Illustration by Marcus Lee
By Nancy Chan
The U.S.’s latest culinary sweetheart is none other than the slick avocado, but the fruit comes with far more baggage than many food lovers realize.
Demand has increased the total number of Hass avocados ever bagged in the U.S. from almost nine million in January 2016 to over 11 million in July, according to the Hass Avocado Board’s statistical analysis.
American love for Hass, the most popular variety by far, is contributing to Mexican deforestation, extensive water usage wherever they’re grown and the growth of one known drug cartel. The solution isn’t as simple as shaming avocado toast.
Take California, where an open secret loomed since 2012: no one knows how long its drought will last. What has been measured courtesy of Mother Jones’ 2014 article “It Takes HOW Much Water to Grow an Avocado?!” is the amount of irrigated water required to grow one pound of avocados in the state: 74.1 gallons.
That’s a lot of water. West Coast consumers aren’t dependent on local avocados either, which are picked between May and August.
For all other months of the year, consumers buy from Latin America, particularly from Mexico and Chile. The latter utilizes 96.8 gallons of water for every pound of mature avocados.
Hass avocados are native crops to Michoacán, Mexico. Eighty percent of their exported avocados land in the States, and profits generated there create about $152 million annually, according to Latin Times.
That’s a lot of green. In fact, avocados are known by another name in Michoacán: oro verde, or green gold.
Sadly, much of the profit is seized by Knights Templar, a drug cartel whose members are known as Templarios. Templarios are responsible for trafficking crystal methamphetamine into North America, along with terrorizing avocado farmers.
According to Vocativ’s “Blood Avocados,” members extort not just money, but packing plants and plantations as well. Farmers that don’t comply have property burned, family members either kidnapped or killed, or they themselves are killed.
Farmers aren’t the only voiceless ones. Mexican pine and fir trees are being removed illegally to make room for avocado saplings, threatening monarch butterflies, numerous birds and aquatic life.
But demands won’t go away any time soon. Some farmers face demands from criminals; some farmers must provide for their families; and Subway once advertised their avocado add-on option with phrases such as “AvocadOHH” or “Bravacado!”
Avoiding “Mexico” produce stickers isn’t a fix. Templarios don’t control every Mexican avocado business; boycotts could hurt unaffected farmers or even affected farmers, not to mention buying avocados from other countries like Peru or Guatemala isn’t necessarily ethical.
This isn’t to say people should link the slickness of avocado flesh with blood, nor should people hop on a trending yellow-green bandwagon without consideration.
The massive appeal avocados enjoy doesn’t make them special snowflakes. Instagram avocado roses and praise from health authorities aren’t validation.
“Superfood” is a loaded marketing word anyhow when eating colorfully fulfills nutritional needs. If monounsaturated fats are appealing, macadamia nuts and lamb carry them; vitamin E is found in cooked spinach and kiwis. So on and so forth.
Because we purchase produce from faraway places, we have choices and consequently less control over distant working conditions. We should feel obligated to learn about difficult truths and reduce excess.
There are numbers and faces behind our food. Think about it before considering a guacamole challenge or feeling amazed by the Super Bowl’s intense affection for guacamole.