What you didn’t know about almonds

I love almonds. I snack on them at the library, put them in my salads, and even use almond milk on my morning granola.  On top of all that, whenever I have an almond I feel like I’m sticking a punch to the land grazing, methane producing meat and dairy industries that say, “Oh no, you can’t get a delicious, protein rich product from anything but our cows.”  To me, almonds seem like the perfect, healthy and earth friendly snack.

heart almond

It turns out, almonds are not the holy grail I thought they were, especially when we consider the Earth’s health. And, I am far from being the only to make that mistake.  Since 1965, almond consumption in America has increased tenfold, making almonds the most popular “nut”.  Contributing to this trend are all the amazing health benefits of almonds, such as decreased risk of heart and Alzheimer’s disease.  With super power health benefits like that, it is no surprise those tasty little almonds have become a multibillion dollar crop.  But have you ever stopped to wonder where all our almonds come from?  Fingers point to California, where 82% of the world’s almonds are produced.

Wait a second – what else do we know about farming in California?  We know that Californian farmers are currently experiencing one of the worst Californian droughts in history – a drought so bad that analysts are considering adding another level to the four level drought scale.  Almonds and droughts have more to do with each other than many people assume.  Surprisingly, a single almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to grow – that means a handful of almonds at lunch requires the same amount of water as that found in a typical fish tank.

handful almonds fish tank

Speaking of fish, the water diverted to almond farming is taken from streams that are home to endangered king salmon.  As the water level falls, the salmon become more and more prone to diseases such as gill rot.  Almond farming has also developed a troubling relationship with bee populations.  Since the vast acres of almond trees are just a large monocrop, 60% of the captive bee population has to be brought in to pollinate the almond blossoms.  Unfortunately, during a recent pollination, 15-25% of the beehives were severely damaged, likely by a new pesticide concoction used by farmers.  Bee experts label this large scale die-off as threatening for the whole bee population in general.

Without a doubt, these facts are concerning for earth conscientious almond lovers like myself.  At this point, it is too early to write off the almond trend as either good or bad for the environment.  Hopefully, these studies will bring attention to the need for more sustainable almond farming.  For example, it just doesn’t make sense for almond farmers to damage honeybees, one of their key inputs.   Some farmers have taken this into consideration, and you can now purchase “pollinator friendly” almonds at retailers such as Whole Foods.

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