Your Avocado Toast Habit is (Probably) Unsustainable, But That’s About to Change

Your Avocado Toast is Probably Unsustainable

Our obsession with avocado toast has gotten some Latin American populations into a real pickle – but there’s still hope for your favorite high-fat snack.

In the Apurimac region of Peru, villagers have learned to capitalize on our obsession with the fruit to cultivate high-margin, sustainable avocados and eke out a living for themselves in the process.

The Avocado Dilemma

Avocado has usurped kale as the top trendy health food in America – and that’s not necessarily a good thing. In Mexico, where about 40 percent of the world’s avocados are produced, growers have been cutting down acres worth of natural forests (the Independent notes that deforestation is growing at a pace of 2.5 percent per year) to keep up with the demand for avocado toast, avocado boats, and avocado everything else.

It’s no surprise that this mass deforestation has led to a number of problems, including a lack of biodiversity in the region, fumigation that has wrecked havoc on the health of locals, who are experiencing more and more breathing and stomach problems, according to the Independent, and even increased narcoterrorism linked to the money-making crop.

While these issues are certainly dire in Mexico, shoppers who opt for another provenance aren’t necessarily off the hook.

“The fact of the matter is that we know pitifully little about the environmental and working conditions of faceless people in faraway places who grow fruit for our tables,” reports the Guardian.

Some opt, instead, to buy local, but while California is rising to the occasion, producing  164,000 tons of the fruit (over 80 percent of total production in the U.S.), the effect of this crop on the already dry state is not the most environmentally friendly, and recent drought conditions have even led to an avocado shortage.

There are two solutions to this very real problem. The first is to cut back on avocado consumption, for example by subbing a tasty pea mash in for your regular avocado toast.

But cutting back doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to avocados forever — it just means that when we do choose the fruit, we need to choose fair trade avocados from reliable sources.

Choosing Sustainable Avocado Toast

Candelaria Pillaca hails from Apurimac, a region of south-central Peru. She had long been cultivating traditional regional crops such as corn, kiwicha, and beans when she learned about World Neighbors, a savings and credit program that not only would allow her to take out small loans to purchase and plant avocado trees but would also provide her with instruction in organic fertilization, water conservation, and basic accounting.

Five years later, Pillaca is supporting her family with her avocado plantation, adding $3,000 to her yearly income, a substantial amount that allows her to help support two of her children who attend university.

By adding avocados to her small, one-and-a-half hectare farm, Pillaca has created a sustainable way to produce the in-demand fruit. She is a strong proponent of agro ecology, incorporating drip irrigation and crop diversification into her farm and using organic fertilizers produced on her own land from animal waste and compost.

Perhaps most importantly, Pillaca is not contributing to widespread deforestation problems, but rather integrating avocados into an already diverse farm.

“The problem of deforestation may happen when practicing large scale of avocado planting and not integrating them with other tropical fruits,” says Pillaca.

“I didn’t have to cut down trees to plant avocados.”

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.