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  • Mark Whitworth

Forbidden Fruit

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

These pages are devoted to arguing why you should eat fewer avocadoes or give them up entirely. Let's start with the fact that avocado flesh is slimy and is quite a disgusting pale green colour, like snot, when you have had a nasty nasal infection. I should be able to stop there, but I know some people need more convincing.

In 2013 around 189,000 hectares were used for growing avocado in Mexico, the world's biggest producer, with almost one-third of global output. In 2022, this figure had grown to 250,000 hectares, a 32% increase. Sadly, these numbers do not include the many illegal orchards; who knows how high the actual figure is? The State of Michoacan is the biggest producer, accounting for 99% of exports to the USA, which imports over one million tons of avocado from Mexico.

The avocado, like the kiwifruit, is actually a berry. Just to mess with your head, the avocado was initially called the āhuacatl, which meant testicle in the Aztec language and was changed so that Europeans could pronounce and swallow it more easily. The kiwifruit was called the Chinese gooseberry. It's funny how these cover-ups proliferate. Why eat something that lies about its name and its sub-species?

Drug cartels control (although do not own) most avocado production in Michoacan, charging the farmers a fee per hectare and another for harvest by weight. In the last few years, nine bodies were hung from an overpass in Uruapan and in the same city, five severed heads were rolled onto a dance floor in a club. Just recently, seven bodies were unearthed in Patzcuaro. All these deaths seem to be associated with the avocado trade, not drugs!

Like drugs, the problem is not about supply but demand. The demand for drugs that are illegal in the USA is what fuelled the Mexican cartels. Avocado demand in the US more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2022; it now stands at 4kgs per person per year. If the US authorities were to ban the avocado, billions of dollars could be made by all concerned; it's a wonder it has not been tried! (I think everyone knows my belief that the only cure to the world's drug problems is to legalise all drugs.) While the Mexican cartels have minimal impact on our day-to-day lives, they disrupt the country; it isn't a great idea to fund them further.

Avocados are bad for you. A standard avocado contains 322 calories, more than a McDonald's hamburger; a healthy portion is about one-third of an average-sized avocado. If you have IBS, they can cause bloating, diarrhoea or intense pain in the gut. It would help if you avoided the Mexican avocado particularly, as it can contain estragole and anethole, carcinogens that may damage the liver. People with acne, sinusitis, or other suppurating symptoms should also not consume avocado, particularly babies. (You should look up this stuff yourselves – I am not a doctor or nutritionist.)

Avocados require more water than most crops, twice as much as oranges, for example. The problem is that they are often grown in areas facing water scarcity. They are worsening Mexican droughts and heatwaves, which act as a vicious cycle, making it harder to grow avocados, which means more deforestation in other areas to farm the fruit. Fertilisers and pesticides are spoiling water supplies for crops that are staples for the population and tainting the drinking water supply. Water rights are currently on the agenda, and they are regularly squeezed by avocado farms that are growing bigger by the day. Some plantations are installing illegal pipes to divert village water supplies.

The environmental impacts are far more significant than deforestation and excessive water requirements. Avocados are most popular in areas where they aren't grown, which means there is an enormous cost in transport, refrigeration, and packaging.

The deforestation caused is immense. The orchards are moving higher and higher up the hillsides, where the natural forest has to give way to regimented rows. The effect on the water retention of the soils is enormous, and the likelihood of landslides increases constantly. Let us not mention increased greenhouse gas emissions because there's nothing like stating the obvious, is there?

It is this deforestation that is impacting us directly with our regular treks around the countryside. The aerial photo clearly shows the extent of the avocado orchards, most of them are relatively new. I am told that eighteen established tracks around Patzcuaro have been lost in the last ten years. Part of this is because the US Food and Drug Administration insists on strict rules governing the export of avocados to the USA. The fields must be fenced and gated, keeping walkers off the land.

I'm not quite sure how this positively impacts the avocado's state, but obviously, there is a need for lots and lots of rules! The cynic in me, and I assure you there is one, believes the regulations have come about to protect the Michoacan cartel's interests, which is how 99% of avocadoes imported into the States come from Michoacan. There is no way the extensive list of draconian rules applied to export orchards benefits the US consumer in the least. It is not as if pissing in an orchard has a detrimental effect on the thick-skinned fruit, but unlike builders, farms exporting avocado to the USA must install toilets in their orchards (US FDA rules!).

Quite clearly, closing down or severely restricting the avocado industry is not the answer; it would create more problems than it would solve. Despite the crime, violence, and environmental damage, a more sensible approach is required. The first requirement is to stop further damage. The best way to do that is to slowly bring down the demand in the USA. Overt anti-avocado marketing, such as I am now undertaking, is one strategy, as is hiking the prices with a hefty tax. NAFTA could have helped here because what is required is a US tax that funds Mexican environmental concerns, a very un-American activity!

I rest my pen. May the people speak. Long live the āhuacatl and the Chinese gooseberry! Good night!

There are many sources for this information on avocados. They include The Guardian, AP News, Adriana Villicaña, Tom Cumberlege, Mira Niazov, Hass Avocado Board, Shauna Lindzon, The Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Star Insider, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, NZ Geographic, and the Los Angeles Times.

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