Are sustainable food trends doing more harm than good?
Updated: Jul 25
Over the course of recent years, many companies have jumped onto the environmental bandwagon, seeking to provide high-quality, sustainably produced goods. It’s what the consumer wants, right? But are they getting what they asked for? Whilst companies are providing greener outlets to respond to a change in consumer appetite, problems arise with green-washing – where the product’s sustainable profile is misrepresented for profit. Think about how often you have seen the eco-labels of ‘sustainably produced’, ‘home grown’ or ‘organic’ when walking through aisles at your local supermarket, but how much are you really being told about the production or supply processes of these food products. Sometimes the type of food you are eating is more important than whether it is local or ‘home grown’. The idea that transportation equals high greenhouse emissions forgets to bring in competing factors into the equation. For example, meat, even when locally grown, is going to rack up higher greenhouse emissions than pursuing a vegan or vegetarian diet where not all food may be locally sourced. When companies are more concerned about creating their own dent in the market than combatting wastefulness, it can risk making sustainability appear trendy, and engender tokenistic concerns for the environment from their consumers. The question thus must be asked: are sustainable food trends negatively impacting environmental consciousness?
Such a question can be explored with the age of the avocado in which we live. The mammoth of sustainable food trends can almost unanimously be awarded to the Avacado. Avocado on toast, mashed or sliced, or in ice cream, and some may even be thinking about the Waitrose avo-choco easter eggs- it has all defined the last decade. The avocado, being a symbol for healthy eating, has given cultural momentum to hipster cafes. High in good fats and all-around nutritious, it's easy to see why it has gained in popularity. In the US, avocado has been topping sales, amounting to $2.6 billion in 2020 alone. Unfortunately, the more fashionable avocadoes have become, the more concerns over their production have been peripheralized. Global North demands have overburdened jurisdictions in which they are manufactured whilst restricting local businesses of a diversified clientele. Mexico, for example, is a forerunner in the avocado industry, dedicating 500,000 acres to its production. Moreover, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, each avocado requires 320 litres of water, a colossal amount, especially as surrounding local communities face difficulties in accessing clean water supplies. Although our market is hardwired to follow the laws of supply and demand, people directly affected by the production process should not be treated as collateral for western tastes. Mindless following of so-called ‘sustainable trends’, that are marketed as a win-win, seemingly good for the planet and its people, need to be brought under the spotlight.
‘Sustainable’ is being used as a catch-all phrase, synonymising healthy food, with ethically produced food, and low emission foods. These factors should be treated in their own right when deciding how sustainable a product is, but companies that are green-washing are treating consumers as if they are none the wiser. The avocado trend has been sold on the implicit basis that this fruit is almost immune from the eyebrow-raising stats you would think would only accompany meat products. Customers are being told they are doing something good for themselves and the planet by buying into this trend, even as its prices rise. Indeed, please continue to enjoy eating avocadoes, but think twice about why you opted for an avocado over maybe a slightly less glamourous broccoli? Although this trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future, consumers need to actively question its claim to be ‘sustainable’, and call for a restructuring of the production processes and supply chains that have dominated the marketing of this fruit. Restoring environmental consciousness can thus begin with an awareness of the cracks in this supposed win-win trend, and if en-masse demand drops, it can save this crop from over-production, and even eventual decimation.