Avocado and Tuna

A good-willed behavior can sometimes results in an unintended consequence that may make you feel sorry than feel proud. If there is a way to cut off the black money channeling to gangsters, then wouldn’t you consider doing it? If there is an easy way to conserve the depleting seafood resources in the ocean, wouldn’t you try it? Life is not always simple and straightforward, however…

Recently I listened to a podcast of Freakonomics about the dark side of avocado trade in Mexico. Nearly 80% of avocados consumed in the U.S. is produced from a single region in Mexico, and a gang group has been collecting a ‘fee’ from the producers. Increased demand of avocados in the US has probably incentivized the local Mexican farmers to boost their supply with efficiency, and the gangsters wouldn’t miss the opportunity to earn lots of easy money. The more we buy their avocados, the more money would flow into the gangsters. Unlike one’s natural instinct, experts cautioned that opting out from purchasing avocados won’t solve the problem. In fact, a decrease in trade would disproportionally penalize the poor farmers instead of punishing the bad guys. So, individual activism for an apparently good cause may not be so effective after all. What can we do?

This reminds me of another topic: bluefin tuna. Due to the high demand in global sushi market, we catch bluefin tuna so much so that we are driving them to a dangerously depleted conditions, if not near extinction, in the oceans. This has not only posed a concern for the market but also caused an existential threat for the ocean ecosystem. Many environmentally conscientious people are deciding to either opt out from consuming bluefin tunas or seeking a fish caught by the sustainable fisheries methods only. I respect the care, passion, and determination of the concerned consumers greatly. I feel guilty as I may not be that much resolute in my own seafood consumption, although I teach this issue in my class. The question is, however, can we save the bluefin tunas if we opt out from eating it or if we pose more serious regulations in fishing and trade? Sure, only if the most sushi eaters agree and participate in this effort altogether. Otherwise, more regulations can only increase the price and result in a distorted market structure. Affluent people can continue to eat bluefin tuna while poor people, again, would be disproportionally penalized. The international fishing corporates, who usually own the fishing quotas, may not lose much profits after all, as long as there is a demand, while the fishermen who work in less than ideal conditions might be driven to work at a worse working condition.

The cases of avocados and tunas led me think how effective it might be to opt out from consuming/purchasing a troublesome product or produce, in response to an unfair or unsustainable practice, with a moral choice as an individual. By no means, I suggest that we should stop concerning about these issues. On the contrary, we should strive to improve the awareness of such an issue in our society so more people would thing about it and may create an opportunity for a more productive collective decision.

(ps) An unsustainable overfishing issue is beyond the scope of this article, and I may deal with it in a separate writing at a later time.

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