Sustainability Column: Are You Nuts to Keep Eating Almonds?

Maggie Dunn, Maroon-News Staff

You’ve probably heard that almonds are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and in many ways, this is true. They help to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and facilitate weight loss. But do these health benefits outweigh the multitude of costs to the environment?

According to The Atlantic, each almond produced consumes 1.1 gallons of water across its lifespan. Americans now consume more than ten times the amount of almonds they did in 1965. While the U.S. is the world’s leading consumer of almonds by far, it is also the leading producer of almonds. 82 percent of almonds come from California, the only state in which they grow. However, California just experienced the worst drought in recent history – so bad that experts are considering expanding what is currently a 1-4 scale drought system to include a whole new level of drought which would be called D5 (The Atlantic). In spite of California’s water problems, it stubbornly continues to produce millions of almonds each year. Practices like this are unsustainable; areas that do not have enough water to begin with (i.e. the Western United States) should not take it upon themselves to spearhead one of the most water-intensive industries in food. Why not mass-produce almonds in an area with adequate precipitation levels, and not one that is already starved for water?

For the sake of comparison, beef requires 1,847 gal/lb to produce, while almonds take 1,929 gal/lb, according to The Huffington Post. Cutting meat out of your diet is certainly beneficial to your health, in addition to the water savings. But given the even greater water demand for almond production, we need to start considering almonds as environmentally unfriendly in regards to water consumption. There are plenty of other options that allow you to replace almonds in your diet with more eco-friendly alternatives.

But why is this important? Why is water so central to conversations about climate change and about our food? Water affects every aspect of our lives, be it education, home life or our jobs – we cannot do what we do if we don’t have access to water. The Water Project has found that some 1 billion people are living without access to safe drinking water. Water is both a health crisis and a women’s crisis – not only is sanitation a big issue in most parts of the world, but women spend an average of six hours getting water every day in the world. Those wasted hours detract from the time they could be using for their education, advancing their job prospects and improving their standing in society.

With Earth’s temperatures on the rise – 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded by a significant margin – this will put an even greater strain on the limited resource that is fresh water. Droughts, like the one in California, will be more common as well, because increased temperatures increase the evaporation of water. Water that is currently being used to make products like strawberries, meat, jeans (yes, jeans) and almonds will have to be rethought, as the current practices are largely unsustainable. However, areas with high rainfall could contribute to the production of goods which require a large amount of water and ship them to places with low rainfall, effectively minimizing the need to use an already rapidly shrinking resource.

So if you’re using almond butter, replace it with peanut butter or sunflower seed butter. Almond milk? Replace it with soy milk. Thinking about the food you eat and the impact it has on the place you live is often a difficult shift in thought, but ultimately an essential shift to make. We can’t afford not to think about where our food comes from and how it is made. Taking the conscious step towards eliminating foods and practices that are not sustainable will save you from having to make drastic changes in your habits. So, the next time you go to Price Chopper, make a decision to save water and skip the almonds.

Contact Maggie Dunn at [email protected].