Surely you've seen them by now: the now-ubiquitous "I Know Guacamole Is Extra" shirts that pay homage to both our nation's insatiable hunger for avocado and our weary regard of the burrito-bowl-ordering process at Chipotle. Sigh; we know, OK? And we want it anyway. What's the worth of a pile of beans, rice, and salsa without a big, creamy, green slap of guac?
And there's a reason why guacamole costs a couple of extra bucks. It's made of avocado, and avocados are expensive. In case you haven't heard, we're in the midst of a "Guacapocalypse" thanks to ravenous beetles, inconvenient weather patterns, and other problems in our supply chain, which is having a hell of a time trying to meet our seemingly limitless demand for the buttery fruit.
Yes, there's a dark side to America's obsession with avocado. And it only seems to be getting darker.
According to the Associated Press, Central Mexico's pine forests are in peril as local farmers clear them to the ground in order to make room for more avocado trees as part of the south-of-the-border Gold Rush for our guacamole dollars. And we're more than happy to keep the money flowing, as evidenced by our penchant for corny T-shirts declaring it so.
Avocado trees thrive in similar conditions to pine and fir trees, such as those growing in the mountains of the agriculturally rich state of Michoacán. As a result, farmers are weeding out the coniferous trees and replacing them with young avocado trees that they can camouflage within the forest canopy to avoid being disrupted by authorities.
So what's the problem with cutting down some stupid trees?, you might ask, especially if you're a particularly insensitive non-conservationist type who can't imagine a life without the healthy fats of our beloved alligator pears. There are further concerns associated with thinning these Michoacán forests; avocado trees use far more water than pine and fir trees, drinking up much of the water that would otherwise go to nearby streams and serve as a supply for the area's flora and fauna. The forests are home to an abundance of local wildlife, particularly monarch butterflies, many of whom migrate there in the winter.
That's not to mention all of the chemicals—pesticides, fertilizers, etc.—and pollution associated with farming and transporting all of these avos. Think big trucks crowding local roads, and even more wood needed—and thus more trees chopped down—in order to box up and ship the products after they're picked.
According to AP, avocado prices are soaring right now—up from 86 cents each in January to roughly $1.10 each in July—and the peso isn't doing so hot, making the situation especially financially advantageous to farmers. Sadly, that leads many of them to overlook the great deal of both direct and collateral damage caused by this deforestation.
A 2012 report showed that avocado farming in Mexico was causing a loss of about 1,700 acres per year in the first decade of the millennium. Authorities are cracking down harder—at the end of last month, 13 workers were detained and their plants seized after they were found to have cut down 347 trees in order to turn a plot of forest into an avocado orchard—but there are still many more renegade avocado farmers on the loose.
It's all about the Nezahualcoyotls, after all—and they come right from your burrito bowl. But hell, things could be worse; we could be sinking into an avocado black market like the New Zealanders.