Quinoa, avocado and cashews, just how sustainable are so-called 'trendy' foods really?

Our avo obsession could actually be pretty costly for the environment [Photo: Getty]

Smashed avocados for brunch, quinoa for dinner and a handful of cashews as a snack.

More and more of us are thinking twice about what we eat, and so-called ‘trendy’ foods not only tick the healthy box, they’re also pretty virtuous when it comes to the environment.

Or are they?

When it comes to eating healthily, we know how our plates should look. Less meat and sugar, and much more vegetables, legumes, fruit and nuts.

Scientists claim this diet shift could help prevent 11 million deaths per year by 2050, which has to be a good thing.

But when it comes to the environment is it quite as simple as the “meat = bad, plants = good” mindset that has been gaining traction of late? 

Of course, we know that reducing meat meat consumption is better for the planet, but there are also environmental concerns with many of the superfoods we’re meant to be consuming more of. 

A recent report in the Lancet medical journal commissioned by the Eat Forum NGO claimed that food production is “the largest cause of global environmental change” and, with populations continuing to grow, is “the single largest driver of environmental degradation”.

But there is an alternative way of eating that might just help: enter the ‘planetary health diet.’ Scooch over veganism, this new way of eating considers the environmental impact of every mouthful.

Put together by 37 experts in the areas of climate change, nutrition and farming, the planetary health diet is a new way to eat which offers the best diet for both you and the environment.

But some of our fave faddy foods might not make the plate…

Avocados

From our Insta feeds, to our breakfast plates our love of the green stuff knows no bounds, but while many couldn’t imagine living without the fruity fave, a number of hipster cafes have begun removing avocados from their menus due to environmental concerns.

According to a food mileage calculator, the average avocado travels 4,402 miles before it’s smashed and spread on our sour dough, which is definitely playing a part in knocking the humble avo’s virtuous crown.

If that’s not enough to stop you snapping your avo on toast, cultivation of the fruit is also draining avocado producing regions of water.

Sources say it takes 100 litres of water to grow just one avocado, making it a fruit with a pretty big water footprint.

California, where over 80 per cent of avocados are grown, has experienced serious droughts of late. That’s because avocados require two or three times more water than potato farming.

And that’s before it is flown to the UK just to be stored for weeks in food warehouses before rocking up in your guacamole.  

Why trendy foods might not be so good for the environment [Photo: Getty]

Cashews

Rich in minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium, as well as oil and providing energy and protein, the health benefits of nuts are well discussed.

According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports, imports of cashews into Europe increased annually by an average rate of 17 per cent in value in the last five years.

In the UK alone, we now consume around 19,800 tonnes a year, but could there be a hidden cost to the cashew craze?

Cashew shells are often processed in poor conditions, an issue previously highlighted by the charity Traidcraft Exchange.

They claim European supermarkets have a role to play in this with the buying practices of powerful retailers coming at the expense of the exploitation of workers in Indian cashew nut processing factories. 

Fiona Gooch, of the Traidcraft Exchange, told Telegraph that producers “are under too much [price] pressure,” despite agreements set by the likes of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which provides “base code” rules relating to safe and hygienic working conditions, child labour, living wages and regular employment.

Quinoa

High in protein, gluten-free and low in fat, quinoa has been the superfood of choice for many a Wholefood shopper, but it’s popularity has come at a price. 

Soaring price hikes in nations like Peru and Bolivia, where the grain is produced, has pushed those who farm it out of the market place. 

The price of quinoa in Peru rose more than 500 per cent between 2005 and 2014, while production grew from 32,590 to 114,725 tonnes in the same period, according to Peru’s ministry of agriculture.

Now the people who have eaten quinoa for the best part of seven centuries are finding that imported junk food is cheaper to eat.

Quinoa virtuous in terms of health, not so virtuous in terms of the environment [Photo: Getty]

Soy

The mother of tofu and the soya milk latte, the soya bean has practically become the poster food of  the vegan lifestyle, but soybean cultivation isn’t doing the environment any favours.

For soybeans to be economically viable, vast areas of land is needed to grow them. As a result ecosystems throughout Latin America, including the Amazon and the Atlantic forests, are suffering from extreme deforestation, with almost 4 million hectares of forests destroyed every year.

It’s estimated that between 2000 and 2005, Brazil lost more than 50,000 square miles of rainforest, a large portion of which was attributed to soybean farming.

So how can we get it right?

We all know we should be making more sustainable food choices, but how do we know that what we put on our plate is really as virtuous as it seems?

According to experts it’s about changing the way we think about what we consume, and perhaps more importantly, buying locally and seasonally.

“Generally speaking the ‘trendy’ foods don’t tend to be British which immediately causes a carbon footprint,” explains Andrei Lussmann founder of Lussmanns Sustainable Fish & Grill

“Dry items such as almonds and cashews do have a long shelf live, which is much better than the more perishable products, such as avocados, which could result in food waste issues,” he adds.

“If we are eating these products we must ensure that we are asking questions on how our food gets too us,” he adds. “It’s always best to eat seasonally promoting a more sustainable lifestyle albeit not always in vogue’

Andrei also suggests embracing the flexitarian diet approach. “This holistically underpins the importance of reducing meat consumption which is currently the largest carbon contributor in food production,” he explains.

Another option to help could be to consult a sustainability app, like JouleBug, to switch up your food choices.

It may not be perfect but it’s a step in the right direction, so that next time you upload your oh so healthy food stuffs to social media, you can rest assured that your virtuous diet isn’t in fact costing the earth.