Goin’ Back to Cali

Importing and exporting the same food items? Who says economics has to be rational?


One feature of the global food economy is the simultaneous, often superfluous, import and export of the same items, a phenomenon known as “redundant trade.” Take California, the nation’s biggest produce grower: At the height of its cherry season, it sends cherries to Canada and Japan even as it ships them in from Chile, Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe. The Golden State also exports and imports nearly identical amounts of lettuce and almonds, a practice that food policy analyst Katy Mamen says defies the basics of supply and demand: “Presumably, as a California grower you could get more money in this market, not to mention the costs you would save on shipping. It boggles my mind.” Or, as economist Herman Daly once quipped about this oddity of free trade, “Exchanging recipes would surely be more efficient.”

In 2004, the U.S. exported nearly $20 million worth of lettuce—over 3/4 of it grown in California—to Mexico. The same year, it imported $20 million worth of Mexican lettuce.

While California-grown brussels sprouts head north to Canada, the state imports them from Belgium and Mexico.

  • Half of California’s processed tomato exports go to Canada, which ships $36 million worth of processed tomatoes to the U.S. annually.
  • In 2003, New York shipped $1.1 million worth of California almonds to Italy, while importing $1.1 million worth of almonds from Italy.
  • California sells $18 million worth of asparagus abroad. $39 million worth of asparagus comes into the state from other countries.
  • International strawberry imports to California peak during the state’s strawberry season.
  • 20% of California’s table grapes go to China, the world’s largest producer of table grapes.

Sources:
Agricultural Marketing Research Center, International Society for Ecology and Culture, USDA.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.