Ask any young, trendy, health-conscious person (read: hipster) what their favourite breakfast is, and nine times out of ten their answer will feature one key ingredient: avocado. From avocado on toast to creamy fruit smoothies, there’s nothing the youth of today love more than slathering the green slimy stuff all over their diet.
In fact, over the past decade, the number of avocados gobbled up in the US has more than quadrupled to over a million tonnes a year. That’s a hell of a lot of guacamole.
Typically, health-conscious avocado-loving millennials are also major environmentalists, watching Cowspiracy for the 20th time whilst chowing down on a delicious slice of avo on toast. And yes, I’m calling on my own experiences here. I am a self-confessed avocado addict, but after learning about the terrible effects its been having on the environment, I’m not so sure I can look at avocados in quite the same light.
That’s because it turns out that our massive appetite for avocado has been causing deforestation, water shortages, and even encouraging illegal activity from Mexican drug cartels. It turns out that cheeky midnight snack of avo on gluten-free bread isn’t quite as guilt-free as you’d hoped.
So what’s the problem with avocados? Well, in Mexico, farmers are thinning out and eradicating huge pine forests to illegally plant avocado trees in order to meet America’s ever-growing demand for guacamole and avocado on toast.
The Mexican government has been attempting to regulate and police the practice, but people have started to plant the avocado trees under the forest canopy, then trimming back the forest. From above, it looks as if nothing’s happened. As a result, it’s almost impossible to keep on top of all the sneaky illegally-grown avocados.
In fact, the avocado market is so lucrative that drug cartels have started getting involved in the business. It’s worth bearing in mind that when you buy a Mexican avocado, a large share of revenue is probably going to deadly cartels such as the Knights Templar.
Mario Tapia Vargas, a researcher at Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research, told the Associated Press: “Even where they [the farmers] aren’t visibly cutting down forest, there are avocados growing underneath [the pine boughs], and sooner or later they’ll cut down the pines completely.”
It’s not just Mexico. In California, the ongoing drought is having a catastrophic effect on the avocado crop, simply because the green fruit requires so much water in order to grow.
As Adam Sternbergh told New York magazine, avocados take a rather sizeable “72 gallons of water to grow… compared to, for instance, nine gallons to grow a pound of tomatoes.” In fact, avocados take so much water to grow, that they’re almost overtaking the almond as California’s thirstiest crop.
If even the facts you’ve just read aren’t enough to satiate your hunger for avocado, then please allow me to introduce you to a dish to send you further down the rabbit hole: avocado mac and cheese. You can thank/blame me later.