At first glance, avocados seem like the perfect fruit. They can help lower cholesterol, are considered a superfood, and are full of "good" fat and vitamins. It's a fruit one could easily mistake for comfort food, especially for those who love guacamole. You can also use them for beauty treatments. These high calorie treats have tons to offer, but their increasing popularity is becoming a bigger issue than simply posting annoying pictures of perfect avocados on Instagram; they're stealing all our water too.
With California's ongoing drought, which prompted Governor Jerry Brown (D) to call for drastic water restrictions earlier this month, avocado consumption is becoming harder to justify, as it takes roughly 74 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados. Because California is a known purveyor of avocados, this translates to more bad news for the state. Though the majority of avocados consumed in the U.S. are imported from Mexico and Chile, those countries have avocado setbacks as well. Avocado growers in Chile are using up tons of groundwater, and much of the avocado industry in Mexico is largely controlled by the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel.
The impact of climate change on avocados and the water supply
In 2006, researchers in California published a study about the affect temperature change can have on several California crops, including avocados. “More than 95 percent of the simulations for almonds, table grapes, walnuts, and avocados showed a negative response to warming by mid-century,” Stanford University Associate Professor David Lobell said in the report.
Charley Wolk, a 78-year-old resident of "Avocado Capital of the World" Fallbrook, California, has been an avocado grove manager for decades and experienced firsthand the negative impact of the state's water problem.
"The avocado’s native environment is tropical," Wolk told New York Magazine. "And we’re growing them in a desert. The issue with water used to be cost. Now it’s availability."
When Chipotle announced in a financial report last year that it would consider a temporary hold on guacamole due to increasing costs of avocados, the Internet immediately went into panic mode. The widespread fear was unsurprising, as Chipotle goes through nearly 100,000 pounds of avocados daily.
"Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients," the filing stated.
The troubled responses from consumers led Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold to tell NPR there was nothing to be so worried about, as the report was only intended to highlight potential risk factors for the company.
"There is no looming 'guacapocalypse' and I wouldn't read too much into this," Arnold wrote in an email to NPR. "With regard to avocados, we saw similar issues in 2011 and incurred higher prices for the avocados we used, but never stopped serving guacamole. The sky is not falling."
While this came as a relief to dedicated Chipotle eaters, climatologist Eric Holthaus seemed more troubled by the fact that it took a possible guacamole crisis for many to finally wake up to the problem of climate change, which contributes to the water shortage and consequent avocado issue.
“Once it hits Chipotle, people think, Wow, we better do something about this climate-change thing," Holthaus told New York Magazine. “You can see all these satellite photos of melting Arctic ice, and read reports about changes in the jet stream, but when it starts hitting Chipotle, that’s when people pay attention.”
Wolk went on to tell New York Magazine that he's considered telling clients that the avocado problem isn't going away anytime soon, "It’s right at the edge of that. But getting past that point psychologically is very difficult. People don’t want to face the problem."
Why some will continue buying avocados anyway
Even though avocados require lots of water, which Californians don't have the luxury of wasting, people don't want to give up the cherished fruit. With all the love avocados have gotten on the Internet and social media, it makes sense that consumers will gladly fork over more money. Last year, Arizona State University released a study that predicted a 28 percent hike in avocado costs thanks to the drought.
The study's author, however, didn't anticipate a decrease in sales of avocados, "We can expect to see the biggest percentage jumps in prices for avocados and lettuce – 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively. People are the least price-sensitive when it comes to those items, and they’re more willing to pay what it takes to get them."