As California descends ever deeper into a potentially devastating drought, with residents facing unprecedented demands to cut water use, everybody is looking for somebody else to blame.
But perhaps the most high-profile scapegoat in the parched Golden State is not a somebody but a something: the highly nutritious, increasingly notorious almond.
California grows 80pc of the world's almonds, but it is two other widely reported statistics that have caused controversy: cultivating a single thirsty almond takes more than a gallon of water, and almonds alone account for almost 10pc of California's agricultural water consumption. Agriculture takes up 80pc of the state's total human water usage, which means almonds use some 8pc of the precious supply: more than the entire city of Los Angeles.
Now, however, almond growers are pushing back against the negative coverage, with a PR drive to persuade consumers that the much-criticised kernel is as healthy for the environment as it is for their digestive systems. "All food requires water," said Stacey Humble, marketing chief for the Almond Board of California. "When you read that one gallon figure without any context, it may sound like a lot. But almonds don't use that much more water than many foods do."
California produces about half of the fruits and vegetables in the US. "To say a particular crop is to blame for the drought situation is neither fair nor useful," said Professor Richard Howitt, an expert in agricultural economics at the University of California's campus at Davis. "Almonds are a market crop and people like them. Nuts are high water users, but so are apricots and peaches and other fruit. To single out almonds, which are healthy, water-efficient and in demand, is misguided."
America's almond consumption has more than tripled over the past decade. The almond recently surpassed the peanut as the most popular snack in the genre. It is thought to be effective in combating obesity, diabetes and arthritis, and recent research has suggested it can also reduce the spread of cancers. (© Independent News Service)