Are Avocados the 'Blood Diamonds of Mexico'?
Avocados: they may hurt our wallet, but otherwise our consumption of them is entirely ethical, right? Well it turns out that isn’t really the case. And now, a Michelin-starred chef thinks it’s about time we took a step back from the popular superfood.
JP McMahon, owner of two Michile star Irish restaurants, thinks it’s time for restaurateurs in Ireland and around the globe to take stock of the impact the avocado has on the places its cultivated. He’s not mincing words, either, describing avocados as “the blood diamonds of Mexico” in an interview with the Irish Independent.
"I don't use them because of the impact they have on the countries that they are coming from—deforestation in Chile, violence in Mexico. For me, they are akin to battery chickens,” McMahon said. “Change won't happen unless consumers avoid them. We don't use any in our restaurants. There are plenty of alternatives.”
McMahon makes a pretty compelling point when it comes to the sustainability (or lack thereof) of our avocado habit. It’s long been known that avocados have an outsized environmental impact, given both the water required to grow them and the carbon footprint involved in shipping them.
That’s not to mention the unintended consequences for individuals and communities in growing regions on both sides of the Pacific. In Mexico, the cartels have extorted avocado producers since the 1990s, and battles over access to the US market have led to shady export schemes that depressed wages for Michoacan producers. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s growers are fending off robbers looking to sell avocados on the black market, and the insatiable demand for avocado in Britain—right in McMahon’s backyard—is leaving scores of Chileans without access to potable water.
McMahon’s restaurants seem to be part of an emerging trend of eateries who simply feel that it isn’t responsible to churn out avocado dishes given the fatty fruit’s attendant ethical concerns. According to Insider, multiple London-area eateries have stricken the avocado from their menus, citing some of the concerns that McMahon shared.
Still, others thing that a fixation on the avocado is shortsighted, given how many other foods present their own ethical quandaries for restaurateurs.
“I think when it comes to notions of sustainability though, if you have meat on your menu then this argument is almost void. The intensity of rearing just one cow for slaughter is far greater than shipping a box of avocados across the world,” Aisling Rogerson, co-owner of Dublin eatery Fumbally Stables, told The Independent. “And we need to be talking about green beans that are flown in from Kenya and grown intensively with very poor workers’ rights and water scandals of its own.”
The avocado is just one of many foods that present challenges for sustainability-minded restaurants, but there’s no doubt that it’s the most visible one due to its current cultural prominence. Given that there’s a whole market for “safe” avocados that won’t slice your hand open, it doesn’t seem like demand will dissipate on its own in the short term. But perhaps chefs who can speak forcefully about the avocado’s impact while presenting tastier, ethical alternatives can start to shift our habits over time.