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Climate Killer Avocado – Are Avocados Bad for the Environment?

Are avocados bad for the environment? In today’s article, we want to take a closer look at this sustainability issue together. In recent years, the hype around avocados has really exploded. And avocado toast has really mutated into the hipster food par excellence. Even to such an extent that you can find a restaurant in practically every city that lists this dish on its menu. I was no less surprised that even in Bagamoyo (Tanzania) avocado toast could be ordered in a small beach hotel. At least avocado is considered regional there. And if you eat a vegan diet and consume avocados, I’m sure you’ve heard statements like, “Well, avocados aren’t vegan!” or “Avocados certainly aren’t more sustainable than my steak, which comes from my neighbor’s grass-fed livestock!” more than once. But what about avocados and their impact on our environment?  

This article was created in collaboration with gebana. By the way, in the pictures, you can see how the ripening of the avocados has already started. And how different this can be from fruit to fruit depending on how you store them. Ours ripen in the apartment on the living room table and depending on the sunlight the ripening is different.

Are avocados harmful to the environment?

Avocados are not vegan!

Let’s devote ourselves to the beginning of this statement, which falls quite oftentimes. Especially in conversation with non-vegan people. Where does the statement that avocados are not vegan come from? The thought behind it is the following:

In the conventional production of avocados – and I really want to emphasize this here – colonies of bees are brought to the avocado plantations so that the trees can be pollinated. The bees are transported from plantation to plantation by truck. Many bees lose their lives in the process, whether due to the transport itself or the stress to which they are subjected during this procedure. Such beekeeping is also equated – especially by animal rights activists – with factory farming. In addition, such beekeepers are held responsible for the species extinction of bees.

At this point, I would like to point out that this procedure is not only applied to avocados, but also to other foods, such as almonds (you can find an article about this here) or honey itself. This is one of the reasons why many vegan people do not consume honey. On the other hand, not everything is black and white. Because there is also honey from organic production. The same applies to avocados. There, too, you can find sustainable producers with ecological production processes. However, this is most likely not the case for the majority of conventionally grown avocados you buy in supermarkets.

Conclusion: As a vegan or a sustainable person, you have to ask yourself how important bees are to you. And if you are passionate about bee welfare, then you should avoid consuming conventional avocados. Actually, not only avocados but also some other products, such as almonds, cucumbers, cherries, lettuce, and many other fruits. Or you can look intensively at different producers and find one that pays attention to organic production and does not practice migratory beekeeping.

Avocado cultivation harms the environment through massive water consumption

500 to 1500 liters of water are said to be used by an avocado tree to produce 1kg of fruit. These statements are based on a study that probably refers to the cultivation in Mexico. The fact that the cultivation of avocados requires a lot of water is correct in principle. However, generally speaking, other foods, such as asparagus, which even comes from our latitudes, do too. Of course, from an environmental point of view, it would certainly make sense to do without water-intensive foods.

But the question that should always be asked about water consumption is “where does the water come from? Is it groundwater? Does the cultivation take place in a dry region? Or do the avocados grow in a region with a good water supply? Just as a comparison, many of the organic products from Spain, for example, come from a fairly dry region. Groundwater resources are needed for their cultivation. Consequence: The soil dries out more and more. With this, I just wanted to show you that the water problem can also be an issue with products that come from closer areas and where one would possibly not expect.

For example, gebana’s avocados come from the coastal region of Peru. An area with abundant water supplies. In addition, the smallholders working for gebana cooperate with the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture to constantly optimize water consumption and water harvesting.

Conclusion: Also under this point, you have to ask yourself the question, what is important to me? If it is important to you to keep your water consumption as low as possible with your lifestyle, then you should avoid any foods that consume water intensively. This is not only the avocado but also animal products such as butter. Meat, cheese, and milk, as well as asparagus. Just to name a few. In addition, organic vegetables and fruits from Spain are then also a major taboo. Are you also concerned about this topic, but you look at it in a more differentiated way? Then think about where and under what conditions a product is grown. Does it have to be the organic tomato or organic cucumber from a relatively dry region in Spain? Or maybe you sporadically treat yourself to an organic avocado from sustainable fair cultivation by gebana from a coastal region in Peru?

Climate killer avocados

Environmental impact of avocado transport from the other side of the world

This statement is also true for the first time when viewed undifferentiated. Avocados do not grow in our latitudes. They come from Peru, Mexico, or Africa. Whereby Mexico is responsible for 1/3 of the world’s production. However, the majority of these avocados reach the USA and rather rarely us. But doesn’t this apply to tens of other foods as well, which are less condemned than avocados? What about mango, pineapple, cashew, almonds, or banana? All of these foods don’t grow around the corner from us either. So the same problem exists.

In addition, not all overseas transport is the same. Here, too – as in the case of water consumption – the following question needs to be asked. Namely, how is the overseas product transported? There are huge differences in the CO2 footprint of air and sea transport. Container ships have fallen into disrepute because they are clearly not ideal for our oceans. But in terms of their carbon footprint, container ships don’t have such a bad impact. Compared to the type of cultivation (organic vs. conventional, ecological & sustainable vs. unecological), the transport via ship has a very low share of CO2 emissions.

Avocados are climacteric fruits. This means that they can be harvested unripe at the place of cultivation and subsequently ripen. For this reason, there is no need for air transport. Shipping is, therefore, possible without any problems. In terms of its carbon footprint, the organic naval avocado is comparable to apricots, strawberries, or grapes from Europe. And above all, it is much better than animal products, regardless of where they come from.

