An Irish chef and owner of two Michelin star restaurants has dubbed avocados “the blood diamonds of Mexico” and taken them off his menus.
“I don’t use them because of the impact they have on the countries that they are coming from: deforestation in Chile, violence in Mexico,” said JP McMahon, owner of Aniar and Tartare, both located in Galway.
“For me, they are akin to battery chickens. I think Irish restaurants should make a conscious effort to not use avocados or at least reduce the amount they use. You can get Fair Trade avocados but most are not produced this way,” he told the newspaper the Irish Independent.
McMahon added that “change won’t happen unless consumers avoid them.”
Michoacán is the largest producer of avocados in the world but it’s not just farmers who are cashing in on crops of the fruit dubbed Mexico’s “green gold.”
Avocado growers from the municipality of Tancítaro calculated that from 2009 to 2013 organized crime made around US $770 million from the region’s avocado business, or $154 million annually, according to a report in the newspaper El Universal.
A 2017 report by the federal Attorney General’s office said that throughout the 1990s the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Los Cuinis criminal gang pioneered the extortion and kidnapping of wealthy avocado farmers to fund their expansion.
A report published by the New York Times Magazine in March this year said that “under the volcanos in Mexico’s Michoacán state, violent cartels are fighting to dominate a shadowy and lucrative market.”
The Times report said that La Familia Michoacana, the Caballeros Templarios and Los Viagras have all muscled in on the lucrative avocado trade in Michoacán over the past decade.
The Caballeros Templarios, known in English as the Knights Templar, “taxed, extorted and kidnapped [avocado] farmers and usurped their land,” the Times said.
La Familia Michoacana started extorting local avocado growers in 2009, killing farm hands and displacing farmers, and appropriating their property, according to InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America.
In response to threats and violence, avocado farmers in some parts of the state have formed their own self-defense groups.
All the while Mexico has continued to export millions upon millions of avocados, mainly to the United States but also to Europe and new markets such as China, meaning that a veritable army of restaurateurs – and everyday consumers – would have to stop eating the fruit for any effect to be truly felt.
Nevertheless, McMahon’s two acclaimed Irish restaurants are not the only eateries that have taken the decision to remove avocados from their menus for ethical reasons.
The Wild Strawberry Café in the English county of Buckinghamshire announced on Instagram late last month that it would no longer be serving avocado.
The café cited “seasonality,” “food miles” and “sustainability” as the three reasons why it made the decision to remove avocado from its menu.
“The western world’s obsession with avocado has been placing unprecedented demand on avocado farmers, pushing up prices to the point that there are even reports of Mexican drug cartels controlling lucrative exports,” the café’s Instagram post said in explanation of the last reason.
“Forests are being thinned out to make way for avocado plantations. Intensive farming on this scale contributes to greenhouse emissions by its very nature and places pressure on local water supplies.”
Other establishments including Frank’s Canteen in London and Tincan Coffee Co in Bristol have also stopped serving the fruit, also known as the alligator pear.
“Serving avocados, knowing the huge socio-economic impact that avocado farming is having in Mexico and California just didn’t feel right,” said Tincan cofounder Adam White.