~ How do our product choices help or harm people? ~
You are in the produce department, reaching for a plump, green avocado when you notice the sign.
Fairtrade, it reads.
Scanning the bins, you see the conventional avocados not far away.
Slightly cheaper, you note, and a little bigger.
You grab your cart and head across the aisle.
“Best quality at the cheapest price,” you recite, mimicking the inflection of your mother’s voice that you remember so well.
All of a sudden, a whirring of wings and rushing of wind bring you to an abrupt halt. With a gasp, you discover a green pixie hovering in front of your face.
“Is that all you have to say?” she asks.
With mouth agape, you utter not a word. As she flits about, the little sprite with baby’s breath tiara and leafy tutu throws back her head and lets out a twittering ripple of laughter.
“You look like you’ve been ambushed by ogres and trolls!” she squawks, still giggling. “I don’t bite! I only asked if there’s anything more important to you than quality and price?”
“Well, now,” you say, still trying to collect your thoughts. “But … but who are you?”
“Silly human,” she says, dashing at your belly and jamming a tiny fist into your ribs. “I’m Guaco Bell, the avocado pixie. Now come.”
As a puckish grin crosses her face, Guaco Bell wraps her hands around your pinky and tugs backward, whisking you from the supermarket.
You find yourself standing on the shady veranda of a working hacienda, roofed with rough-hewn timber and clay tiles. A vaquero antiguo with worn blue jeans, white shirt, gray mustache and sun-faded cowboy hat rocks his chair on the pink-tiled pavement.
“We call them oro verde,” he says, his voice gruff and graveled from more than 70 seasons in the dusty Mexican sun. “The Aztecs called them ahuácatl, seeing them hang in pairs down by the ground.”
He sends low bursts of cackling laughter across the patio.
“What’s that mean, Ito?” asks a girl of about six. She kneels over a clay bowl beside her abuelo, wearing yellow overalls with embroidered flowers.
“Never you mind,” he says, quenching his laughter. “Since I was knee-high to a tortoise, we scrabbled like slaves growing avocados. Barely made enough money to put food on the table, even though we shipped them as far away as China. But the price kept falling. Seems like the more we sold, the less we got for them.”
“Best quality at the lowest price,” hisses Guaco Bell in your ear. “See what happens?”
Seeing huge orange flakes peeling off the adobe walls, you wonder if the ancient paint has lead in it.
“The company was working us to death,” he says, “getting rich off us, so we organized a strike. Hundreds of us. And it worked. It got us enough money for school and medicine. Put food back on the table. We even got running water in the house. Then the drug cartel took notice and they taxed the living hell out of us. Not to mention all the murders and rapings and torture.”
“Financed by your country’s drug addiction,” added Guaco Bell with a light kick to the side of your head.
Glaring at Guaco Bell, you run your fingers through your hair.
“If it weren’t for the cartel,” says the little girl, “I’d have a fort down by the river, just like you did when you were little.”
As the girl cracks a gangly string bean pod, dried beans plunk into her bowl. She tosses the spent shells into a pile on the floor.
“It’s not worth risking your life, Linda princesita. That’s why we keep you close to home.”
Your gaze shifts to a garden of barrel cacti, agave plants and potted marigolds. Beyond that, you see a rolling landscape of tidy avocado orchards. The pale, scorched sky sags like a tired cat over distant gray-blue peaks.
“After that, thousands of us farmers rose up. Said we wouldn’t take it no more. We armed ourselves against the drug cartel and beat those bandits back. But even now, you never know what might happen.”
The sound of tires on gravel draws your attention to a peculiar medieval-like castle that stands on the highway. As you watch, a pickup truck approaches the concrete barricade. From the fortress emerge men with helmets and military rifles.
“What’s that?” you ask.
“A check-point,” Guaco Bell says, resting her hand on a kiwi vine that clings to one of the timber posts. “Hundreds of volunteers man these outposts, 24/7.”
“Damn,” you say. “This place seems like a war zone.”
“It is,” she says, “and thankfully, these people are able to keep the bad guys back.”
“A war,” you echo. Your eyes scan the Spanish tiles, the cactus garden, the orchards and the blockade. “And what am I supposed to do about it?”
“Help them,” says Guaco Bell. “First, tell your country to take care of its damn drug addiction. That money gives power to all the wrong people here. And then remember this pretty little Linda princesita the next time you’re reaching for an avocado. You want her mama and papa to get paid fairly. You don’t want her to get raped by the cartel. Cheap food often creates injustice. Take a mental picture of her and don’t forget.”
Guaco Bell somersaults through the air and slaps her palm on your forehead.
“Lowest price, you simple-minded bumpkin!” she blurts. “These people feed you! They’re your friends. Now be their friend. I’ll even give you a weapon so you can help them win this war.”
Again, she grabs your pinky with two hands and gives a sharp tug. Quick as a wink, you find yourself back in the supermarket. In the corner of your eye, you see a green blur that whizzes across your hand and disappears.
When you look into your palm, there you find … a dollar bill.
You scrunch up your face and say, “What kind of a weapon is this?”
Image by Petar43, Wikimedia Commons.
 Some sources include:
“7 Facts You Didn’t Know about Avocados,” by Naledi Sekgapane, 17 March 2019, http://fairtradeamerica.org/Media-Center/Blog/2019/March/7-avocado-facts.
Pragor Coop, Equal Exchange website, https://equalexchange.coop/our-partners/farmer-partners/pragor.
“Blood Avocados No More: Mexican Farm Town Says It’s Kicked Out Cartels,” NPR Morning Edition, 2 February 2018, www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/02/02/582086654/mexicos-avocado-capital-says-it-s-kicked-cartels-off-the-farm.
“Mexico’s Avocado Army: How One City Stood Up to the Drug Cartels,” by Nathaniel Parish Flannery, The Guardian, 18 May 2017, www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/may/18/avocado-police-tancitaro-mexico-law-drug-cartels.
“Avocados and the Mexican Drug Cartels,” Hidden History website, 8 July 2016, https://lflank.wordpress.com/2016/07/08/avacados-and-the-mexican-drug-cartels/.
Equal Exchange, https://equalexchange.coop/.
FairTrade America, http://fairtradeamerica.org/.
Ten Thousand Villages, www.tenthousandvillages.com/.