LocalHarvest Newsletter, November 23, 2019|
The Bitter Fruit
Hello eaters- I am back and super excited to write for LocalHarvest once again! You can support the vital work of LocalHarvest by buying from your local farmers, advertising on the LH platform, and if you are a farmer, subscribing to our CSA software, CSAware.
Twenty years ago I read a book called The Bitter Fruit: The Story of an American Coup in Guatemala. Written in 1982 by two veteran journalists, the book detailed the unsavory CIA operation designed to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in the country of Guatemala, circa 1954. The United Fruit Company, whose highly profitable business had been affected by President Arbenz's end to exploitative labor practices and land reform for landless workers, engaged in an influential lobbying campaign to persuade the U.S. to overthrow the Guatemalan government. I read the book in Spanish (Fruta Amarga: La CIA en Guatemala) while I was conducting research in the ravaged Guatemalan highlands where decades of civil war had preceded my arrival. Bananas were the fruit that precipitated the 1954 coup in Guatemala, while avocados could be the fuel for another type of war in 21st century south-central Mexico.
I had heard snippets of news that rival gangs and paramilitary groups in Mexico were trying to control and profit off the explosive growth of the avocado business. But it wasn't until I watched the Netflix series Rotten, that the "avocado war" really came into focus for me. The avocado's rise from culinary fad to a must-have superfood has made it a multi-billion dollar crop - and a magnet for money-hungry cartels. In the year 2000, Americans ate around 2.2 lbs of avocados per capita, now it is over 7 lbs a person, and the worldwide demand keeps growing as the keto diet grows in popularity and people look to adding more healthy fats to their diets.
Before the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), most of the avocados consumed in the US were homegrown in California. Now, around 80% of the avocados we consume are imported, and mostly from the Mexican state of Michoacán, according to the US Department of Agriculture. As drug cartels and gangs began to see the profit potential of this lucrative fruit, they started to require that local farmers pay them "patronage" or "protection" fees, or in some cases the cartels bought up the farms, packhouses, and other companies in the avocado supply chain in order to extract as much profit and control as possible. Sort of a new spin on vertical integration. It is estimated by one non-profit media group that around 48 tons of avocados are stolen EVERY day of harvest in Michoacán. Kidnappings, heinous murders, and other nefarious activities now malign this industry, with many small farmers caught in the cross hairs. The more you learn about this, the worse it looks.
As if supporting drug cartels wasn't enough, avocados also use an incredibly large volume of water. The Rotten documentary goes into this at length for avocados grown in Chile, but also California too. Luckily, newer drip systems and remote sensing technologies can reduce water use considerably, with many innovative growers trying them out. But worldwide data on the major avocado growing regions shows that avocados are the 3rd or 4th most water hungry crop behind asparagus, alfalfa, and almonds. It takes around 74 gallons to produce one pound of avocados (which is around two medium-sized fruits).
Yet, as many of us know, avocados are incredibly nutrient-dense, taste amazing, and are featured in a wide range of dishes. From traditional guacamole to egg dishes to even deserts, this superfood is also super versatile. They are high in vitamins like B, C, E, and K, fiber, potassium, and monounsaturated fatty acids. What is a conscious consumer like you to do?
Step 1: Buy US grown- California, Florida, and Hawaii when in season (generally March-September). Here is a list to start with of LocalHarvest avocado growers.
Step 2: Look for certified FairTrade and organic stickers on imported avocados the rest of the year (generally October-April), such as through Equal Exchange.
Step 3: Look to other foods to supply you those vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats so you don't feel the need to eat avocados every day. Sunflowers seeds, cabbage, olives, lamb, pasture-raised pork lard or grassfed beef tallow. Pureed beans with garlic also provide a nice alternative spread for chips, so you can pass on inhaling the guacamole. I know, easier said than done:)
To your health, -Rebecca Thistlethwaite
Recipe: Baked Eggs in Avocado (paleo, keto-friendly)