Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Should we be eating avocados? Nutritionists and the Mexican drug cartels will probably tell us that yes we should! But there are a few reasons that may make us think again as we reach for the 3rd avocado this week!
My mum first saw avocados for sale in the early 1980's in Bury St Edmunds market. She described them as a luxury food that we only had on a special occasion. My first real memory of them was when I was travelling around Peru 20 years ago. I used to buy one, they were massive and always wonderfully ripe, use my trusted swiss army knife (that I still have!), to remove the stone, mash up the flesh and scoop it out with corn chips for my lunch.
These days, avocados are for sale in pretty much every supermarket. They are on the menu in most cafe's and used in recipes from the classic guacamole, to adding creamy textures to chocolate brownies.
Why are avocados good for us?
Avocados may be reasonably high in calories but they pack in a whole load of nutrients too. The fats in the fruit are 'good fats', monounsaturated fats, the type that help lower LDL cholesterol. They contain more potassium, which helps nerve function and to lower blood pressure, than a banana. They are also rich in vitamins B, K, E and fibre.
Why should we think about eating fewer avocados?
Avocados grow in tropical climates with the biggest producer currently being Mexico. Other producers come from Central and South America, Florida, California, Hawaii and the biggest producer in Europe is Spain. So the likelihood is that our avocados are coming from quite a distance. A Mexican avocado has to travel about 5555 miles to reach the UK.
You could argue that they are a small fruit that travel on a ship so the carbon footprint should be relatively small. But avocados ripen after they have been picked so need to be refrigerated for transportation, using a lot more energy. It's been estimated that the carbon footprint of two avocados in a packet have twice the carbon footprint of a kilo of bananas (Carbon Footprint Ltd).
The popularity of avocados has created plantation style farms where only avocados are grown. Similar to sugar, coffee and palm oil plantations. Initially this makes farming more efficient but over time it can lead to a negative effect on the environment. Crop rotation helps to keep soil fertile as different crops require different nutrients. When only avocados are grown, they draw out the nutrients they need and when the soil becomes infertile more agrochemicals are needed to keep the plantation viable.
Rotation also helps manage pests and disease. Monoculture farming allows pests to build up to a level that can damage an entire crop. Pesticides are used to help control this.
The fertilizers and pesticides used contaminate the soil affecting other plants and wildlife and have potential to end up in the local waterways. You can read more about this in the blog about organic farming.
This is something that we have all seen recently with palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia with the plight of the orangutans. There are accusations of this being linked to avocado plantations as well. Deforestation affects local biodiversity, can cause soil fertility issues and contribute to flooding.
Each avocado requires 320 litres of water to grow. They are often grown in drought prone areas and because of the profitable nature of the fruit, water is diverted to these farms at the expense of other crops, local communities and local flora and fauna.
The global demand for avocados has pushed the price of these fruits up, creating a price that is often unaffordable to the local communities where they are grown and have been part of their diets and culture for years. Our desire for avocados may well mean that locals can no longer afford them...
The Mexican cartels... I mentioned at the start that they would be keen for us to keep eating avocados! 80% of Mexican avocados are grown in a region where there is a strong cartel presence. Gangs have been known to demand protection money from farmers and create problems for the inspectors who visit the farms. Just last week The US banned the import of the fruit from Mexico because of a verbal threat to an inspector. This ban has now been lifted, but it is a real and current problem. So by buying Mexican avocados you are possibly funding Mexican cartels...
So what can we do?
Stop eating avocado completely and find an alternative. Little Green Refills a cafe and refill shop in Abergavenny have recently removed avocado from their menu and found a green pea hummus recipe for their Little Green Toastie instead.
If you are eating avocado for the nutrients, then there are some great alternatives out there. For the monounsaturated fats try using extra virgin olive oil. Vitamin K is present in broccoli and cabbage. Vitamin E in sunflower seeds and almonds. The folate in avocado can be found in lentils and kidney beans.
Go back to it being a special occasion food and savour it when we treat ourselves, like my mum did in the 1980's!
Buy avocados grown as geographically close to you as possible, so for us in the UK, from places like Spain, Italy, Israel or North Africa.
Look for the Fair Trade label.
Shop for different varieties. If all we buy is the popular Hass avocado then we are contributing to the problem of monoculture farming. Although you may find other varieties hard to come by.
Your efforts don't need to stop there though! This is where how you use your avocado really counts. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have bought a 'ready to eat' avocado that was actually as hard as a rock or bought 2 avocados that were so squishy they needed eating straight away. So here is what I've learnt to make sure none go to waste.
If you have a pack of avocados and you want them to be ready at different times, store them in different ways. Really hard avocados will ripen faster if placed in a paper or fabric bag (not plastic) with a banana. Conversely, you can slow down the ripening process by placing them in the fridge.
Stretch your avocado. Use half the amount and add other ingredients to bulk out the recipe. Add sour cream or yoghurt to guacamole or mix in peas or blended broccoli.
When storing half an avocado, keep the stone in as that slows down the ripening, keep it fresh in a beeswax wrap and place it in the fridge. Depending on how ripe it was it will stay ok to use for a day or two.
Have plenty of avocado recipes up your sleeve so if you end up with too many ripe fruits, you have great ideas at the ready.
For my avocado recipe ideas, you can read my '4 ways to use avocados more sustainably' blog here.
Our beautiful organic cotton produce bags and beeswax wraps, all made by hand in Wales can be found here.