Avocados: The Hidden Impact of our No.1 Super Food

In recent years, avocados have become synonymous with millennial culture and are seen as a green and fun option for meals. All over Instagram, we see images of this delicious food served in all manners, and in shops we see a variety of avocado designed memorabilia. However, the influence of the aesthetic avocado is far more deep and complex than people may first realise.

A Brief History of the Avocado

The origin of the fruit stems from Central and South America; it is a staple food of this expansive region. For over 3,000 years, local people have relied on these oddly shaped, richly deep in colour fruits of the forest for nutrition. They have high levels of oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat), making them beneficial for individuals whose diets are not high in animal fats. Indigenous tribes across the Americas learnt to cultivate the trees successfully and the fruit increasingly took on an important cultural role within their communities.

These days, avocados can be grown all over the world. However, the trees which spawn the fruit from their branches require a certain degree of humidity, with cold temperatures creating a hazardous environment for growth. Despite the fact that they can be grown across the world, the primary global producers remain in Central and South America, in part due to the topographical specificity of growing the fruit. But what sort of impact are the hipster cafe’s food of choice having on the environment?

Environmental Impacts of Avocados

Carbon Footprint

Mexico is the largest producer with demand quickly increasing for the fruit. More and more plantations are being built and the global avocado industry is estimated to be worth $5.6 billion annually. This increasingly international trade comes with a significant carbon footprint. Carbon Footprint Ltd estimates, two small avocados in a packet has a CO2 footprint of 846.36 grams (almost twice the amount of a kilo of bananas).

Due to their production mainly in Central and South America, the fruit travels long distances in order to reach consumers in the Global North. A Mexican avocado would have to travel 5555 miles to reach the UK. Given the distances, fruit is picked before it’s ripe and shipped in temperature-controlled storage, which is energy intensive.

Excessive Water Consumption

Avocados require an exponential amount of water to grow in comparison to bananas for example that uses 822 litres. Other fruits to compare include: pears 547 and a kilo of oranges, only 110 liters. The excessive amount of water that is required for successfully farming this super food has caused a water shortage for many local towns in Mexico that surround the avocado plantations. Some plantations have even installed illegal pipes to divert water away from towns and into the plantations.

To counter this, “avocado police” check in on plantations but are often bribed or turn a blind eye to such things. The avocado police was formed by a Mexican plantation after the owner and his son were kidnapped and held ransom over the money and land he had gathered from his 35 year career in avocado farming. So as well as environmental impacts the industry has also put the lives of the innocent on the line.

Non-Biodegradable Packaging

The packaging used for avocados is almost always non-biodegradable plastic, often in excessive amounts considering the amount of product it is actually containing, which is often the same case for a lot of other food products too (such as the apples shown here). 

Non-biodegradable materials cannot be broken up by natural organisms and serve as a form of pollution (plastic pollution in our oceans is currently a colossal environmental issue).

With just a change of packaging to a recyclable material, such as hessian bags which are recyclable and biodegradable, the waste created by the avocado industry could be massively slashed.

What can we do?

The environmental impact the avocado industry is creating 

When buying avocados or any fruit look out for the fair trade stickers, these food certifications ensure the produce consumers are buying are more ethical and the least damaging to the planet. For a company to be allowed to use a fair trade sticker they have to go through observations and testing so we know for a fact the product is made in a sustainable way from start to finish. Also, substituting avocados for fruit grown in the UK is a great way to decrease the carbon footprint of the food we eat.     

In summary, as much as avocados are a fun tasty treat, we need to take into consideration the environmental impacts they are having on our planet. Cutting down the amount of these we eat will have a positive impact on the environment and the quality of life of those in South America whose water is being used to meet the demands of consumers world wide. If we start to take into account the impacts of our whole diet, not just avocados, we can help fight against climate change by eating more sustainable foods. 

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