Diners who wanted guacamole this weekend at Espita Mezcaleria were served a lesson in the complexities of a global supply chain and fair labor practices instead. The signature Mexican dip and any other dish adorned with slivers or hunks of avocado haven’t been fully available for about a week. On the back of the menu is a note penned by Chef Robert Aikens explaining why:
“You may have heard that the avocado workers in Michoacán, Mexico have been on strike due to unfair trade and wage practices,” it reads. “This was a strike that we at Espita supported and we are pleased that it has been resolved as the workers were being underpaid for their efforts.”
Food & Wine reports that earlier this month,1,000 avocado industry workers went on strike and set up highway checkpoints in 11 municipalities within Michoacán, the top avocado-producing region in Mexico that has an exclusive export agreement with the USDA. According to Mexico News Daily, more than two million tons of avocados were produced in Mexico last year, and 80 percent of that yield was grown in Michoacán.
In total, the strike impacted 24,000 workers. Their grievances stemmed from the fact that avocados grown in other Mexican states and other countries were entering Michoacán, so they could enter the direct pipeline to the avocado-obsessed U.S. market. The over supply of imposter avocados devalued true Michoacán avocados and decreased pay for Mexican growers significantly, from 60 pesos per kilo down to 20 pesos per kilo.
“We talk about workers rights here a lot, not D.C. but Mexican farmers’ rights,” says Espita Managing Partner Josh Phillips. “We focus on agave, but as soon as I heard about this, I was like, ‘I have to support these guys. This is a no brainer. They shouldn’t be selling fake Michoacán avocados.’”
A week ago Espita’s purveyor started limiting the restaurant to half a case of avocados per day. The Shaw mezcaleria typically goes through four cases on a Friday night. No avocados were available over the weekend, but they’re preparing to restock as the strike ended about a week ago.
The Producers, Packers, and Exporters Association of Avocado in Mexico (APEAM) helped both sides come to an agreement, though the Mexican government denied the growers’ demand to set a floor price on avocados, according to Produce Retailer.
“Once the strike ends, all of the supply line is empty,” Philips says. “Now they have to pick them, ship them, and ripen them. Our main produce supplier got his first shipment on Friday. They sent some to us to prove how unripe they are. You can play baseball with them.”
Phillips has talked to other restaurants in the neighborhood, including Union Kitchen Grocery across the street, who are experiencing the same situation. “Avocado toast places are probably like, ‘Oh fuck,’ and every Mexican restaurant knows what’s going on,” he says.
At one point during the period of the strike, Chef Jonathan Taub of Bub & Pop’s says that during the strike a case of avocados went from $40–$50 up to $80–$90, if he could even get them at all.
Checking in with produce suppliers and grocery stores, the P Street Whole Foods was out of avocados briefly last week because of the strike, but a member of the store’s produce department says the supply is getting back to normal.
Jason Lambros, the vice president of purchasing for Coastal Sunbelt Produce, confirms that they had a significant avocado interruption. “It gets the supply chain backed up on ripe and ready-to-eat fruits,” he says. “We should be getting back to normal pretty soon.” He adds that his clients have been understanding. “When it’s a nationally known [event], it makes it a lot easier to explain.”
Back at Espita, Phillips anticipates the restaurant will be back in full swing serving guacamole and avocados this week. He says, “People don’t really think about, if you have an international restaurant, international supply chains come into play.”
Photo by Flickr user You As A Machine