Avocados of Discontent

Steph_2_cropped. jpgBy Stephanie Stamm

Last week I heard a story on the radio about avocados and how we might have a shortage because of the drought in California. Apparently, it takes 50 gallons of water to produce a single avocado. California and Mexico are the top producers of the avocados sold in the US. Listening to this story, I also learned that US demand for avocados has made them so valuable that the Mexican growers can no longer afford to eat the fatty green fruits themselves. Avocados have reached what the radio story and this National Geographic “Onward” article refers to as “a quinoa moment”—when demand outstrips production, and the indigenous farmers can no longer eat their native food because of the need for the money to be made selling it to us.

This story saddened me. It stripped me of yet another layer of innocence and ignorance. Each time a particular food is “discovered,” marketed, and popularized, we shift the balance of food production and consumption. And we wealthy Americans, fed by our media diet of what we should be eating for health reasons (avocados are rich in good fats) as well as by our desire to eat what tastes good (who doesn’t love guacamole?), send demand into orbit to satisfy our voracious appetites.

Meanwhile, we discard food that looks less than perfect. This NPR article refers to a National Resources Defense Council report estimating that “anywhere from 1 to 30 percent of food grown by farmers doesn’t get to the grocery store.” Much of what doesn’t look good enough to be marketable is plowed under; other wasted food ends up in landfills. The article goes on to state that “Food waste is among the biggest contributors to landfills in the U.S.”

All this while 49 million Americans have difficulty providing food for their families, and worldwide, one in nine people live in hunger.

It’s not all bad news. That same NPR article reports that some food producers donate the not-so-perfect produce to food banks, a group of US entrepreneurs have started a venture they’ve dubbed Imperfect Produce to create a market for misshapen or discolored vegetables and fruits, and the Raley’s grocery store chain is launching a program to sell what Food Justice_coverwere once produce rejects in their stores. Those of us who grew up on farms or shop at our local farmers’ markets know that imperfect looking fruits and vegetables taste perfectly fine—and frequently taste better than the so-called perfect ones. If you’ve ever compared the taste of a knotty heirloom tomato to a perfect red globe-shaped hot house one, you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps these movements will help alleviate our superficiality about appearance—at least where food is concerned. In addition, Food Justice efforts are increasing (see Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi and these websites for examples:  https://cagj.org/food-justice/, http://www.detroitfoodjustice.org/).

Still, I am disheartened, because most of us—and I include myself here—don’t stop to consider the wider ripples caused by all our food choices. In my middle class way, I’ve tried to do my part by participating in Community Supported Agriculture farm shares, shopping at farmers’ markets, frequenting restaurants that feature locally grown foods, and buying organic. IMG_0255But I haven’t ever limited my food consumption to what’s grown locally and seasonally. And I love avocados. Guacamole and chips. Avocado on toast. Avocado and onion sandwiches dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Avocado in salads. Half an avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice eaten with a spoon. Perhaps to my shame, I probably won’t stop eating them, but my enjoyment of that luscious, green goodness can no longer be innocent.

Ursula K. LeGuin’s powerful short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (you can read it here) tells of an idyllic community whose perfection is sustained by a sacrifice that some see as too great. I keep thinking about that story. Everything is connected; eating is a political act; and my privileged ability to buy an avocado whenever I want one must entail some responsibility to give back or try to restore some balance. Right?

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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:

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I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

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16 Responses to Avocados of Discontent

  1. Wranglers says:

    I hadn’t given it much thought. I guess I should have. When I worked on a tomato farm we had what were called, Call (sp) tomatoes. Not good enough to sell, but great for eating and canning. We could buy a bushel pretty cheap because otherwise they would go to waste. Thanks for making us more aware. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe Stephens says:

    I struggle with this concept too. My brother is an advocate for the slow food movement as well as spearheading the drive to buy local and organic. I am at a similar point as you, though. I try to buy locally when I can (I’m not the shopper at my house, though) and we grow our own garden every year, but in many cases I decide it’s not worth the cost and I get the less expensive but less environmentally friendly option, knowing I’ll feel guilty about my food choices. Sometimes it really does feel like it would be better not to know.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Doris says:

