This guest post is published around the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society in Madison, WI, occurring June 13-16, 2018. #foodstudies18
By Alyshia Gálvez, author of Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico
NAFTA is a bad deal for most of us who are not billionaires, parts manufacturers or factory farmers. Trump is wrong that with the deal Mexico is “winning” at the US’s expense; it’s mostly the wealthy and powerful conglomerates who are winning and the little guy who is losing.
One underreported problem: the consequences of NAFTA for the health of the Mexican people. In the two decades since its implementation, diabetes and diet-related illness have become an epidemic, claiming more lives each year than in the whole of the drug war. It’s almost as if the bellies of Mexican people were offered up as storage space for the surplus produced by the US’s distorted factory farm system—industrial corn, soy and wheat. Ironically, for the US consumer, the deal has brought us an unprecedented bounty of tomatoes, peppers, mangoes, citrus, and our adored avocados. We’re eating better with NAFTA in this country, while we offload junk on our southern neighbors.
But you won’t hear me endorsing Trump’s threats to scrap NAFTA. Instead, we should think about what NAFTA would look like if it put the people of the three countries at its front, instead of corporations. NAFTA is premised on consolidation and growth of industry. The bigger the operations of a given company, the more feasible it is for them to reap the rewards of NAFTA currently. But what if instead the deal created a matchmaking system connecting small scale producers to consumers, so that they had a better shot of distributing their products across borders? There are a lot of people interested in eating tacos with fresh ground corn tortillas and ancestral ingredients like huitlacoche, cactus, and escamoles in the US now, but no program by which producers of these items can participate in NAFTA. If amaranth producers, for example, had a more viable market, that superfood might be more widely available in both countries, supporting health more than the empty starches of industrial corn and wheat. Likewise, US fruit and vegetable producers—“specialty” farms under our ag policy—don’t see the same favorable distribution and subsidy structure that corn, wheat and soy do. They would benefit from more support, too, and people in both countries would reap—and eat—the benefits.
Further, NAFTA never included mobility for workers. Farmers in the US are desperate for workers. Many people in Mexico would like to work, but are not willing to risk their lives facing the brutal gauntlet of enforcement at the border. Mobility for workers and support of small scale farmers would bring us a more just and fair partnership. And all of us would eat better and more healthfully as a result.