September 2, 2016

Death by Avocado.

I thought that I was doing my best for the environment by choosing to eliminate meat from my diet six years ago.

I made the decision to support local growers by going to farmers markets and joining CSAs (community-supported agriculture).

I’ll admit it was much easier to stick to eating mindfully when I had access to farmers markets year-round instead of my current situation, where I have to go to the grocery store to buy food. There, I am met with an abundant array of produce.

Avocados are never readily available at my farmers markets. I love avocados—for their taste, texture, health benefits and overall versatility—but I never imagined that my favorite go-to fruit could be killing habitats, specifically those of the monarch butterfly.

This is a screaming red flag for me because, not only are they beautiful, but monarch butterflies are responsible for the pollination of many plant species, many of which we risk losing in the decline in the monarch population. According to scientific reports, the population has decreased at a staggering rate in the past 10 years, and it is highly likely that the entire monarch population will be extinct in 20 years.

Their current decline and possible extinction would decimate essential organisms within the ecosystems that rely on them to function. So, while we’re at it, we may as well kiss these ecosystems goodbye along with the butterflies.

It is not enough for us to be concerned with preserving the monarch butterfly. We need to be concerned with preserving their habitats.

A portion of the monarch butterflies which inhabit southern Canada and the United States migrate to the oyamel, or sacred fir tree forest in Michoacan, a Mexican state. Avocado trees grow in the same climate and at the same height as the oyamel trees. Avocado growers are cutting down the oyamel trees to keep up with the demand for avocados. As we can imagine, the avocado industry is lucrative and appealing to many farmers, translating to a potential $300,000 in earnings annually.

Because California is experiencing drought, excessive heat and now, wildfires, the United States is importing avocados from Mexico in order to keep up with demand. The price for avocados is rapidly increasing, contributing to the appeal of avocado farming. According to the Secretary of Agriculture, Michoacan loses about 1,200 acres of oyamel forest per year.

Only two percent of the Mexican oyamel forest remains and, though it may appear that the forest is not being cut down, “there are avocados growing underneath (the pine boughs), and sooner or later they’ll cut down the pines completely,” said Maria Tapia Vargas, who is a researcher at Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research.  Furthermore, mature avocado trees use twice as much water as young trees. A pound of avocados requires 74 gallons of water to grow.

But it’s simply not enough to boycott avocados grown in the oyamel forest region..

Aside from importing the majority of avocados from Mexico, the United States also contributes to the disappearance of monarchs through our use of herbicides for our ever-increasing food production demands. Commercial agricultural farmers are growing soy and corn which are resistant to herbicides which kill the species of milkweed that normally grow between the crop rows. The decline in milkweed threatens the monarch population because female monarch butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants and monarch caterpillars feast on different species of milkweed.  According to Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch at The University of Kansas, the Midwest milkweed habitat is “virtually gone.”

Along with the decline of the monarch population, we are also losing forests, which are responsible for absorbing much of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We are introducing more chemicals into the atmosphere and cutting down more trees in order to pack and ship avocados.

Mexican officials have recently taken steps to help preserve as much of the oyamel forest as they can by seizing avocado plants and detaining those who are involved in converting the forest into an avocado orchard.

We can preserve the monarch butterfly population by choosing to buy only avocados grown in California, instead of Mexican avocados. We can also support our local farmers, buying our produce from them instead of purchasing industrial, non-organic produce from big-box grocery stores. This will help reduce the usage of soy and corn-resistant herbicides, allowing milkweed to flourish, and nurturing the monarch caterpillars.

Our ecosystem depends on a delicate equilibrium which allows each species to function at its prime. We are all part of this. Is our obsession with avocados really necessary? Must we have guacamole with everything? The avocado has now become the new bacon or egg—appearing on burgers, tacos, and dressings—virtually anything edible, it seems.

Our latest food craze is killing beautiful and necessary organisms and suffocating ecosystems. I’m not saying we need to quit eating guacamole or having fried avocado tacos. Maybe we just need to be more mindful about where our food comes from, as well as the frequency with which we indulge in it.

We don’t have to deprive ourselves. We can restore balance to our lives and our environment. We can consciously enjoy our food in moderation while preserving these most fragile and beautiful of creatures, who we depend on more than we realise.



Author: Czarina Morgan

Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren


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