The avocado has become synonymous with millennial culture in the past few years. The green fruit has gained tremendous popularity, from smoothies to avocado toast and everything in between and is a key ingredient in many kitchens worldwide.
Whether it’s a featured menu item at a hipster cafe or the staple of delicious guacamole, it’s fascinating to see avocados become so widely used. You can find them in just about every supermarket. Statista reports that avocado production has increased for years and amounted to 8.06 million metric tons in 2020 alone.
However, how do these growing production levels impact the environment? The average consumer may not be concerned about how their avocados arrive in their grocery store, but you may be surprised to learn about how sustainable they really are. While typically seen as a “clean” and “organic” product, avocados have a bit of a dark side.
Avocados are an essential food in some people’s diet. With the rise of veganism, it’s no surprise that more people rely on them for good reasons. They’re high in fiber, low in sugar, and full of monounsaturated fats and vitamins.
Regardless of the fruit’s nutritional value, what goes into planting, growing, harvesting and transporting them?
First, avocados have a total food mileage of 98,231,855 miles — in other words, the average distance an avocado travels in its life span is 4,688 miles. Food mileage plays a significant role in a produce’s carbon footprint.
Avocados have a pretty high carbon footprint mainly because they’re produced in tropical climates and must be transported to meet increased worldwide demand.
The cultivation process for avocados is demanding. They need to be stored at a set temperature, which requires a lot of energy, and they also need significant amounts of water to be produced. It was estimated that 9.5 billion liters of water were used to harvest the so-called “green gold” fruits in 2020. In a state like California, the avocado’s thirst cannot always be quenched due to frequent droughts, leading to poor yields.
Based on its significant carbon footprint paired with increasing demand, avocados are truly having a devastating impact on the environment. It’s becoming increasingly unaffordable for people who live in areas where avocados are grown — which seems a bit backward.
Increased demand for avocados results in more deforestation efforts, especially in Mexico. This contributes to climate change and global warming, negatively impacting the environment. Unfortunately, the Mexican avocado industry is facing challenges with gang violence and threats from drug cartels because of how lucrative the fruit is.
Are there any positives to an increased worldwide appetite for avocados? It’s not all bad — consider the number of jobs the fruit has created for many countries, especially underdeveloped ones. Compared to other food products, avocados are still a good choice because they’re plant-based.
It’s necessary to apply certain pesticides when foods are grown and processed. For example, rodents and pests can cause severe damage to products and other raw materials. The nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a 2021 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce report after analyzing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Their findings show that fewer than 2% of avocado samples showed any detectable levels of pesticides.
There are positive aspects of avocados — they’re high in nutritional value, taste delicious, can be used in various cuisines, drive job creation and even fuel economic growth. However, the negative impact on the environment cannot be ignored.
It’s plain and simple: Avocados are not good for the environment. However, there are some ways to combat the crisis. Farmers can adopt new technologies, like renewable energy sources, to fuel their operations. Consumers can ensure they store avocados properly to reduce waste.
Restaurants worldwide can ban using avocados or opt for more sustainable alternatives. Some groups are pushing the Mexican government to tighten deforestation laws. Each step of the avocado’s journey can be improved to make them greener. It’s critical to consider the fruit’s environmental impact if we want it to remain a regular part of our diet.
See more posts from Jane Marsh at environment.co
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