Enjoy your guac while you still can: Why some chefs are smashing the avocado trend

Some chefs are moving away from using avocados in their restaurants due to concerns over the fruits' large carbon footprint, unsustainable harvesting methods, and role in organized crime.

Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that avocado production is linked to a loss of biodiversity, water shortages and deforestation.

"There's some sustainable baggage there linked to the product itself, which is why some leaders in the culinary world are showing some discontent about the popularity of avocados and they're trying to figure out other ways to please their customers using other kinds of products," Charlebois said.

Charlebois explained that avocados are grown as a monoculture, meaning the same crop of avocado trees grow on the same land year after year. He said high agrochemical inputs on these farms degrades soil fertility, negatively impacting the environment and biodiversity.

According to the Water Footprint Network, a single avocado requires nearly 230 litres of water to grow, compared to an orange that needs about 50 litres, or a tomato that requires 13 litres.

In addition, experts say the international trade of avocadoes translates to a large carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprint Ltd estimates that two small avocados in a pack has a CO2 footprint of 846.36 grams, which is almost double the amount from a kilogram of bananas.

The primary producers of avocados globally remain in Central and South America. Because of this, the fruit has to travel long distances to reach consumers and is picked before it’s ripe and shipped in temperature-controlled storage, which is energy intensive.

The lucrative nature of avocados has also attracted drug cartels, and gangs have been known to demand protection money, buy farms outright and even threaten USDA inspectors.

"More and more consumers are actually seeing the planet on their dinner plates," Charlebois said, adding that unsustainable foods like avocados are becoming more unpopular with restaurant goers.

Despite the environmental concerns, avocado are still part of Canada's Food Guide, which Charlebois says is surprising.

"There's an environmental undertone in the food guide that I thought would be consistent across the board," he said.

Charlebois said there are alternatives to avocados, including peas, fava beans, artichokes or pumpkin seeds that can be used in dishes and are more sustainable.

Mexican-born Toronto chef Aldo Camarena, who runs two restaurants in the city, announced in April that he would no longer be offering guacamole, instead serving up an alternative made with courgette and pumpkin seed paste.

Other restaurants across the world are also shying away from avocados.

Thomasina Miers, co-founder of the Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca in the U.K., offers a bean-based alternative he calls "Wahacamole," while London chef Santiago Lastra added a guacamole-style dip, made from pistachios and fermented gooseberries, to the menu at Kol last year.

Irish restaurateur JP McMahon removed avocados from all his restaurants in 2018, calling them the "blood diamonds of Mexico."

While avocado substitutes are comparable in taste, Charlebois says replicating the texture of the fruit can be challenging, but noted that chefs are getting better at it.

"Avocados are popular for a reason -- they taste good, and they're linked to major events like the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup, and so it's hard to replace, but if you get creative you can replace them," Charlebois said.