Mod­ern Life: What Is Avo? Richard God­win

The Oldie - - NEWS - Richard God­win

In his Summa de Geografía of 1519, the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dor Martín Fernán­dez de En­ciso de­scribed the many strange things he had en­coun­tered while romp­ing around the Amer­i­cas.

One yel­low­ish spec­i­men took his fancy. ‘That which it con­tains is like but­ter and is of mar­vel­lous flavour, so good and pleas­ing to the palate that it is a mar­vel­lous thing.’

The ex­plorer had chanced upon the fruit known to the Aztecs as the ahua­catl; to later gen­er­a­tions as the ‘al­li­ga­tor pear’, and to 21st cen­tury or­thorex­ics as the av­o­cado – or ‘avo’ for short. Per­haps we should have stuck with the Aztec name. Ahua­catl roughly trans­lates as ‘bol­lock’. It was so named be­cause the fruits dan­gle from the tree in pairs.

The but­tery bol­lock fruit was soon shipped back to Europe, along with other Me­soamer­i­can ex­oti­cisms such as toma­toes, pota­toes and cho­co­late. It seemed a fair deal. We gave them small­pox; they gave us the sta­ples of mod­ern cui­sine. While av­o­cado en­joyed a mi­nor vogue as a 1970s bath­room shade, it wouldn’t achieve its full so­cio-cul­tural po­ten­tial un­til the mid-2010s. To­day, it is no mere fruit but an in­sti­tu­tion, an ide­ol­ogy and short­hand for a gen­er­a­tion.

The key in­no­va­tion seems to have been the place­ment of the av­o­cado upon a piece of toast. No one is sure who thought of this. But the per­son who pop­u­larised it was Cal­i­for­nian ac­tress-turned-life­style blog­ger, Gwyneth Pal­trow.

In her 2013 al­manac, It’s All Good, she pre­sented her read­ers with a ‘lifechang­ing’ recipe. Ba­si­cally, you place some bread in a toaster, spread it with *trig­ger warn­ing* ve­gan may­on­naise, and bung on some av­o­cado plus a few sea­son­ings: salt, pep­per, lemon juice, chilli flakes. Pal­trow de­scribed the com­bi­na­tion as like a ‘fa­vorite [sic] pair of jeans — so re­li­able and easy and al­ways just what you want’. If you dis­pense with the ve­g­an­naise, per­haps.

The idea spread in tan­dem with a new form of tech­nol­ogy – in this case, the photo-shar­ing so­cial me­dia plat­form, In­sta­gram. #Av­o­cado, #av­o­cado­toast and #avo­toast rapidly be­came one of the most pho­tographed food­stuffs on the site (more than 6.5 mil­lion im­ages) and cer­tainly the most iconic.

Why? Well, the pale greens and pas­tel yel­lows sure look pretty. The av­o­cado com­mu­ni­cates virtue: it’s ve­gan, high in pro­tein and omega-3s, good for skin, di­ges­tion and all that. It’s ver­sa­tile.

A child could pre­pare it. And su­per­mar­kets have fi­nally nailed the ‘Ripe and Ready’ ver­sion, which saves a lot of avo-angst.

All of this has led to a back­lash. Prices have reached record highs: 530 Mex­i­can pe­sos (£21.80) for a 10kg box! Av­o­ca­dos are blamed for the Cal­i­for­nian drought: did you know it takes 100 litres of water to grow a sin­gle av­o­cado? Av­o­ca­dos are em­blem­atic of the much ma­ligned “clean eat­ing” move­ment, that has led to some re­ally bad recipes in­volv­ing ve­g­an­naise.

The Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Plas­tic, Re­con­struc­tive and Aes­thetic Sur­geons has warned of a rise in ‘av­o­cado hand’ – a stab­bing in­jury caused when try­ing to re­move the stone. And av­o­cado is, of course, the cru­cial fac­tor in the de­pres­sion of wages, spi­ralling house prices and gen­er­a­tional in­jus­tice.

Back in March, an Aus­tralian lux­ury prop­erty de­vel­oper, Tim Gurner, claimed that ‘Mil­len­ni­als’ (a dis­parag­ing term for young peo­ple) would eas­ily be able to af­ford houses if they could only stop ramming bol­lock fruit brunches into their whiny, en­ti­tled gobs.

In the av­o­cado’s de­fence, it isn’t the most pho­tographed food on In­sta­gram; that’s pizza. While av­o­ca­dos do re­quire lots of water, it’s mi­nus­cule com­pared to that needed for meat farm­ing. Yougov found that only six per cent of Amer­i­cans un­der thirty had ever bought av­o­cado on toast in a restau­rant. Any­way, an imag­i­nary Mil­len­nial buy­ing an imag­i­nary £6 avo toast ev­ery day of her life would have to forego it for twen­ty­four years to save a 10 per cent de­posit on the av­er­age London flat.

It would per­haps have been much bet­ter had Christo­pher Colum­bus sim­ply stayed put.

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