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Guac Block

Tariffs threaten food and beverage industry

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We are living in dangerous times. During the Cold War, nuclear brinksmanship brought us to the threshold of mutual assured destruction. Today’s threat isn’t as flamboyant, but it is serious. The current administration is wielding economics as a weapon to destabilize other nations and push its agenda. The strategy may or may not work; either way, the American consumer is looking at a whole lotta collateral damage, including some of your favorite foods.

I am not trying to be political here. I’m merely stating some facts about how Donald Trump’s unilateral imposition of tariffs is affecting the food and beverage industry right now. I’m sure there are similar consequences in other sectors of the economy but, as a chef, I can only speak to what I see in my kitchen.

It’s not a pretty picture. The price of avocados is more than $80 a case. The cost of limes, cilantro and Brussels sprouts has skyrocketed as well, with many more foods sure to follow. The fact is, we rely on globalized, cross-border food production to meet our needs. To a large extent, Americans no longer understand the concept of eating seasonally. We want the foods we love year-round, even though those items don’t grow year-round—at least not in one geographic location. Furthermore, the demand for certain products far exceeds our domestic production capacity. Haas avocados, for example, grow only in California. Then there’s the dearth of willing domestic labor for harvesting, but that’s another can of worms.

Last week, approximately one-third of the cost of our restaurant group’s total produce order was avocados. Mind you, we buy more than 50 kinds of produce, but Haas avocados comprised 33 percent of our fresh fruit and vegetable expenditure. I cringe every time we sell guacamole. In a single month, the rising cost of avocados inflated my purchasing costs by 4 percent. Why? Because the administration threatened to close the border and impose tariffs.

In a free market, if my costs increase, I should raise my prices accordingly and consumer demand would adjust. But what the administration is doing has nothing to do with free markets. In fact, it’s antithetical to free-market economics, and there is no free-market fix. I can’t simply raise prices “accordingly.” Who wants to pay $20 for an order of guac or avocado toast? No, American business owners are stuck with this bill. It’s money taken out of their pockets and, by extension, the pockets of my staff. All because of Donald Trump’s irresponsible and, yes, un-American political maneuvering.

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Schillinger is a kitchen veteran with 22 years experience in the culinary arts. He currently cooks in Islamorada.

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