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This Denver restaurant is standing up to drug cartels … But it’s complicated



Last week, Denverite published a story about Comal Heritage Food Incubator’s stance against the avocado industry. Executive chef Arden Lewis says Comal used to buy about 60 avocados a week for the amount of guacamole it serves, but no more. Now, Comal says it is unwilling to pay the exorbitant price for avocados, nor is it willing to profit off the unethical influence of Mexican drug cartels.

You read that right — drug cartels.

The US gets 80% of its avocados from the small Mexican state of Michoacán, which brings in nearly $3 billion annually from its exports — making it a tempting target for organized crime. Powerful criminal organizations, like the cartel, can easily threaten, kidnap, and extort farmers in order to manipulate production and jack up costs to a price that allows them to skim off the top.

This makes the industry dangerous for US employees, too. In 2019, a team of inspectors with the US Department of Agriculture was robbed at gunpoint. After that, the USDA said the next time an employee’s well-being was threatened, importation would be suspended. And the USDA made good on that promise last month when an US plant-safety inspector received a threatening phone call. The US banned Mexican avocado imports for a week until it received guarantees of secure conditions for its employees.

That’s why Comal is taking a stand. “What assurances do we have that those safety measures are being put into place?” Lewis told Denverite. “I think it’s not really fair to the workers in Mexico to say we need avocados so badly that we are going to ignore the danger they are in.” So Comal is joining a movement among restaurants worldwide to cut ties with avocados from Mexico.

But unfortunately, the solution isn’t that simple. “To protest the violence by not consuming avocados, I don’t know that that would work. I’m not saying don’t do it, but it seems a bit simplistic to me,” VICE News Mexico correspondent Emily Green said on the subject. If the US was to permanently ban avocado imports from Mexico, it would almost immediately decimate the economy of Michoacán.

Falko Ernst, an analyst with the nonprofit International Crisis Group expressed similar sentiments: “You have tens of thousands of hardworking, law-abiding families that depend on this industry. If you take away their livelihoods, you play into the hands of the criminal groups.”

I don’t know the right answer, but all this research really left me thinking about my consumer habits, and I’m reconsidering those $2.50 avocados at King Soopers. How do we take a stand on something that feels so much larger than Denver? Who’s really to say if boycotting avocados will make things better or worse for workers in Mexico? But maybe restaurants like Comal are doing enough just by starting the conversation. Because I bet if you’re anything like me, you’ll  think twice next time you see guacamole on the menu. 


“[The American Dream] is not just the dream of white people, it’s the dream of Black people — to have our own property, to be able to create our own wealth, to be able to create a space where we feel safe and comfortable, to be able to have something that [will] create a legacy for our own grandchildren.” — Retired Judge Gary Jackson

Lincoln Hills Has Brought Nature and Respite to Black Families for 100 Years
About an hour west of Denver is a place called Lincoln Hills, an outdoor recreation destination created especially for — and built by — the Black community. For decades, Lincoln Hills has created a safe, welcoming space for Black folks from across the country to come enjoy all that Colorado has to offer. This year, the outdoor destination celebrates 100 years of operation, which at one point in its history was the only Black-owned vacation destination of its kind west of the Mississippi.

Today on the show, host Bree Davies sits down with past City Cast Denver guest host, donnie l. betts, to discuss his new documentary about Lincoln Hills, which debuts at History Colorado in April. They are joined by donnie’s friend, retired Judge Gary Jackson, whose family was one of the original developers of Lincoln Hills and has had a cabin there since its inception.


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🌿 Yes, you can smoke your weed here: RiNo’s Tetra Lounge has just become Denver’s first public spot to allow pot-smoking indoors, thanks to Denver’s new marijuana hospitality regulations passed by city council last year. Until now, the Coffee Joint was Denver’s singular licensed pot lounge, but only vaping and edibles were allowed inside. With just a few more bureaucratic hurdles to jump, Tetra is hopeful for a grand opening party next month on 4/20. [Westword]

📍 This is your new council district map: A final map for Denver’s new council districts is moving forward for public comment after Map E fell to Map D at Monday’s city council meeting. Map D increases Denver’s number of minority-majority districts from two to four. It was passed in an 11-2 vote. The public hearing for Map D will take place at council’s March 29 meeting where they’ll formally adopt the ordinance. See the map here 👉 [CO Politics

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