If you eat avocados, you’re unfortunately nothing but an ethical hypocrite

The perilous politics of fruit


Every now and again, I am able to sit down and tuck into my Quorn mince or my fish finger sandwich, without facing a critique of my dietary choices. This is a rare occurrence.

"So you eat fish but not meat?" "Fish have feelings too, you know?" Trouble is, it’s very hard to hear these muffled murmurings from my assumed, and precariously constructed, moral high ground.

Sometimes however, I find myself cast in shadow by a towering peak of veganism, capped with ethical superiority. Unlike the carnivores below, it’s quite easy to hear the vegans. They are very loud.

To them, fish, eggs and dairy render me only marginally better than my blood-drinking peers. "Look at me and my avocados!" They aggressively shout whilst clutching iPads playing videos of abattoirs. Vegans are not immune however, from ethical critique. The avocado provides a case in point.

Originally the ‘aguacate’, derived from the Aztec word for testicle, it was deemed too difficult to pronounce so swiftly became the avocado. The 1920s saw its establishment as the ‘aristocrat’ of the salad whose fame only truly exploded onto the international scene in the 1950s. Then in the 1980s everyone’s favourite dinner party guests, members of the ‘anti-fat movement’, announced the beginning of the avocado’s dark ages.

The avocado loitered on society’s periphery, knowing that its time would come. ‘Anti-fatties’ were old news as the 2000s saw the ‘anti-carb’ warriors take the helm of nation’s latest health trends, resuscitating the avocado. It was only when Instagram signed a deal with the avocado that said fruit became the best thing ever to smother toast.

Surely, the avocado was now here to stay? The avocado business took off and in 2016, over 63 million tons of the ‘green gold’ was consumed in the USA, during Superbowl 60. This seismic increase in the fruit’s popularity did not go unnoticed by the vegans.

The website of ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) provides details of the nutritional benefits of the avocado, and the multifarious different recipes it allows for. A great source of vitamin C, E, K, and B6, not to mention omega 3 and a sprinkling of protein make this fruit a must-have in the vegan’s nutritional arsenal.

Unfortunately for vegans, the avocado is one of history’s most unethical fruits. In Mexico, the commercialisation of the avocado is controlled by the mafia and associated political organisations meaning that local farms struggle to get their product onto the market unless the demands of those bodies are met. Producers are regularly extorted, harvesters poorly paid and pickers left unprotected. The only winners are those who market avocados abroad and the political organisations involved in this murky business.

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Often the areas in which these avocados are grown are water-scarce and given the enormous quantities of water needed for irrigation (25 million cubic metres annually), this has a detrimental effect on the environment. As the demand for avocados has increased, so too has deforestation and pesticide use.

Local populations have suffered as a direct consequence of this, from the effects of water pollution as well as respiratory and digestive diseases. Coupled with the air miles of the avocado, the water-related environmental consequences of its production, are plain and clear to see.

More pertinent to the UK than the socio-political ramifications of avocado production in Mexico, is the same industry in Israel. The nation boasts around 7000 hectares of avocado plantation yielding 115,000 tons of fruit. Yet this largescale production is accompanied by a complete disregard for the interests of Palestinian citizens, with horticulture almost becoming a tool of Israeli expansion.

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Palestinian homes have been destroyed, people evicted, as well as land and water being expropriated, all to make way for horticultural developments. Clearly the trusty staple of the vegan diet is at odds with the ethical principles of the mouths it feeds. This may upset the millennial vegan, but they can be consoled with the fact that not even the highest moral high ground is a place of total consistency.

It is exceedingly difficult to be immaculately ethical within an economy suffering from insidious exploitation of humans, animals and the environment. So if you don’t eat meat but you eat avocados or you munch what swims but not what walks, you’re still doing more than someone who has few principles at all. And it seems to be from these people that criticism comes from.

Instead of getting hung up on total consistency therefore it’s better to simply do what you can. ‘Every little helps’- Tesco (Tesco doesn’t help). I’ll stop eating fish fingers soon.