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Is Boycotting Almonds to Save Water GOOD or BAD?

Will cutting out almonds from our diets do anything to save California from drought?

by Jason Koebler & Kaleigh Rogers
Apr 10 2015, 1:27pm

​Image: ​HarshaKR/Flickr

"I'm going going, back back, to Cali Cali," is a thing that a raincloud has not said in a really long time. The state's four-year drought is worse than ever, which has led to statewide mandatory water restrictions. 

The situation has led others to call for those of us not in California to make sacrifices, too. ​A BuzzFeed article posted yesterday suggested that we stop eating almonds, most of which come from California, and which take roughly a gallon of water to produce per nut.

But is boycotting almonds to save California from drought GOOD or BAD?  

Boycotting almonds is GOOD

Almonds are great. They make chocolate taste wonderful. They are good for you (or this is what ​BIG ALMOND has told me) and they are good in salads and they are good salted and they are good unsalted. Almonds are definitively GOOD. But it is also GOOD to stop hoarding almonds like you're some sort of NoCal squirrel stocking up for a winter that's never going to come (all that mostly legal weed will make you do some crazy shit, brah).

See, almost all of the country's almonds come from California, and it takes a gallon of water to produce each almond. By giving up almonds, you are ostensibly helping California conserve water.

It's what I would call an "empty gesture."

But not all empty gestures are bad! One time for Lent, I gave up playing the ​TaleSpin Sega Genesis video game. It was not difficult, because I hated that game. BUT, and this is important, when I played games during that Lent, I knew that I really should have given up the system wholesale. And so I felt kind of bad about it, and so I played video games a little bit less.

No comment. Image: ​Mike Mozart/Flickr

Giving up almonds is probably, in the long run, a worthless move. All those almonds are probably getting grown anyway, and if you did make a dent in almond production, you're probably vaguely hurting some poor farmer somewhere (or some megacorp, whatever). Yes, Californians (and all of us) need to cut back on water consumption. Yes, there are many things that are more environmentally detrimental than dousing your cereal with almond milk. You (and I) should stop eating meat, probably! 

We can't straight conserve our way out of this. California needs honest-to-goodness rain, and a lot of it. 

The thing is, I don't buy the idea that someone is going to stop eating almonds, start feeling better about themselves, and take half-hour showers with ​California-imported Nestle bottled water to compensate. People know that California is in dire straits, and they also know that hand-removing every single almond from their deluxe trail mixes or adding Irish Cream to their coffee instead of almond milk is not going to solve the state's problems.

But just like me with that crappy video game, if you boycott, stop eating, or scale back your almond consumption, I'd bet that you're also going to consider buying a reusable water bottle or getting out of the shower before your skin turns into a raisin, which is ironically what happens to California grapes when they don't get any rain.

Climate scientists predict that drought is only going to get worse going forward. By making the conscious, easy decision to stop eating almonds today (pecans are better, anyway!), you are deciding that yes, the Earth is FUCKED if we don't do anything, and yes, we as humans in a developed nation need to begin thinking about making some sacrifices to reverse it. It starts somewhere. Might as well start with the easy stuff. Say no to almonds.

-Jason Koebler

Boycotting Almonds is BAD

Just forget about the almonds. Yes, it takes about one gallon of water to grow a single almond. Yes, 82 percent of the world's almonds are grown in California. And yes, California is entering into its fourth consecutive year of drought. But just forget about the almonds for a minute, because they are not the enemy.

There are a lot of other habits we have besides snacking on the occasional almond that are way bigger water wasters like, oh, I don't know, eating meat. Did you know it takes about 1,850 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef compared to just 39 gallons of water for a pound of vegetables? While almonds and pistachios may be the second-thirstiest crop in California, they pale in comparison to alfalfa, which sucks up billions of gallons of water a year. That's right, alfalfa. The average person doesn't eat alfalfa, but you know who does? Cows. The cows you insist on cramming in your pie hole while you nobly turn down the slivered almonds on your green beans.

Besides, almonds are tree crops which means even if the almonds aren't being consumed, the trees need to be watered or they will die, unlike field crops which can go fallow for a year or two. With 70 percent of the state's almonds being shipped overseas, even a US-wide moratorium on the nut wouldn't solve California's water woes.

And even forgetting about our dietary choices, let's consider all the other ways we waste water without a second thought. A 20-minute shower can use up to 80 gallons of water. Just flushing the toilet uses over a gallon of water. If you're really concerned about conserving water, how about enacting the "if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down," rule?

Look, if we all stop eating almonds, sure it would have a small impact. But water conservation is an ongoing issue that isn't going to be cured by a few hipsters giving up their almond milk. I'm not saying we should just say "fuck it" and not change anything, but there are more effective ways we could help ease some of the pressure on California. A lot of small actions can make an impact, but it takes thought, effort, and sustained action. You're gonna have to do more than ban the almond. 

- Kaleigh Rogers