Conclusion: If you like to consume avocados, then please pay attention to how the avocados were transported. Avoid avocados from airplanes and, if possible, conventional avocados from the supermarket. There you can hardly understand how they were transported and produced.

For the avocado cultivation forest is cleared illegally!

At first glance, this statement is also partially true, depending on where and under what conditions the avocados were produced. Who is to blame? We ourselves with our avocado hype. The constantly increasing demand and the enormously increased consumption of avocado in our latitudes have promoted exactly this development. Here, too, the capitalistic thought and the own profit go ahead with some producers. Very intensive monoculture is practiced at partly unfavorable places. One wants to hold the cultivation also still as cheaply as possible. That the avocado is also subject to a certain seasonality is completely ignored here, both by producers and consumers. In order to maximize the yields and the cultivation area, forests are cleared illegally.

Conclusion: If you want to continue to consume avocados with a clear conscience, then please look for a sustainable and fair label, which respects the seasonality of the fruit, as well as its natural occurrence without promoting monocultures or illegally clearing forests. It is also advisable to avoid conventional avocados from the supermarket because you often simply do not know under what conditions they are produced. Furthermore, you should be aware that avocado is not a fruit that you consume 365 days a year. Just like berries or asparagus, there is an avocado season from April-June (this information applies to avocados from Peru).

Are avocados sustainable?

Are avocados bad for the environment?

Last but not least, we resolve the question posed at the beginning. Are avocados bad for the environment? The answer: it depends 🙂 Throughout this post, we have found that not everything is black or white. That even some supposedly regional and seasonal products do not always have the best CO2 balance, such as asparagus. That fruits and vegetables from regions much closer to us – like Spain – are not always the best choice either.

But you would like to have a final answer now, wouldn’t you?

If you want to do without avocados for ecological reasons, there is absolutely nothing against it. You are certainly on the road to sustainability. A regional and seasonal diet is also definitely one of the most important milestones towards a sustainable diet – along with the step towards a vegan diet. Nevertheless, you have to be aware that regional does not mean more sustainable all the time. It is also important to actively ask about regional ingredients, how they were grown and produced. Organic and open field farming is always preferable. Greenhouse sometimes performs worse than shipped avocados. In addition, find out about the water consumption of other foods and question whether you want to continue to consume them despite regionality and seasonality.

Here are two examples:

Example 1: European March asparagus grows in the heated field, CO2 balance 5kg CO2 per kilo asparagus. Open-air asparagus grows – weather permitting – in the open field in April, CO2 balance is 1.5kg CO2 per kilo of asparagus. Organic avocados from Peru transported by ship 1.4kg CO2 per kilo avocados.

Example 2: April strawberries from Thurgau or Valais 4kg CO2 per kilo of fruit. Regional organic strawberries harvested at the end of May account for 0.8kg CO2 per kilogram. So already very good. Fresh organic mangos from Burkina Faso transported by ship have a balance of 0.7kg CO2 per kilo.

Whereby it must be said here of course clearly to compare avocados with asparagus or strawberries in terms of nutritional values does not really make sense. An avocado provides many more nutrients and healthy fats than asparagus or a strawberry. Therefore, one should always consider a meal and its nutritional value as a whole and not just the CO2 balance of individual foods from A to B.

Conclusion: Are avocados bad for the environment

If you want to continue consuming avocados, here’s my advice. Make sure you consume them moderately and sporadically. If possible during the months when the fruit is in season (April – June for avocados from Peru). I would avoid conventional avocados from larger supermarkets unless you have the possibility to find out exactly where and under what conditions the fruit was grown and harvested and how it is transported. I would rather support a sustainable company. From personal experience, I can highly recommend gebana avocados. And I write this not only because I have a cooperation with this company, but because I fully support their ideology. The avocados fulfill the criteria mentioned in the questions above. Transport via ship check, pure seasonal availability with 3 deliveries per year, check. Sustainable organic cultivation without monoculture and illegal forest clearing, check. Cultivation in an area that is well developed in terms of water, check. Fair payment of the farmer families involved, check. Transport directly from the farm, Check.

How do I consume avocados as a sustainability blogger

Admittedly, I did not consume avocados for almost 2 years completely for the reasons mentioned above. However, after I came across gebana and became more involved with the topic, I am again somewhat more open and also less dogmatic with regard to the consumption of exotic fruits, such as the avocado. However, I buy my exotic fruits (except bananas) practically only at gebana. Very rarely do I buy conventional exotic fruits from the supermarket. For me personally, I can reconcile it with my ideology. However, I also respect and understand everyone else who completely avoids exotic fruits.

Sources:

https://www.spiegel.de/panorama/avocado-ist-nicht-vegan-wir-erklaeren-warum-genau-a-dce37b87-e97a-4b4a-ac38-cce71f398906 https://utopia.de/bbc-sendung-avocados-nicht-vegan-108797/ https://www.gebana.com/de/blog/2020/03/20/gute-avocado-bose-avocado/ https://www.gebana.com/de/blog/2020/08/06/schiffe-fur-okobilanz-kaum-relevant/ https://www.gebana.com/de/blog/2019/11/15/weltweit-saisonal/ https://www.zeit.de/2016/43/avocado-superfood-anbau-oekologie-trend

If you found this post “Climate Killer Avocado – Are Avocados Bad for the Environment?” helpful, I’d love to hear your feedback here in the comments.

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