Happy National Avocado Day!
No matter what day of the year, it's never a bad time to celebrate National Avocado Day. To commemorate our favorite spiky fruit this year, we wanted to learn more about the avocado industry and become more informed consumers.
We watched an episode of Netflix’s docuseries, Rotten, called The Avocado War that clued us in on the crop's darker side. (Highly recommend watching it for yourself.)
Here’s what stood out to us:
- Avocados began as a luxury, seasonal good. It all started in California, which is now home to 95% of America’s avocado production thanks to its warm and humid microclimates. After the anti-fat movement in the U.S. in the 1980s, avocado advocates fought back and helped it gain back a strong reputation as a superfood in the 90s via mega-strategic marketing campaigns. However, they were still only available in limited supply; California's growing season is limited to the warmer months, and the U.S. government banned the import of avocados from their country of origin, Mexico, for decades to protect American farmers.
- The shift towards the avocado's essential status among Americans came with the introduction of NAFTA in 1993, which increased trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. American farmers were initially worried about getting buried by the massive supply of Mexican avocados, but instead the market doubled in just 10 years; it was no longer limited to Americans as a seasonal fruit and as we began to incorporate it into our diets more, it became an established part of the produce section rather than an rare indulgence.
- NAFTA unfortunately also presented a golden opportunity for Mexican organized crime groups. As drug cartels caught on to America's growing demand for avocados, they began siphoning money from the avocado industry by bribing underpaid officials for the names of the region's most successful avocados farmers. By 2009, the illegal organizations were squeezing $150 million each year from the avocado industry. They continue to control production to ensure the market isn't oversupplied and prices stay high, setting quotas for workers and burning warehouses and trucks to enforce them. Local police act as extensions of the cartels and often kill those who report the extortion, so the only solution that remains for farmers hoping to participate in the avocado industry is to pay the sizable fees.
- In the most successful scenario, civilian farmers in Tancítaro, Michoacán - popularly known as “the avocado capital of the world” - have taken up arms to protect their farms from the cartels. They now act as an extension of the local police department with support from the federal government. Sadly, the remaining 85% of Michoacán’s avocado farms are not protected nearly as well as Tancítaro’s are, and even they still deals with regular criminal infiltration.
- Chile faces its own unique power struggle over the nation’s scarce water resources. For some perspective: It takes around 18 gallons of water to produce a single avocado. The privatization of water in 1981 quickly came to be abused by large corporations who bought up the entire supply of water, as little to no regulatory systems were put in place to ensure equitable access for their citizens. They also began taking more water than they were given rights to, illegally diverting water to their large farms and leaving poorer populations with no access to drinking water. Avocado production and exportation has become so critical to Chile’s agricultural economy that it leaves villages with no access to drinking water, taking precedence over human lives.
- The California avocado industry is facing severe environmental threats. The water shortages that have a seriously negative impact on shrinking wells and farmable acreage. The rising demand for housing has also gobbled up valuable farm land.
What it means for all of us
Ultimately, while the avocado industry faces risks, we don't think canceling avocados is the answer. Here's what we're taking away from the docuseries as we celebrate National Avocado Day:
- It’s important to understand the conditions faced by people who produce our food. We are fortunate that we can run to the grocery store down the street and enjoy avocados with ease year-round. Understanding and bringing awareness to the systematic obstacles faced by many who work hard to bring us our food is the first step in enacting positive change. As a global family-owned business, we support policies that protect local economies and create equitable access to opportunities that generate wealth for all.
- The avocado trade is more beneficial than harmful. The criminal activity involved with avocados is not unique to the fruit, but rather part of a pattern of structural issues throughout history. No matter where the avocado you're eating on your toast today came from, there are risks involved on all sides. Sure, the U.S. avocado industry might be free from cartel involvement and human rights violations, but it still faces harsh environmental impacts. However, the industry provides thousands of workers with jobs and people all over the world with a nutritious snack. American consumers reap the benefits from year-round access to avocados; no way we'd be able to enjoy our beloved guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday without Mexico's help. The fruit has also created thousands of jobs and it provides economic opportunity for local farming communities, leading to better infrastructure and social development projects.
The more we can bring attention to the human rights issues faced by those bringing us the delicious ‘green gold,’ the more we can fully enjoy the fruit of their labor.
Keep the celebration going by adding some of our community's favorite pieces to your collection: