Goin’ Back to Cali

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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


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.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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