Mis à jour : nov. 20
This week we look at the impacts of avocado's consumption, to answer Lucile's question on Instagram.
With more than 8 million photos published on Instagram, avocado is THE trendy fruit 🥑 of the last few years. Presenting as the best beauty, slimness and health ally, it has been propelled to the forefront in Europe and the United States, in the 2000s, to become the super food. The surge in consuming avocado was promoted by vegetarian and vegans, not without negative consequences on the environment.
How has the avocado, an almost unknown fruit to our grandparents, become so popular?
The health argument
The 2000s marked the end of the fat hunting in the US. Indeed, Americans changed their nutritional policy and sugar started to be blamed for being responsible for obesity, fat being no longer the sole culprit. This phenomenon is highlighted by the increase in butter consumption instead of margarine in the US. 👀
The avocado has been praised by many famous people as a trendy alternative for its nutritional qualities. These advantages are furthermore promoted by the avocado lobby, the "World Avocado Organization", (yes, you read correctly, it does exist). On their website, the health argument is largely mentioned. Eating avocado would help you to "take care of yourself". Like every lobby, its main goal is not so much to improve our health but the willingness to flood the market.
The promotion of the health argument and other benefits by celebrities leads to a real "green" food trend. From not being consumed much in the past, it became the most published fruit on Pinterest in 2015. Its consumption in Europe has more than tripled in 10 years, going from 202 million to 650 million of tons consumed between 2008 and 2018, according to the WAO ! In France (Europe's leading consumers), consumption increased by 30% in a year (from 2017 to 2018).
So yes, avocado has very good nutritional benefits, but just as many other fruits and vegetables.
We can wonder, what is commonly called a "super fruit"? 🥑 The apple from grandma's orchard or the nuts we can produce locally are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins or "good fats". These fruits are considered less sexy as they do not enjoy the same media interest and are perceived as less “exotic”.
Where's the problem?
The explosion of consumption in the United States and in Europe means that global production has considerably increased, hence having a bigger ecological impact.
A fruit which requires a lot of water
According to a survey carried out by the German newspaper Die Zeit, it takes on average in about 1,000 L of water to produce one kilo of avocados 🥑, as opposed to 180 L to grow one kilo of tomatoes 🍅 and 130 L for one kilo of salad 🥗 , i.e. 5.5 and 7.7 times more water ! However, water is often a scarce resource in most production’s countries.
Of course, avocado production requires less water than meat production 🥩, but still, the water footprint of 🥑 is significant. It also implies that only large, rich farms can produce this fruit in quantity, given the needed investments to irrigate the trees.
During our research, we found some discrepancies in the figures given on the required amount of water needed to grow avocado. However, all evaluations highlight that this crop requires significantly more water than other crops.
Source : CBC
In this context, deforestation consists of the destruction of original trees of a forest to be replaced by avocado trees. In order to expand its production, farmers tend to encroach on forestry lands. In some regions such as Michoacán - Mexico, and according to the National Institute of Investigation on Forests, Agriculture and Fishing, between 600 and 1,000 hectares of primary forests are destroyed every year for this reason.
Even if this practice is theoretically prohibited by law, and forest are supposed to be protected, there are more than 20,000 hectares of illegal avocado crops in this region, which is one of Mexico's biggest production areas.
Two techniques are most commonly used:
Either the avocado trees are being illegally planted next to primary forest and then the trees are cut down once the avocado trees have grown. This way, a monoculture gradually replaces protected primary forests which have a wide biodiversity.
Another common practice are the arson attacks. The idea behind this technique is to introduce avocado cultivation once the primary forests have been destroyed. Burning forests voluntarily to introduce a lucrative intensive crop is a practice that has been denounced in some countries like Brazil.
Although transport is not the heaviest part in the avocado carbon footprint, let’s highlight that those coming from South Africa, travel an average of 26 days on refrigerated ships (at around 6 degrees). Although it's possible to grow avocados in Spain, most avocados are grown on the other side of the world, but as we saw in the article on Organic and conventional agriculture (published on the 08.18.2020), the cultivation method weighs more in the carbon footprint of a fruit than the transport itself.
👉 Nowadays, avocados are not consumable when picked from the tree. The ripening process consists of storing the avocados for several days in large sheds in which ethylene is sprayed. This process contributed to make avocado consumption popular. Nowadays, avocados are almost ready to be eaten when they appear on the shelves. This means that we no longer have to wait a week before eating an avocado after buying it, which was the case in the past decades.
On average, avocado stays in the ripening room six days, between 6 to 25 degrees. Therefore, ripening represents a significant amount of avocado's footprint as a final product, almost equivalent to the level of the emission produced by its cultivation.
The avocado fruit is extremely fragile. Therefore, it has to be packed carefully for transport. The packaging is often plastic and represents the third part of the fruit’s carbon footprint.
Carbon footprint of avocado
Source : Le Parisien (French news paper)
Cultivation (25.7% of emissions) weighs as much as ripening (25.7%). Then comes packaging (17.9%) and the refrigerated storage systems in shops and at home (16.3%). Transport being the last element (8.8%) of avocado's carbon footprint .
What can we do?
Have you ever considered to stop buying it as an alternative? This is the decision made by some chefs, who took it out of their menus. However, this seems to be a Manichean choice because, on the other side, the avocado culture ensures a living wage for many people.
Buying from local production?
The closest avocado culture in Europe is in Spain. Some organic shops like the French shops BIOCOOP, (Bio-Supermärkte) only offer avocados from there, and therefore it’s not available all year long. However, the climate over there is not humid enough, which means again that a lot of water is consumed for the cultivation and this also has consequences on local population (e.g. agriculture).
As already mentioned in a previous article, local production does not necessarily mean less pollution on a macro level, because transport weights less in the carbon footprint than the production methods themselves.
Changing the way we look at food and valuing what we have
Being committed to sustainable food consumption implies making the most of the available fruits and vegetables though the seasons. An alternative could be to ask ourselves where and how are the things we buy produced, with a preference for seasonal, local and organic products while taking a step back from ongoing food fashion.
Thank you for reading this post, and for sharing it, as spreading this article is a way to influence your network to act in a more ecofriendly way.
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Written by Lucie
Review by Mathieu and traduced by Juliette and Sophie
From HEBDO ECOLO, The Ecological Progress Community !
BBC | CBC | Courrier international study from Die Zeit :"The avocado, a delicious ecological disaster" , Elisabeth Raether, 17/11/2016. Thanks to Hugo for sharing some information,| Goodplanet info | lsa-conso.fr, interview from WAO | L'infodurable.fr | Le Monde | Mmetrotime.be | Nouvelobs | Website World Avocado Organization | ONG : waterfootprint.org | Slate | The Guardian | www.agenceecofin.com