Meghan Markle, avocados and drug cartels: A misleading narrative

by Anush Arvind

In her recent interview with Oprah, Meghan Markle revealed that almost every detail of her public and private life was unfairly encroached upon and scrutinized by tabloids like The Sun. So much so, that the press significantly contributed to the decline in her mental health. 

In fact, so extreme was the press’ imposition and dissection of her life, Markle admitted it was almost funny.

“I mean, you have to laugh at a certain point, because it’s just ridiculous,” she told Oprah.

She was referring to this infamous story published by the Daily Mail, another British tabloid newspaper, with the wild headline “How Meghan’s favourite avocado snack – beloved of all millennials – is fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder.”

Here’s what a farmer of avocados in Mexico – where about 45% of avocados are grown – has to say: “Do not stop eating avocados. You can rest assured that it’s a quality product and that it is produced by Mexican, Michoacán and indigenous hands.”

He also said that growing avocados comes at a cost paid sometimes in blood and lives. 

So does Markle’s avocado toast cause “human rights abuses, drought and murder”? 

The allure of Green Gold

The Daily Mail story was not inaccurate in its description of the problems that surround avocado agriculture in Mexico. 

Since their rise in popularity as a “superfood” in the US, avocados have become extremely lucrative and, in Michoacán region in Mexico, can rake in about $23,000 per harvest per farmer. They have picked up the moniker “Green Gold” – and rightly so; avocado farming has lifted entire communities out of poverty in Michoacán.

Avocado production in the Michoacán region in Mexico has become increasingly lucrative in the past few years, bringing with it a host of problems, including deforestation and drug cartels. COURTESY OF EL PAÍS.

“This was a very poor … region,” said a Michoacán resident in a VICE News documentary. “But people have improved their economic situation.”

But like many other industries in Mexico, Michoacán’s green gold has attracted unwanted attention from the country’s notorious drug cartels. The cartels have begun to extort cash from avocado farming communities in exchange for “protection” in a system that makes them more akin to minor warlords than sophisticated criminal organizations. 

For local growers, in many cases, this extortion begins with a polite visit from the warlords’ men to inform the grower that a protection payment is expected. If the grower does not pay up, the next visit will involve sicarios or “enforcers.” If the farmer fails to pay, the pressure can escalate into violence in the form of beatings, torture, disappearances or even killings.

Deforestation

As the Daily Mail article points out, there is also the problem of deforestation. According to the World Resources Institute, avocado production drove 30-40% of recent deforestation in Michoacán. Orchards have also begun edging into protected areas, including the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, where native vegetation is paramount for the insect’s survival.

And with the popularity of avocados soaring around the world, the exploitation of the region’s ecosystem doesn’t look like it’s going to stop, without the effective enforcement of land planning policies based on soil suitability and water availability. 

The state of Michoacán, southeast of Colima on the map, dominates Mexico’s avocado production because of its ideal climate and fertile soils. For every 10 avocados sold in the US, eight are grown in Michoacán, the state growers’ association says. COURTESY OF GRO INTELLIGENCE.

So … blame it on Meghan?

Where the Daily Mail is very wrong is in its article’s implication that Markle is somehow to blame for all of this. 

“The campaigning duchess may be passionate when it comes to racial equality and female empowerment,” the Daily Mail writes, “But for someone who wants to save the planet, she’s committed something of a faux pas with avocados.”

No one thinks her eating avocados is a faux pas. Not Markle, not the royal family, not the environmentalists, nor the avocado growers themselves. 

The demand for avocados has brought prosperity to Michoacán and other avocado-producing regions around the world. Taking away that prosperity will not by any means solve the drug-cartel problems that Mexico faces, nor will it significantly solve Mexico’s larger deforestation problem.

Avocados are a great, tasty and nutritious food. Forget the sensationalism that defines the Daily Mail. Eat avocados, and let the Duchess eat them too. 

What’s your favorite kind of avocado toast? Or more seriously, do you think sensationalism in the media is a problem? Let us know in the comments below!

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Grace Foreman
Grace Foreman
1 month ago

I think that the issues surrounding where our products come from is very real, but it isn’t necessarily fair to target one person, especially someone who has been mistreated according to race and gender for quite awhile, as the sole culprit of this problem. I think it’s important to do what we can to watch where our products come from, but in my mind, our government at the moment makes us rely on unethical products daily because there are hardly any brands that haven’t been produced in some immoral fashion. We should hold ourselves accountable for what we buy while simultaneously recognizing that there is no ethical consumption in our current economy.

Dilan Patel
Dilan Patel
1 month ago

Even though I may not be Megan Markle’s biggest fan, she is not to blame for the nefarious actions of drug cartels. Avocados are in trend right now, as a result, farmers in Michoacán are making a killing. It will be interesting to see how their soil holds up after repeated harvesting of their cash crop. If not tended to correctly their success may be short-lived.

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