    Iti’s not a perfect world. Each choice we make has consequences, which are neither good nor bad, they just are. It is how we respond to the consequences that show who we are. I also love foods that are not growns locally, and with dietary issues it becomes an even greater issue. We can only do what we can and keep the balance of choices in the public eye. Not always easy or comfortable, but necessary. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Travis says:

    Thank you for this reminder, Stephanie. I’ve heard about the waste, but was unaware of the avocado issue. It sadly reminds me of the Irish potato famine. I’ve heard that while several potato farms were hit with disease, others did not, but the potatoes were shipped to England where the market paid more causing the Irish population to starve to death. On another note baby-carrots were created by an entrepreneur who saw disfigure carrots being thrown away or turned into pig food. He took the discards, shaved them into bit sized mini carrots and became a m/billionaire. Hopefully there is some solution like that for the unnecessary waste.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous says:

    Food waste is one of my pet peeves … and something I can be terribly guilty about, and so therefore FEEL guilty about. I think of the starvation going on in Africa and of the numerous people in our own community who go hungry. We should all be more aware, and thanks to your splendid article, we are more educated, and therefore, need to make the best, most wise choices available. Living in Wyoming there is little opportunity to have “locally grown” fruit but we do have two different farmer’s markets each summer and someone is trying to start a winter market, using items grown in a greenhouse. Thankful for advocates who help us be more aware — thanks Stephanie! (ps I LOVE avocados and they aren’t grown here either).

    Like

  6. wyoauthor1 says:

    Food waste is one of my pet peeves, and I am guilty of it as well … and I FEEL guilty when I do it! Living in Wyoming, there is little to no “locally grown” fruits, but we do have (in Casper) two farmer’s markets so veggies can and are available, plus my parents grow a HUGE garden at their home in Montana and I get to reap some of their harvest each fall. It’s sometimes difficult to make the choices, especially here, but we do have to consider our actions impacting others … I’m thankful food banks often get “grocery waste” because then families get fed — it’s such a shame some of that can’t be shipped to places in Africa where people continue to die of starvation. Thank you for this important post, Stephanie!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike Staton says:

    Eating is a political act… I agree. Did some agriculture stories when a reporter for a weekly in Duplin County, NC. The average age of small farmers is creeping up to 60, I believe. Corporate farming is taking over. And don’t forget, drought is now playing a big role in agriculture and water in California.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sstamm625 says:

      Yes, corporate farms and drought. Our current model is simply not sustainable. I think we have to move to more locally sourced food, more farm to table and slow food options.

      Like

  8. S. J. Brown says:

    It really saddens me that someone who puts in all the time and effort to produce a particular food can’t afford to eat it. I consider myself a bit of a veggie snob. I rarely buy tomatoes, I grow my own in the summer and eat them all season long. Most of our green beans also come out of the garden, some fresh , some frozen. Then there is broccoli, peppers, potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes, and the pumpkins we carve at Halloween. I couldn’t image growing them and not being able to enjoy them.

    Like

  9. Nancy Jardine says:

    I think people who’ve experienced growing vegetables for themselves realise what’s edible (ie. not fitting the standard shape/size/taste norm) and they value their crop knowing the amount of energy they’ve expended in planting and nurturing it. I like buying from stores which sell local produce (farmers markets etc) but also acknowledge the huge variety available to me now in the major supermarkets is sometimes at the expense of the foreign grower.

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  10. Kathy Waller says:

    It’s so sad to think about people not being able to afford to eat the food they produce. The fresh produce we get now is so different from what we ate when I was a child and had access to food grown on family farms–what a friend calls real food. Avocados were rarely available where I lived, and when they were, prices were high. Guacamole was a treat. Now we eat them nearly every day. Now, every time I put one on the table, I’ll be thinking about your post.

    Like

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