Avocado on toast. The fashionable and tasty breakfast that has soared in popularity in recent years. But have you ever considered the impact your favourite fruit is having on the world?
Consumption of avocados in the US has increased by a huge 443 percent in the last 20 years due to a number of reasons: firstly, they taste good. Secondly, they have beneficial nutritional qualities. And, most importantly, they are fashionable.
The Origin of Avocados
But where do the avocados come from?
Michoacán, southwest Mexico. Mexico is the worlds largest producer of avocados, with a predicted production of 1.8 million tonnes in 2017/18. The majority of this fruit ends up in the US, as exports have increased substantially in previous years and Michoacán is the only state in the whole country that is included in the United States Department of Agriculture certified export programme.
So the increase in popularity of avocados is good news for the avocado farmers in Michoacán, right?
Wrong. The increase in demand for the fruit, known locally as ‘oro verde’ or ‘green gold’, has inevitably increased the value of the fruit and has attracted gangs looking to make money off innocent farmers.
The most dangerous gang making money from the growing avocado trade is the Knights Templar. What was originally a drug trafficking cartel now holds control of communities by extorting, kidnapping and raping the citizens, with 2 billion pesos (£77 million) given to the cartel every year in the form of extortion payments. Farmers have no choice but to pay, risk their crops being burnt to the ground or worse; murder (hence the name ‘blood avocados’).
How does this unusual link between avocados and Mexican drug cartels impact us? While avocados remain on our plates, the Knights Templar remains in Michoacán. We could easily turn a blind eye to the situation but it forces us to consider the impact we are having on others through our fashionable diets. Is it ethical for us to enjoy such luxuries at the cost of others?
Avocado Waste – another well kept secret of the industry
Food waste is a global crisis and the demand for this fashionable (and somewhat unnecessary) fruit plays its part.
In the UK alone 54,000 tonnes of stoned fruit (which includes avocados) is wasted every year. This figure includes 32,000 tonnes of avoidable waste; like the fruit that is not used in time (a common problem due to the limited window between ripe and spoiled), the fruits that are deemed not pretty enough to be sold, or the fruits that are damaged in the supermarket.
Therefore, this figure also includes 23,000 tonnes of unavoidable waste; the skin and the stone of the avocado. Both are inedible but still contribute to the waste figure, so a sustainable method of disposal needs to be found.
There are numerous initiatives in place focusing on the reduction of both avoidable and unavoidable avocado waste:
Some companies have taken steps to prolong shelf life so consumers have a longer period before the fruit spoils. For example, Tesco have improved packaging to provide ‘ripe and ready’ avocados that last longer.
Others are looking at ways to recycle the inedible avocado stones and skins. Jump back to Michoacán and we find that the company BIOFASE is using tonnes of discarded stones a day to produce bioplastics, making a dent in the waste produced by avocado processors.
There is also a wealth of education available specifically aimed to reduce avocado waste; such as videos to show how to test when an avocado is ready to eat.
But here’s some food for thought: perhaps this waste could be avoided if our demand for the fruit was not so high in the first place?
The Future of Avocados
As the demand for avocados remains high, the industry continues to grow; the Knights Templar continues to extort farmers and tonnes of fruit is continuously wasted every year.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom.
The popularity of avocados, which are associated with a better quality of diet, shows that people are conscious of healthy eating – important in a world full of cheap, easy and processed alternatives.
Some even claim that avocados are the answer to food insecurity in Africa. The definition of food security includes the availability of food, access to food, and food utilisation. Therefore, on this basis, many people across Africa are considered insecure.
Avocados can be grown successfully in Africa as the continent produces 11 percent of global supply. Combined with their remarkably high nutritional density, this makes avocados an attractive answer for those suffering food insecurity in Africa.
However, as the majority of avocados produced are exported to the global North the citizens of the countries in which they are grown do not gain from the beneficial qualities of the fruit.
So should we leave the avocados where they belong? This would arguably lighten the problem of food insecurity in Africa, and could also take steps to solve the other problems discussed in this article. The value of avocados would decrease so the Knights Templar would have no reason to extort Mexican farmers; and the contribution of the avocado industry to global food waste would decrease.
It is important for us to be aware of the impact our diet is having on the world. Most people enjoy their avocado on toast unaware of the link to Mexican drug cartels or that it contributes to thousands of tonnes of waste every year.
When we learn more about our food sources we can decide if there are less damaging and more ethical alternatives available.
Why not try your toast with jam instead?