Our growing appetite for avocados is endangering their existence

Death and drought are two words you don't want to hear while eating a salad

Samuel Muston
Friday 08 May 2015 00:00 BST
The avocado has grown into a world-girdling culinary colossus
The avocado has grown into a world-girdling culinary colossus (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


If there were a Kim Kardashian of the berry world, I feel confident it would be the avocado (yes, it is indeed a berry). Consider the evidence. When the avocado set out on the road to megastardom, few people wanted to touch it with a barge pole. It was thought fit only to act as a receptacle for that most déclassé of things, the prawn cocktail.

Today, though, it has grown into a world-girdling culinary colossus, without which half the pictures on Instagram would be denuded of their ability to make us salivate.

There are tumblrs dedicated to avocados and, as a quick Google of the words "avocado tattoo" reveals, a roaring trade in more permanent reminders of their virtues, which isn't bad for something whose name comes from the Aztec word for testicle.

We can only speculate as to why they have risen without a trace so successfully. Is it that they are a "superfood"? Is it that they are an indulgence, full of fat, albeit of the best sort? Or the fact that they photograph so well on an iPhone? Whichever, there is no denying that they are the food of the moment. But, the question is, for how long? The avocado may soon be endangered.

The reasons are simple: water and drugs. On a trip to LA recently, I climbed Runyon Canyon and looked down over the city and to the hills around it. It was all dry. In fact, it looked like that planet Luke Skywalker grew up on in the first Star Wars film. Ninety-eight per cent of the state of California is officially classed as being in drought. And California produces a billion pounds of avocados through the March-to-September season. The problem is, it takes 318l of water to produce 1lb of avocados. Not only does that mean water is drawn away from more essential public uses – it also means that water costs more for the farmers.

Meanwhile, the amount of land used for avocado farming in Chile has increased eight-fold in 25 years and, as an article in Mother Jones magazine pointed out in October, the process is draining the groundwater and village wells.

In Mexico, the problem isn't so much water, but that most of the groves are within the state of Michoacan, which is largely controlled by the Caballeros Templarios cartel. Murder and extortion are so common in the industry that one security expert refers to them as "blood avocados".

Admittedly, anything produced in Michoacan is open to the suggestion that it helps support organised crime and there is no denying that dairy farms use more water than avocado farms. But still, it is not a rosy picture. Death and drought are two words you certainly don't want to hear while eating a salad. And even if you are unmoved by such ethical considerations, there is one thing you can't ignore: avocados are likely to continue getting more and more expensive.

The English language mostly seems unusually cruel in enclosing both the desire for something and its absence in the word "want". But, in this instance, the double meaning is apt: our driving desire for avocados might mean we soon won't have any.

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