Views Editor Holly Jennings reveals the dark side of everyone’s favourite breakfast delight.
How do you like your eggs in the morning is a question of time’s past; the avocado is slowly usurping the egg’s throne, battling to become the champion breakfast choice. On toast, solo, in a smoothie, a salad, mashed as guacamole; the options are limitless. The avocado is no longer just a tasty breakfast snack for hipsters, as the green giant dominates the kitsch merch market; from stickers to t-shirts, you can advertise your love of avocados to everyone and anyone in any way you see fit. With a list of health benefits as long as my arm, it’s easy to see why there is an overwhelming amount of love and appreciation for them. But, rarely do we think of the journey that little avocado takes to sit on our brunch plates.
So much comes to mind when we think of the avocado; creamy, healthy, nutritious, undoubtedly-the-best-fruit-there-ever-has-been-and-ever-will-be, and so on. However, a word that isn’t traditionally associated with these little green sacks packed with vitamin E, is blood. Or deforestation. Or murder.
Unfortunately, if you live in Mexico these last three terms might be a little closer to reality for you. In Morelia, Mexico, avocado farms occupy space over rolling hills of green. These avocados feed the mouths of millions of hungry Americans every year… at the expense of Mexico’s citizens. Caballeros Templarios, the Knights Templar (also known as one of Mexico’s biggest cartels), has infiltrated the avocado business and now controls the local trade. The Templarios do not only use the industry for money laundering, but now actively control the plantations and packing plants. Through insiders in Michoacán State Committee of Vegetable Health, the gang has managed to find out the information of every avocado farmer in the area. They have imposed “taxes” on plantation owners depending on how big their land is and how much they produce, and when owners have resisted, they have persuaded them by way of violent attacks in order to change their mind. With almost 100,000 people working for the Templarios (almost 3.5 times the number of students at the University of Glasgow), the cartel is bigger than any local government or ruling power. There is no other choice for these farmers but to succumb to their demands; otherwise, they risk losing their family, everything that they own, and their life. So, when you dip your next chip into guacamole, a percentage of that could be funding the activities of a Mexican cartel known for drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, rape, and murder.
Yet, on the other side of the world, the avocado brings peace. At the bottom of Kilimanjaro resides a village where the avocado used to be considered pig and dog food, and is now considered gold. Africado came to life in 2007 after James Parsons, a British farmer, saw the opportunity to turn an abandoned coffee plantation into an avocado utopia. Since their beginnings in 2007, Africado has developed from start-up status to now being the largest fruit exporter in Tanzania. The company has 140 full-time staff, 200 seasonal staff, and works with 2,000 outgrowers (African farmers who provide Africado avocados for export). The plantation houses 137 hectares of orchard, producing roughly 2,600 avocados a year. In regards to sustainability, the avocado farm only uses 65 litres of water to produce one kilo of avocados, much less than the global average of 283 litres according to the Water Footprint network. Africado has done much more than just feed hungry hipsters; it has allowed local African farmers to bring back salaries to their families, as well as boosting the local economy, allowing for more money to be spent on education and health in the area.
However, these avocados might not be as green as they look. Once again, the avocado takes Mexico as it’s victim, as hundreds of trees are being burnt to make way for new young avocado trees – no prizes for guessing who is heading up the deforestation project. Another environmental worry for avocados is the amount of water needed to produce them. Although Africado uses substantially less than the average, the same cannot be said for many avocado plantations who use thousands of litres per day to keep the thirsty trees watered. Some cafes have even begun to exile the avocado due to its environmental impact. The Wild Strawberry Cafe in Buckinghamshire cut the brunch staple out of their menu in December last year in order to improve sustainability, seasonality and reducing the number of miles food must travel.
Once a delicious addition to any meal, the avocado has now become sour. Rather than extinguishing the avocado from existence altogether (I certainly know I don’t have that willpower), perhaps there needs to be more questioning of where our avocados are coming from. The positive change it brings to the Tanzanian community is invaluable, but the bloodshed it brings to Mexico isn’t worth the brunch. Be picky with your breakfast choice and ask where it came from next time you tuck into your avo toast – it could cost a life.