Americans are nuts about . . . well, nuts – and the country’s recent obsession with almonds is a tough environmental nut to crack. On one hand, the nut demand is likely the result of a national shift away from traditional American protein sources like red meat, the production of which is incredibly energy intensive and produces vast amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas. On the other hand, almonds require a significant amount of water to grow, which is putting a real strain on the water reserves in California – the drought-stricken state where the majority of American almonds are grown.
Since 2005 almond demand in the U.S. has skyrocketed by 220 percent. That’s faster growth than any other nut – including the iconic peanut, which the almond surpassed in popularity in 2012. According to Mother Jones, Californian farmers will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds of almonds this year – at an environmental cost of 1.1 gallons of water per almond in a year when the state is experiencing its worst drought ever recorded. And despite the drought, new almond orchards keep springing up as farmers drill deep into the earth in search of aquifers that are growing increasingly scarce.
That being said, the rise of vegetarianism in the country has helped fuel the nut craze – and that’s a good thing for the environment and energy consumption, not to mention the widely publicized health benefits that come along with eating almonds. It just turns out that the amazing almond is a bit of a double-edged sword.