Why is almond butter so expensive now? This is what I thought as I returned the glass jar to the shelf of the co-op last summer. It was my first summer working full-time on a farm, and I watched my newfound perspective inform my reasoning. California… drought… almonds… aha!
Almond butter is so expensive because there’s a drought in California, where most of America’s almonds are produced. A no-brainer for anyone connected to their food. But I was just beginning to learn the consequences of the food choices I was making, and most Americans are still in the dark.
Actually, California produces 80% of the world’s almonds. They account for 11 billion dollars in profit statewide. However they also require a lot of water to produce. This is a heavy subject now that California is in the midst of an intense drought.”The amount of water needed to produce the state’s crop [almonds] would cover the amount of water 60 percent of California’s residents are recommended to use per year,” says ABC News.
Granted, almonds are not the worst culprits when it comes to sucking California’s water resources dry. “It takes more than a gallon of water to grow a single almond, and it may take 220 gallons of water to produce a large avocado… A stick of butter requires more than 500 gallons of water to make. A pound of beef takes up to 5,000 gallons,” [Slate]. Almonds are also a nourishing superfood, more so than many of the other foods California produces. So almonds may have gotten a little more fire than they deserve. Almond farmers definitely have, despite many attempts to make their method of growing as water-efficient as possible.
That said, almonds do take up a lot of water (10% of California’s total supply) in a state that is parched.
Then a Facebook post arrived. It was from someone who has done great work spreading awareness about junk food and healthy eating (it’s no wonder she’s a fan of almond butter!). It said:
Her outrage was understandable, and I’m not criticizing her for it. I’ve got it too! Almond butter is one of my favorite things in the world, but I wonder if we also feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to food, that we must have what we want, even at the expense of the planet.
It’s a good thing the price of almond butter reflects its growing impact on the environment. As a culture that is profoundly disassociated from our food, money is the only sure-fire way to get the attention of lots of people right away. Look closely, and you’ll see that the price of almond butter reflects the suffering of California’s ecosystem, the hardships of farmers, and the looming possibility that always having what we want is a highly destructive way of life.
What’s this? A call to boycott almonds?
It’s a reason to look deeply at the consequences of our fundamental beliefs (for example, “of course I should have what I want”), to examine whether our actions are truly in line with how we feel called to live, and to question what our part is in creating how the world is today, and how we will leave it for our children.
If you’ve done all that and feel you’d like to make some clear, down-to-earth changes, here are a few humble suggestions.
- Buy locally grown food.
- Grow your own food.
- Learn the joys and benefits of foraging.
- Live simply, appreciate beauty, and share joy.
I don’t have a full answer to any of these questions. Nor do I adhere exclusively to the principles I mentioned above. But I do have respect for the interdependence of life and for my own calling to live in deep connection with the earth. I do my best to honor that calling as it grows and changes form. What more can any of us do than this?
(Photo of Barny Almond Butter courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)