Thursday, July 20, 2023

Cactus and Labor Opportunities (Limitations)

One of the nice surprises in Mexico is fresh nopales, or cactus. Since I visited five years ago, I've been eating nopales every morning with breakfast, They're tasty and healthy, especially chopped up in scrambled eggs. However, there's a small problem and it's about labor.

Fresh nopales in the United States tend to be sold in paddles, with the cactus spines still on them. There's really no way to justify the labor of removing the spines as a processing step. The cost of the nopales would need to go beyond a comfortable price for the small local community that eats them. It's not a big community, in fact many restaurants have stopped serving them because the demand is small and they don't stay fresh long enough.

The first time I bought nopales back home, I spent the time to remove the cactus spines, impaling myself a couple times, dicing the nopales, cooking them up to reduce the sticky sap, and well, that was the last time I did that -- and it was just one paddle! What a giant pain in the ass. The second option was to buy them in a jar, and that's what I've been doing for years now. Jarred nopales aren't exactly fresh and they're spiced like the (only) company that sells them wants to spice them.

Nopales in Mexico are different. They're amazingly fresh and sold on the streets. The spines are removed, as the labor to do so is inconsequential. For a couple bucks, you can have a huge supply. I currently have a stash in my freezer, because one bag could feed a giant family for a week. When we went and talked with one of the nopales ladies in the market, she was carefully cutting the nopales into a bag, an extra prep step that again, had an inconsequential cost added to it. She was kind enough to give us an excellent recipe with fresh spices sold nearby. We made a big batch of nopales we've been eating since then. 

So we have the same North American product, sold differently and essentially one viable and the other not viable because of labor costs. As various regions of the United States struggle with different income tiers, this is something to keep in mind. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, while my California minimum wage is $15.50/hour (it's about $1.54 in Mexico). What is good for Idaho, may not work in California. 

This is especially true with high labor activities like selling Magic singles. My $15.50/hour employees are selling in the same market as stores with $7.25/hour employees. It doesn't make much sense for me to compete in that marketplace. Of course, I could buy a machine that does sorting, but those costs need to be factored in agains the $7.25/hour stores. Is it competitive? I bet it is, but I'm not sure. Perhaps we just don't sell Magic singles, much like how you're going to get the spines if you want nopales in the United States. The extra processing step may not be financially viable, even if Magic singles are the healthy add on for the game trade.

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