The end of avocados?
What I talk about when I talk about managing our natural resources, a glut of avocados in Australia, and carbon labeling foods in Denmark.
Picture this. The world is suddenly absent of industrially-raised cows, ditto chickens, which means no more eggs. Also 86’d are avocados, bananas and fish in the sea. They’re gone. It sounds drastic, but stick with me.
Our top staples are no longer just threatened, they’re gone. And there are no analogues to replace them. There are companies working on these efforts – especially fish and meat – but they’re a long, long way out from the supermarket shelf. One reason these companies are attempting to recreate foods using alternative methods is that our increasing appetites, and the impact to the climate is no longer something we can ignore. But can any of us eat less of what we know and love?
Our favorites are no longer. What happens next? First, (I hope) the government steps in to manage whatever quantities are left in the supply chain. They impose quotas on what we can buy at the store. If we do this, we probably have a few months left to enjoy that avocado toast, banana bread, shrimp fajitas and burgers. If the government doesn’t step in, I’m sorry to say it’s crazy Mad Max anarchy – toilet paper and hand sanitizer times 100.
The notion that we might treat Earth in a way that recognizes our resources have an end point is difficult to accept. How do we shift behaviors in the absence of external forces making us do it? Eat meat once a week. Dial back our banana habit. Don’t scramble three eggs every day. Skip the trip to the fast food restaurant.
I thought of this problem – that many don’t want to be told to change their diets or eat as a collective we versus a get-out-of-my-way me – when I read an article about a designer who re-created an avocado out of broad beans, hazelnuts, apple and rapeseed oil. The designer, Arina Shokouhi, named it the ‘evocado’. Her reason for tinkering with our beloved fatty fruit is that, she says, it’s water needs are resource intensive. But also because of the ever-rising global demand means it’s being farmed as a monocrop — giant megafarms producing one single crop.
Once again we’re locked into a form of circular thinking that if we love X, but X is threatened, let’s recreate X out of other ingredients to keep us on our path of perfect X toast happiness? I don’t need an avocado analogue. I’m all for a delicious fatty spread made of broad beans. Just call it that, or something different. If we’re really splitting hairs, it sounds more like a creamier version of hummus than an avocado.
If we believe market forces, we’re headed down a path where our favorites are no longer available but don’t worry, we’ve got the next best thing. (Read my story in The Atlantic about chocolate analogues.)
What if we were to find new foods to fulfill our appetites instead of carbon copying what we have now? What if we were to commit to evolving? What if the government stepped in to put limits and mandates around what can be sold? If it’s the end of avocados so be it, but don’t whip up some beans, mush it into a peel made of wax and replace the seed with a nut.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, using the calculator in #2 below, avocados and broad beans have a very similar carbon footprint. One to one it seems reasonably accurate, but like the the California almond crop, it’s massive scale quickly skews the bottom line.
P.P.S. Turns out there’s actually an avocado glut. If you’re living in Australia, you can now buy an avocado for around seventy cents. What happened? Farmers around the country noticed the trend and rushed to plant more trees. But too many farmers planted trees, and 5-6 years later: hello glut. Australia also can’t easily just ship them out for export.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the US were leading something (anything!) in the worlds efforts to shift our diet in positive ways? Denmark has asked for proposals by the end of the year to institute climate labeling on food packaging. The diminutive country is putting $1.3 millions USD towards these efforts. I’ve talked about climate labeling of foods here before. Why is the US always on the sidelines for progress?
Use this nifty climate scale from the Financial Times to view the climate impact of your foods side by side. I tried peanuts, almonds and cashews. Wanna know the winner? Peanuts!! (I love peanuts, especially these.)
Big thank you to the Ocean Voyages Institute for helping to clean up our mess. After 45-days in the North Pacific Gyre (aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), the crew removed 96 tons of waste from the water and hauled it back to Sausalito, CA this week. The ship arrived yesterday and the garbage will be unloaded today. Where’s it gonna go? It will all be fashioned into something useful.
My love for mushrooms has yet to translate to actually growing them myself (ok, once or twice which I captured on TikTok). But anyways, this primer from Agritecture on the eight ways to grow mushrooms is very cool. Do you grow your own mushrooms? Tell me about it.
Where to find me:
When California legislators passed the recent annual budget, it included a tiny little line item earmarking $5 million dollars to further research into cultivated meat – or lab-grown meat. I wrote about it for the SF Chronicle. (PDF here.)
I’m quoted in a story in The Information titled, “Can Nuggets Make Plant-Based Meat Fashionable?” The story is about Simulate, a startup that until recently was selling its “chicken” nuggets direct-to-consumer. They’ve since added retail locations. In the article, I compared the nugget maker to Tesla, and not in a good way. You can view a PDF of the article here.
If you haven’t read my book yet, you’re missing out! Buy a signed copy at Farm to People. (If you’re in the New York area, you can also order some yummy food to be delivered.)
What I’m reading:
I just finished Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (thanks to Laura for the rec). Three narrative threads are woven together in a lovely, atmospheric ecology-minded story in the south. High recs! I also read Evan Osnos’ piece on superyachts in the New Yorker and now I know I’m a have not–not a have yacht. (Will I ever be invited to board one? Bucket list!)
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