Food trends and excesses

July 22, 2021   ·   0 Comments


Over the past year, I have read surprising alerts about a growing food crisis: Avocados. It is based in large part, it seems, on this fruit’s high popularity, over-consumption and having reached food fad status. The hype around this “green gold” is giving Mexican farmers and the environment a headache.

I do not know when exactly and why avocados started becoming a thing but they were and are touted as a superfood for their high nutritional content and healthy fats. They started becoming hugely popular as guacamole dip, ingredients in healthy smoothies, a tasty addition to green salads and then someone came up with “avocado toast” and from around 2013 it took off big time in the US and other countries. And as can be expected, too much of a good thing is not always good.

The avocado boom has resulted in a global annual consumption of approximately 11 billion pounds. The US are the biggest consumer (2,288 million pounds per year), followed by Europe (1,330 million pounds) and Canada (207 million pounds). While the three main producers are Mexico, Peru and Indonesia – with just a small part being grown in Spain and domestic production in California and Florida – the bulk comes from Mexico, specifically the region of Michoacán. Exports of the “green gold” from this region were worth $2.4 billion last year.

While exports are good for Mexico’s economy, and the industry is said to pay its workers up to 12 times the minimum wage, it is putting a huge strain on that country’s natural resources and causing environmental degradation. The large areas of land required to plant this quantity of avocado groves has led to illegal deforestation and logging. We all know what significant forest destruction does to wildlife, the local and global environment (e.g. loss of wildlife habitat, endangering wildlife species, risk of local flooding and mudslides, changes to global climate and weather patterns a.k.a. climate change). It is also very resource intensive. It takes around 9.5 billion litres of water per day to produce the amount of avocados being exported – around 270 liters of water to grow one pound of avocados – which is putting a strain on aquifers in Michoacán state and is having unexpected consequences, for example exacerbating local droughts and causing a significant increase of small earthquakes in the area (in a similar way that fracking of natural gas is doing this across North America).

In addition, avocados may risk becoming the next “conflict commodity”, akin to “blood diamonds” from African conflict regions. Why? Because with this global surge in the fruit’s popularity and skyrocketing exports, there is a great deal of money to be made and apparently, Mexican cartels are liking their odds and running a so-called “blood avocado” trade, where they violently enforce extortion fees from farmers and the use of forced and child labour is not unusual. 

I do enjoy avocados too, though I practice a measured consumption. The problem with any food fad and food trend is that it causes some measure of gluttony because it is driven by media hype and advertising campaigns, giving it a stardom status that puts it on a pedestal as a “must-have” food item, not just as an occasional treat or luxury but a “the more the better” product. The good thing is that fads end after a while when consumers become tired of it or a new food phenomenon takes its place. Some of the biggest food fads of the past decade are listed as, for example Kale, Quinoa, Avocado, Cupcakes and Gluten-free everything (note that I do not discount the need of gluten-free products for people who actually have a gluten-allergy). I see no harm to agriculture or the environment from excessive cupcake eating – only happier people and especially happy children. 

The bad thing of a fad is that while it lasts, it can do great deal of damage when its production or harvesting and supply chain lacks international monitoring and standards, as is allegedly the case with avocados. Instead of hyper-focusing on just one superfood, maybe we can all spread our food love (pun intended) across a broader range of tasty and healthy pro

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