Be it a bottomless brunch or salad lunch, avocados are rarely off of our plates but everyone's favourite breakfast staple has been in the news this week after the Kenyan farm that supplies Tesco, Sainsbury's and Lidl is being sued over a string of alleged human rights abuses. It's not the first time avocados have received bad press; there have been associations with drug cartels and mass farming is having a negative impact of the environment and communities. What's more an increasing number of eateries banning avocados altogether. That said, we remain a nation addicted to avo...
Avocado sales are still soaring
In the UK we import avocados from Peru, South Africa, Chile, Israel and Spain (in that order). According to data published by Kantar, up until April 2018, Brits purchased over 38,000 tonnes of avocados at a whopping cost of over £176 million (that’s a lot of brunches). According to data from Nielsen, avocados had the third-largest sales growth of any grocery item just tailing behind a leading brand of beer and energy drink. A green merchandising empire has also boomed as consumers lap up avocado themed goods including phone cases, stationery, cards, t-shirts, inflatables and even babygros. The net effect of all of these factors has helped to position avocados as the ultimate green giant of the wellness industry, but not so fast...
Is the green dream over?
While avocados may supermarket sellouts and great for your health, their increase in popularity and production has started to take its toll on the environment and communities that produce them. Many of the major issues resulting from avocado production are not made clear by the supermarkets and cafés that sell and serve them.
Firstly, given where we import our avocados from and that fact that we make them available all year round in supermarkets, avocados constitute a heavy addition to food miles. On top of this, the trend for ‘eat-me-keep-me’ also results in plastic packaging .
Secondly, the vast quantity of exported avocados has led to shortages amongst communities who produce and rely on them, which in turn has pushed up the price.
Thirdly, the ‘green gold rush’, which has made many farmers rich, has not gone unnoticed by those eager to get a piece of the action and this includes organised crime gangs such as the cartels of Mexico. One particular area of Mexico called Michoacán produces much of the country’s crop of avocados and it’s considered a dangerous region - by way of example it was just ten years ago that ‘La Familia Michoacana’ gang announced its presence in this state by tossing five rival’s heads onto a dance floor in the town of Uruapan. Nine out of ten of the avocados exported to the US originate from Michoacán and in the drive to produce more crops there has also been a rise in illegal deforestation, thought to be instigated by the cartels.
Avocado production also uses a lot of water and even more so when produced in hot countries such as Mexico. On average about 280 litres of applied water (rather than rainfall or natural moisture) are required to produce 1kg of avocados, which equates to about 70 litres of water per avocado and this rises to as much as 1280 litres in very hot and dry countries, which adds up to 320 litres per avocado. As such, many cafés and chefs in the UK have now wised up to the potential consequences of the avocado farming industry and some have even banned them from being served, particularly as it’s difficult to identify whether or not your avocados are ethically sourced.
Are avocados actually vegan?
In yet another avocado conundrum, it’s been a matter of recent debate whether or not avocados are really vegan given that they require migratory beekeeping in order to pollinate the plants - a process that’s notoriously difficult to achieve. While this may have thrown a huge spanner in the works of many plant-based chefs and Instagrammers, it seems that PETA has a realistic take on the issue. The not for profit organisation has said that going vegan is about making kind choices that bring about positive change and that shoppers cannot avoid buying produce that involves migratory beekeeping any more than they can avoid driving on tarmac that contains many animal ingredients.
What’s the avocado alternative?
Avocados superfood status isn't all for show; avocados are indeed incredibly nutritious and a brilliant ingredient to turn to when creating vegan alternatives to popular foods such as ‘mayo’, ‘butter’ and dairy-free puddings. Compared to other fruits and vegetables, avocados have a unique nutrient profile due to their high content of fat, namely monounsaturated fats which are known to be good for heart health, while also helping to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol .
Avocados are also a good source of micronutrients including vitamin E, which is essential for healthy skin and also acts as a powerful antioxidant helping to protect cells from damage. You will also find a good source of folate in avocados, which is required by the body to make DNA and healthy red blood cells. Your eyes can benefit too as avocados are a great source of the antioxidant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. In fact, if you could choose one single food to be stranded on a desert island with then avocados would probably be a good option.
If avocados have become intrinsic to your weekly shopping list and daily diet, then how easily can they replaced so that you still glean the high amount of good quality nutrition? The five alternatives below provide some ideas for making easy and healthy avocado food swaps.
The toast swap - nut butter and banana
Multigrain toast with nut butter and sliced banana will give you a good source of healthy fats, vitamin E and potassium to rival those found in avocados.
The smoothie swap - cashew nuts
Replace avocado with cashew nuts, which also provide a good source of magnesium and B vitamins. A handful of spinach will help to replace some of the folate normally found in your avocado.
The salad swap - pulses and seeds
Adding pulses such as chickpeas in place of avocado will give you a great alternative source of B vitamins, magnesium and folate. If you also add in some seeds then this will help to replace the vitamin E. Extra virgin olive oil is also a source of vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fats so drizzle some over your salad.
The ice cream swap - frozen banana
Avocados have been used as a clever way to make a dairy-free ice cream alternative thanks to their creamy taste and texture but you can also create a similar effect by using bananas. Freeze overripe bananas and simply put them in a blender and blitz until smooth to form the base of a smoothie. You can then add a variety of flavours such as raw cacao or sweet spices to make things more interesting. Bananas are a rich source of potassium and raw cacao boasts magnesium that you might be missing if you’re avocados are AWOL. Top your banana ‘ice-cream’ with chopped nuts and seeds for a vitamin E and B boost that’s similar to avocado.
The spread swap - chickpeas
Another alternative savoury spread would be hummus , which contains monounsaturated fats and vitamin E from the olive oil used to make it. If you prefer something more neutral in your sandwich that doesn’t carry such a garlicky flavour, blend chickpeas with olive oil, water and lemon juice for a rich, creamy spread that makes a satisfying stand-in for the green stuff.