Consume with care: the social and environmental implications of the US avocado craze
by Olivia Olson
Whether blended into smoothies, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or mashed into guacamole, one feature remains constant: America’s love for avocados. With an extensive array of health benefits, an increase in Latino population, and a delicious buttery flavor–not to mention their social media trendiness–our avocado consumption has unsurprisingly skyrocketed in recent years. Nutrient dense and rich in monounsaturated fats, which promote lower cholesterol and risks of heart disease, avocados additionally serve as a good source of dietary fiber and are saturated with high levels of vitamins and minerals.
Over the past decade, US avocado consumption has doubled and continues to climb. The “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” ushered in a heightened dependence on foreign fruits by “lift[ing] all tariff and quantitative restrictions on agricultural goods.” While this action stimulated the agricultural economy and allowed avocados to appear year-round in grocery stores throughout the US, it moreover triggered several markedly negative socioeconomic and environmental effects on Mexican growers and the country at large.
Organized in opposition to grueling workdays, insufficient income, and job instability, Mexican workers conducted a strike in 2018 that temporarily decreased supply–from 40 million pounds to a mere 4.8–to the US. However, despite this publicized action and subsequent attention drawn to continued poor working conditions, the US continues to intensify its reliance on Mexican avocados. Indeed, more and more US avocado import production is transpiring in Mexico and other South and Central American countries. Accordingly, our avocado consumption is shifting out of the public eye–such that we only take peripheral notice when huge strikes affect pricing and quantity–and into areas with less preventative measures countering child labor, job insecurity, and lack of pay protection.
Furthermore, instances of droughts and deforestation have run rampant as a result of augmented avocado consumption. It takes 141 gallons of water to produce a mere pound of avocados–nearly six times the amount required to yield a pound of tomatoes. Such resource intensity puts extreme pressure on the arid Mexican climate; farmers are unable to grow other crops or raise livestock, remaining drinking water is frequently contaminated, and resource exhaustion has begun to spawn irreparable damage to local ecosystems. Because avocados thrive at the same altitude as pines and firs, growing companies are increasingly scaling back, chopping down, and thinning forests. Through their forestry depletion, exhaustive use of water, and variety of other unscrupulous practices, large agribusinesses have made sport of circumventing local authorities and taking advantage of locals and their natural resources.
While avocados’ health benefits are undeniable, in the face of these startling realities about their production, we must increasingly look at our food habits and motivations. Namely, our pursuit of trendiness. Through the prevalence of social media in our society, avocado-based dishes have become increasingly popular. In the hands of an Instagram influencer, an artistic shot of avocado toast epitomizes the carefully cultivated lifestyle image that many seek to emulate.
Although it is not a crime to appreciate avocados or share pictures with friends, their consumption in adherence to a trend dangerously perpetuates the aforementioned economic and environmental issues. Such a labor and resource-intensive fruit should be eaten with consideration of the methods by which it arrived on your plate. When we allow aesthetics and trendiness to drive food consumption, we lose sight of the real reasons we eat: nourishment and enjoyment. Instead choosing to appreciating a well-executed breakfast dish, we must resist the movement to excessively snap shots of avocado roses or allow likes and comments to supplant ethical considerations.