Padma Lakshmi Is Calling Out The 'Ridiculous' Food Tax In Puerto Rico On TikTok

Emmy-nominated producer and TV show host Padma Lakshmi is going viral on TikTok for calling out a food tax that specifically affects Puerto Rico. In video clip from the newest season of "Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi," she refers to the Jones Act, which was created as part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, leading critics to point out its outdated origins. Its initial intentions were to help bolster the U.S. maritime shipping industry, protect jobs, and generate American business revenue. However, in 2023, it's falling short in a few major ways.

 The Jones Act only allows ships that are U.S. owned and staffed to transport items between ports in the country. This may not be much of a problem for mainland states, but for Puerto Rico, it's much more expensive for citizens to get the same goods. Foreign vessels can't just drop off their items on the island — they have to stop somewhere in the U.S. (typically Florida) so that they're not carrying their exports between two American ports. Then, U.S. ships carry everything to Puerto Rico. 

For Puerto Ricans, this means a higher cost of food and an increased cost of living, which is already 13% higher than other areas of the U.S. Lakshmi points out in her video, "grocery prices in Puerto Rico are 25% higher than on the mainland." And considering the island has some of the steepest poverty rates in the U.S., the Jones Act makes life even more difficult for its citizens.

The Jones Act inflates the price of Puerto Rico's exports

In a recent episode of Lakshmi's Hulu show, she talks to Puerto Ricans to shed light on the impact they feel from the Jones Act. Not only does the law increase the price of groceries on the island, but it drives up the price of Puerto Rico's exports, which are treated like foreign goods under the Jones Act, despite Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory. Thus Puerto Rico's own goods end up being too expensive compared to foreign products. "So what's left?" Lakshmi asks in her TikTok video. "High prices and little investment in agriculture. It's absurd."

Commenters described the video, which has garnered over 1 million views, as educational and eye-opening. "Thank you for explaining this for everyone," one commenter stated. "Many times we are seen as a people who do not pay taxes. We pay more for goods than most states in the U.S." Because Puerto Rico doesn't have representation in Congress, it may be more difficult for its citizens to raise awareness about the effects of this law, let alone call for changes — but hopefully, with content like Lakshmi's, more people will begin to understand its negative impacts.