Growing up I remember avocados being something you rarely saw in the grocery store, and when you did, they were often extremely expensive. Now avocados are in stores year round and often times priced at less than a dollar a piece. (Kroger currently has a great sale on organic avocados!) Avocado production per capita in the U.S. jumped from 1.1 pounds annually in 1999 to 4.5 pounds in 2011. The health benefits, smooth texture and love of guacamole have increased our demand for avocados, which in turn increases the environmental destruction it takes to farm them.
This time of year most of the avocados come from California — about 90 percent of U.S. avocados are from a five county region near San Diego. It’s no surprise that California has been in a drought for months and water is a vital resource in the state. Most of the water usage in California is for agriculture and avocados are one of the big water sinks. It takes 72 gallons of irrigated water to grow a pound of avocados in California. Compare that to 42 gallons for a pound of peaches and 10 gallons for a pound of tomatoes. We are essentially growing a high water consumption food in a desert.
Chile uses more irrigated water than California to grow their avocados — using about 97 gallons to grow a pound of avocados. Chile’s growing season is in our winter, which helps to provide us with year-round avocado access — think Super Bowl guacamole. Eighty-five percent of the avocados eaten year round in the U.S. are from Chile and Mexico. And Mexico has its own issues surrounding their “green gold.”
Avocados have even been termed the new blood diamonds in response to the control, extortion, murders and corruption by the Mexican cartel. Cartels charge farmers per kilogram of avocados sold.
Yikes, I’m regretting the blood guacamole I ate the other day. But maybe at least it’s organic? Choosing organic avocados isn’t as important to your body as it is to the environment. Fruits and vegetables with peels tend to have lower amounts of pesticide and insecticide residue in the edible portions than fruits in which you eat the light skins. This, however, doesn’t translate to the environment. Pesticides and insecticides are still applied and transmitted to the soil, affecting water quality and wildlife ecology. Buy organic avocados. They aren’t much more expensive.
Beyond the water consumption and chemicals used to grow avocados, it’s important to consider the space needed to supply our fair fried avocados and avocado artisan sandwiches. In Chile in 1993, there were around 9,000 acres planted with avocados and today there are around 71,000 acres, according to an article in civileats.com. Many avocado farms are destroying native habitats to make room for more avocado trees.
The “it” food right now is avocados, but not far behind are things like acai berries and pomegranates. Acai berries are plentiful in the Amazon rainforest and most are harvested from the wild. The increase in demand for our acai bowls, smoothies and drinks will put pressure on this wild resource. Pomegranates are still a seasonally available fruit at an expensive price. Production of pomegranates has increased substantially in the last decade around the world, and as the demand for pomegranate juice, tea and other products increases this forces an increase in pressure on the environment.
A quick Google search finds thousands of articles on these “superfoods,” packed with nutritional goodness being fantastic for our bodies. Make use of the availability of these superfoods and add them to your diet, but keep it in moderation. And avoid the waste, which is incredibly hard for avocados. It’s a sought after skill to buy the properly ripe avocado that will reach peak ripeness at the time you need it for your meal. Any minute too late, and boom — the avocado is brown. Not to mention how many of the avocados at the store go bad. Enjoy your green gold, but treat it like gold, even if its current price is less than a dollar.