Is Our Love of Almonds Causing the California Drought?

almonds warning

Three days ago I made almond milk from scratch. I was so proud of myself I took a photo of it to share on Facebook. I never posted it though realizing there were crumbs from my experiment glaringly in the background.   With two kids that needed to get into bed, the crumbs remained until the morning and my beautiful carafe of fresh almond milk never got it’s Facebook debut. How would the world know how crunchy and earth friendly I am without posting that picture?!

Then as fate would have it, that very next morning I saw an article from the Atlantic Magazine, The Dark Side of Almond Use, where author James Hamblin, MD, discuses that while almonds are good for our health, and we as a nation are eating them in unprecedented numbers, almonds are grown in drought stricken California.  And to grow, almonds need a lot of water. In fact almond farms consume 1.1 trillion tons of water each year, about 1% of all of California’s water. The toll our thirst for almonds has on the environment is enough to raise alarm. Salmon stocks are dwindling having to compete with almonds for water and pollinating bees are being killed by the millions due to pesticide use. Hamblin really summed it up best,

“Thinking about going easy on almonds is sort of analogous to GMO dilemmas or buying organic, where the point isn’t really nutrition, it’s environmental consciousness and sustainability, which always come back to water.”

With the green movement well into its years, people are more conscious of recycling, composting, and feeling good about doing their part, but the effect of farm practices on the food we eat and the effects on the environment are still in it’s toddlerhood. The old equations of:

Recycled + Sustainable = Good to use

Nutrition = Good to eat

are on their way out. We are headed in a new direction. Where healthy for me no longer equals healthy for the environment. A new equation might be:

Nutritious + Sustainable  x (Low Environmental Impact + Low water usage) + Living Wages + Human Animal Husbandry/distance from farm to table  = Acceptable food to eat

Is there an app yet for rating food based on this meticulously developed algorithm? Probably not, but I would bet there will be one shortly, where you can scan the barcode of any food and learn its sustainablity rating. So what does all this have to do with my almond milk experiment? Well perhaps I won’t be in such a hurry to make it again…or purchase almonds in the giant bulk quantity that I do. Maybe I will just use water on my cereal and in my shakes…cut out the middle man and go straight to the source.

But in all seriousness, the water debate (and water crisis) is not going to go away. Instead of having multi-national corporations and governments deciding on who gets use of the water, perhaps it’s time for We the People to start shaping how we want the water debate to unfold.  I’m putting my thinking cap on, I hope you do too. 


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