Shopping for groceries over the last year or so, the most prolific change in the aisles that I have seen is the section of space that is now being given over to plant-based products and vegan products.
It’s not that I have an issue with veganism per se, but it’s interesting that this is given far more priority over removing the number of products containing palm oil from the shelves and replacing it with that which doesn’t. I say this because veganism and plant-based foods are often mistaken as a diet that is planet friendly and foods that are going to save the environment and most importantly and supposedly YOU.
This is where the lines get blurred and the truth gets masked in illusions. Truth be known, the continued use of palm oil is far more devastating for the planet and the environment. And the demand for vegan-friendly staples such as avocados and almonds is actually depleting the planet of resources, rather than helping.
Here are some facts about veganism and plant-based foods and their impact on the environment:
Popularity of avocados is fueling deforestation
The popularity of avocados, a staple in vegan cuisine, is fueling deforestation because Mexican farmers are leveling pine forests to illegally plant these “green gold” fruit trees to meet the world’s desire for avocados.
Avocado production is concentrated in the state of Michoacán where most of the plantations are controlled by the Caballeros Templarios Drug Cartel who force local farmers to give up a portion of their income on top of the taxes they charge for fruit sold and land owned. Those who don’t play by their rules are murdered – thus the term “blood guacamole.”
According to Greenpeace Mexico, “Beyond the displacement of forests and the effects on water retention, the high use of agricultural chemicals and the large volumes of wood needed to pack and ship avocados are other factors that could have negative effects on the area’s environment and the well-being of its inhabitants.”
Avocado plantations, on the other hand, need repeated cycles of chemical inputs. They drink up irrigation water too, lots of it, putting pressure on local water reserves. It takes approximately 272 litres of water just to grow about half a kilogram (two or three medium-sized) avocados.
In California, avocados now vie with almonds as the top water-guzzling crop.
A study commissioned by food-tech company It’s Fresh! found the amount of CO2 it takes for a package of two Hass avocados cultivated in Chile to reach consumers in the UK – where the avocado has risen to a £187 million ($242 million) industry – add a whopping 846.37 grams of carbon dioxide to our planet’s atmosphere.
To put that number in context, that’s almost twice as much as a kilo of bananas (480g), more than 3x the amount of a large cappuccino (235g), and 40x more than a large coffee or tea. That steep CO2 figure doesn’t even incorporate the fact that Chilean avocados are one of the thirstiest fruits around, requiring nearly 97 gallons of irrigated water to produce a single pound.
Almonds require litres of water to produce
It takes approximately 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds, making almonds one of the most water-intensive crops in the state of California, which itself has been suffering from a water shortage.
Since there are more than two billion almonds being produced in California, it’s easy to see why the amount of water being diverted for this purpose is large enough to be cause for alarm. And because many almonds are being grown on land that has been converted from natural lands or farms growing low water crops to meet the rising demand for almonds, the resulting increased irrigation needs have been dramatic.
Almond milk’s consumption as an alternative to dairy milk for vegans and lactose-intolerant coffee drinkers alike has surged in popularity in recent years in both the US and the UK.
Many people choose almond milk for having a smaller carbon footprint when compared with dairy milk. However, almond milk takes a toll on the environment in other ways. The main issues associated with almond milk production are water use and pesticide use, which may produce long lasting effects on the environment in drought-stricken California, where more than 80% of the world’s almonds are grown.
Critics of almond milk’s status as a healthy alternative say that there aren’t enough nutritional benefits to justify the gallons of water necessary to grow almonds.
Soybeans are contributing to deforestation
Soybeans are a go-to non-dairy substitute for many vegans, but the production of soybeans is having devastating effects on the environment.
Soy cultivation is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin. Without proper safeguards, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea