No, avocado toast every day is not a good thing

Clean eating and JERFing is all very well…until it becomes dementedly unsustainable.

Image via The Kitchen Cleanse
Image via The Kitchen Cleanse

We’ve seen it happen with chia seeds and quinoa, where the fashionable demand for these new foods have seen crops dwindling for the communities that rely on them as a traditional, staple food, with prices hiking by sometimes 4-5 times. Ethical consumers should be aware that poor Bolivians can no longer afford their staple grain (quinoa), due to western demand raising prices.

I recently wrote a post – Sorry, but you shouldn’t be drinking almond milk – to highlight the sustainability issues behind the scenes of our fashionable alt-milk obsession.

I hate to be the mirror-holder-upper to our bourgeois culinary habits, but today I need to flag the Problem With Avocados.

Around the world we’re eating a lot of avocados. Cafes serve a whopping half a fruit on breakfast plates. Raw foodies add a whole one to their smoothies. Avos are now everyday food, treated as base for a meal, not as a decadent accompaniment. Today, avocados are the most posted food on Instagram.

In Australia, plantings are set to double in the next decade to 110,000 hectares to cater for the demand and the industry’s aim is to get Australians eating five kilos per person per year.

Some might see this as a wonderful thing. But we must look at the implications of our eagerness to Avo Everything.

Well, first, they’re sucking up a lot of water. By one estimate it takes 272 litres just to grow half a kilogram (two or three medium-sized) avocados. This is a problem broadly. Especially here in Australia.

Graph from this Mother Jones article

But there are additional complications when you consider that many are grown in second-world countries where producers have used so much of the region’s waters that small farmers and nearby towns are left with no water.

Second, it’s been recently highlighted the worldwide appetite for Avo Everything is fuelling illegal deforestation in some of the countries supplying the fruit to the rest of the world.

Plus, the pesticides and fertilisers required to maintain the plantations are causing all kinds of dramas, including, tangentially, decaying workers’ fingernails. I’m reading about a host of other humanitarian issues as the demand increases. Mexican trade is increasingly controlled by a drug cartel for instance.

Sure the things are good for us, but I’m not sure they need to be consumed as a compulsory health panacea. Many studies, some funded by avocado production boards, cite a bunch of unique benefits. But as the Guardian recently pointed out, “if you’re buying it for vitamin E, sunflower seeds are a richer source. If you’re hunting down vitamin K, you’ll find heaps in broccoli and cabbage. For monounsaturated oil, turn your attention to extra virgin olive oil, olives or lamb. To pack in the folate, go for lentils and cauliflower.”

So where does this leave us? Me?
The message, really, is to be respectful.

  • I always buy local, in season and if I’m overseas where it’s an issue, I buy Fairtrade (in Australia most of our avos are grown locally).
  • Consume as a delicacy, spread thinly over toast, not piled on high. As a kid, avocados were a treat; we need to go back to this thinking.

Today, I eat one-quarter of an avocado in any one sitting. This feels right.

If I’m served more than this at a café, I’ll take the extra home for later.

  • Since learning of this situation, our I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program team are now reviewing the amount of avocado we use in recipes going forward. We constantly shift our thinking on both eco and nutritional matters as science and, well, life, presents new data.

The nice news for us in Australia is that producers here are using the “ugly” avocados to make packaged products. Some  process the ugly avocados the market won’t take, using technology developed to create better-tasting food for astronauts. They scoop out the avo meat, package it and pressurise it (to kill the bacteria) and it goes into dips etc.

And one of the biggest growers of avocados in Australia is going sustainable to fight the diseases that affect their trees. Instead of using more fungicides, they’re using an organic mix taken from sugarcane (nicely) and other organic waste. This improves the health of the trees with as little damage as possible to the wildlife around. With stronger trees the farm will use less water and reduce the use of chemical sprayers and other machinery.

Yeah, nice.

Anyway, you’ve probably picked up on my concern about eco-hypocricy lately. I think we need to keep alive to the way these food issues shift. And be responsible. Spiral avocado roses: fine. So long as you share the creation with three mates (after you’ve Instagrammed it, of course). You reckon?

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