I first jumped on the avocado bandwagon several years ago when I realized that the fruit (yes, it is fruit) tasted amazing in forms other than just guacamole. My favorite way to consume it is spooned straight out of the skin with a touch of sea salt. After this discovery, avocados became a staple of my daily diet, and I go through several of them per week. Living in Brooklyn, there are half a dozen grocery stores and bodegas that can provide me with my avocado fix; however, much to my dismay, the prices at my favorite location shot up from $1.99 for 2 avocados a few months ago to $3.00 for two, and is now resting at $3.50 for a single avocado. Naturally I searched for alternative places to purchase them, only to find that it is now near impossible to find an avocado priced for under $3.00 in New York City. This is because the future of avocados is looking dire, some parts of the world are even experiencing crime waves regarding avocado theft.
While some are alleging market manipulation by the growers, this price increase can be primarily attributed to a decrease in avocado crop yields. This is because the climates where avocados are traditionally grown (i.e., Mexico and California) are growing increasingly warmer, and are less suitable for growing the fruit as they once were. In fact, scientists are warning of a 40% decrease in avocado yields due to climate change if farmers do not find alternative growing locations. With avocado popularity at an all-time high thanks to curated Instagram photos of avocado toast and new diets promoting intake of healthy fats, farmers are struggling to keep up.
An avocado shortage is certainly not the worst effect of climate change that the world is currently experiencing. Glaciers and ice floes are receding, coral reefs are dying, species such as polar bears growing increasingly endangered, and extreme weather and natural disasters are occurring all over the world. So why even pay attention to some pricey avocados?
As minor as it may seem, a steep price increase in a popular product (or trendy food) is something that people notice, that affects them directly. This is especially true in the Northeast United States, where we are sheltered from most of the devastating natural disasters that others are experiencing due to global warming. We do not live in the Arctic to witness it melting; we are not shortening our showers or being fined for watering our lawns in California; we are not experiencing one disastrous typhoon after another in Japan. While scientists warn that Manhattan could be underwater in decades, this concept is easy to ignore because we cannot yet see it happening right under our noses. Something as small as an expensive avocado can disquiet more sheltered Americans who, for the most part, can easily shrug off other ramifications of climate change because they are not experiencing the more troubling effects firsthand. Food shortages and price increases provoke people into wondering where their food comes from, what is causing a shortage, and what can be done about it. It is human nature to be self-centered; there is a sad truth to the fact that those who would be otherwise complacent towards the suffering of others, such as those impacted by earthquakes and droughts and hurricanes, could be spurred to educate themselves or even take action against climate change when the guacamole on their Chipotle burrito skyrockets to $5.00 extra.
Could an avocado shortage be the catalyst needed in order to point ordinary Americans in the direction towards sustainability and combatting climate change? It’s a bit of stretch. However, trends, pop culture, and fads are powerful phenomena that genuinely affect individuals’ behavior, and the rise of the avocado in all of its forms certainly falls into those categories. The conversation has already begun in the firm that I work in; I have had coworkers approach me (my affinity for avocados is well known on my floor) asking if I know why they have been so expensive lately, which creates an opening to discuss climate change and sustainability. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to climate change when you are only experiencing it through the news, and nothing more. Hopefully, this current shortage will spark a dialogue amongst those who would ordinarily stay silent.