A Lehman Professor Explores An Often Ignored Consequence of NAFTA
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has provoked substantial controversy in recent months. During the campaign, President Trump called the agreement a “disaster” and threatened to withdraw from it. More recently, he has softened his rhetoric, promising to renegotiate NAFTA.
This month, Lehman Professor Alyshia Galvez, a professor of Latin American studies, wrote an op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News that calls attention to “one of NAFTA’s most distressing consequences: its adverse impact on the health of the Mexican people.”
The piece expertly shows how NAFTA has gotten Mexicans hooked on U.S. junk food and is co-written with Nicholas Freudenberg, a distinguished professor of public health at Hunter College and the Graduate Center.
Galvez and Freudenberg cite an array of statistics that show the consequences of what they refer to as the “NAFTA diet.” For example, between 1992 and 2000, calories from sugary sodas among Mexicans increased by about 40 percent. Between 1988 and 1999, the number of overweight and obese Mexicans skyrocketed, rising from 33 percent to 59 percent; during that same time, cases of diabetes increased by 30 percent.
In her upcoming book, Eating NAFTA: Trade and Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico, Galvez will chronicle the impact of NAFTA on the average Mexican citizen. The book is scheduled to be published in 2018 and will focus on the intersection of food policy, health policy, trade, and migration.
“It’s a paradox,” admitted Galvez. “Mexican food has never been more respected, its cuisine is heralded in very elite circles, but it’s failing to reach the average Mexican. There’s a prioritization on fast food and processed foods.”
Galvez explains that in the years after NAFTA was signed “the Mexican agricultural economy, which had provided affordable food to most Mexicans, collapsed.”
“In retrospect, the food exchanges were especially cruel,” wrote Galvez and Freudenberg in their op-ed piece. “People in the U.S. had better access to the foods that contribute to good health: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, limes, avocados, and mangos…Mexico on the other hand became a dumping ground for cheap U.S. fast food and snacks formulated from the subsidized corn, sugar, and soy crops that are the building blocks of the disease-promoting processed food industry.”
Galvez is hoping that by writing strong opinion pieces, and the publication of her book, will bring into sharper relief a side of NAFTA that most Americans are unaware of and “very surprised” to discover. She believes that Americans should have “an ethical and moral concern” about the conditions that U.S. policies create, outside of the United States.