As long as we’re talking about altered food, did you know that three of the seven most common genetically-modified foods include soy, corn, and yellow crookneck squash and zucchini?
At BerryBreeze™, part of our commitment to a healthy sustainable lifestyle includes advocating for locally grown, organic and natural foods. For us, the 20th anniversary of NAFTA is not just a time to reflect on how we’ve changed as a society, but how we are increasingly becoming aware these days and asking for more from our food producers and the companies that bring their goods to market. One might even argue that the farm to fork movement is in direct response to the way NAFTA has changed food. And once it’s in our homes and our kitchens, BerryBreeze™ wants to make sure that we get the most out of food’s natural lifespan, reducing our overall food budget and our carbon footprint. There is so much positive change happening out there, its definitely a time to be forward looking and forward thinking. We just thought this was a significant anniversary in the modern history of food worth reflecting on. Have a great weekend!
Oh, and let us know your thoughts on NAFTA in the comments below!