News & Politics

Healthy Eating During a Trade War: Here's How Trump's Reckless Foreign Policy Could Squeeze the Poor Even More

Eating healthy could become even more cost-prohibitive for America’s poor and lower-middle classes in a trade war.

Photo Credit: White House

Eating a healthy diet on a budget is not impossible in the United States, but it’s certainly challenging—especially if one lives in a food desert where fresh produce is hard to come by. Sadly, fresh fruits and vegetables can be more costly than unhealthy processed foods, which is one of the reasons why America’s poor are more likely to become obese or suffer from diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases.

And if President Trump gets the U.S. into a series of trade wars—which is looking more and more like a strong possibility—eating healthy could become even more cost-prohibitive for America’s poor and lower-middle classes.

The aggressive hyper-nationalism that Trump has championed as president is alienating some of the U.S.’s closest friends and allies—even Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that new tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum marked a negative turning point in Canadian/U.S. relations. Canada has announced that billions of dollars of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. will be forthcoming, and Lawrence Herman (a former Canadian diplomat who practices international trade law) has even gone so far as to say that Trump is getting the U.S. into “full scale economic warfare” with Canada. Further, the possibility of trade wars between the U.S. and Latin American countries could also create a great deal of economic pain for Americans—and when one considers how much food comes to the U.S. from Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru and other countries, that is a troubling thought.

In fact, 80 percent of Mexico’s imports go to the U.S.—and that includes a lot of food. If Trump gets the U.S. into a full-fledged trade war with Mexico, the price of all kinds of fruits and vegetables imported into the U.S. from Mexico could soar.

A partial list of foods that are grown in Mexico and frequently imported to the U.S. includes tomatoes, beans, avocados, lemons, limes, chili peppers, corn, mangos, barley, oranges, squash, and bananas.

Then there’s broccoli, a healthy, nutrient-dense food that Mexico grows a lot of. America’s poor can’t always afford imported Mexican broccoli, but it will become even less affordable if Trump escalates a trade war with the United States' neighbor to the south.

Unfortunately, Trump has often gone out of his way to alienate Mexico.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump accused the country of importing “drug dealers” and “rapists” into the U.S.—and his unending obsession with building a giant wall along the border and making Mexico pay for it (which isn’t going to happen) has underscored his overt hostility to the country. Nonetheless, Andrés Manuel López-Obrador, who won Mexico’s presidential election by a landslide on July 1, has stressed that he would like to have a positive relationship with its northern neighbor—although not one of subordination. And López-Obrador doesn’t want an all-out trade war with the U.S., although Mexico fears the possibility. On June 5, Mexico announced a tariff that would affect roughly $277 billion worth of U.S. goods.

One is seeing the words guerra de commercio—which is Spanish for “trade war”—coming up more and more on Mexican news websites. A full-fledged guerra de commercio between Mexico and Los Estados Unidos could bring serious pain to U.S. consumers, especially those who purchase a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables imported from south of the border. If Mexican agricultural imports become increasingly cost-prohibitive thanks to the Trump administration, it will be a definite hardship for low-income Americans who are trying to eat healthier and to avoid processed foods that have little or no nutritional value.

But Mexico is hardly the only Latin American country that exports fresh fruits and vegetables to the U.S.; others range from Chile to Guatemala to Peru to Costa Rica to Ecuador. Chilean exports, for example, include blueberries, avocados, grapes, plums, apples, nectarines, and cherries—in other words, the sort of foods America’s poor need to be eating more of if they can afford them.

How difficult it can be to eat healthy on a budget in the U.S. can depend a lot on where one lives. Some low-income Americans live in food deserts; some don’t. In a food desert, minimum wage workers who are working two or three jobs to survive often turn to unhealthy processed foods because they’re both cheap and convenient—although they can carry a stiff price in the long run when one is diagnosed with diabetes, cancer or heart disease. The poor, however, are worried about day-to-day survival, and many of them feel like they’re too busy working 55 or 60 hours per week to look that far ahead.

To make matters worse, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been fighting to overturn the Affordable Care Act of 2010—which has made it easier for millions of low-income Americans to obtain health insurance—while attacking the food stamp budget as well.

Between a possible trade war, Republicans’ obsession with taking revenge on President Barack Obama by ending the ACA and GOP attacks on food stamp benefits, it’s open season on America’s poor in the Trump era.

For low-income Americans, access to healthy foods should be expanded—not decreased. And if Trump brings about a full-fledged trade war with Mexico and other countries and the price of everything from broccoli to avocados goes through the roof, it will be even harder for America’s overworked, underpaid poor and lower middle class to get the nutrition they need.

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.