Avocados are everywhere. A fruit Americans once knew only in the Southwest and available seasonally is now nationwide and year-round. When I left California for college in the 1980’s, many of my new Midwestern friends were unfamiliar with avocados. Not any more.
They are a part of American culture now, but… and I hate to say this… the way we talk about avocados doesn’t reflect well on us. As much as people love avocados (and they really do), we also love to be scandalized by the price, or by millennials’ housing choices, or toast, or “avocado hand”. In the social media world, avocados are clickbait celebrities.
Avocados have become the Kardashians of the produce aisle.
I am going to be honest. All this lead me to avoid talking to people about avocados for a while. It was just too frustrating, especially after the Thomas fire in December of 2017 destroyed the homes and orchards of many friends.
When I was ready to break my vow of silence, I resolved to talk (and write) about avocados in a more thoughtful and positive way. What it takes to grow them. How they fit into Southern California farming. How they are reflected in the food we eat instead of the food we tweet.
Does it matter how we talk about avocados? Not to the avocados. Obviously it matters to people like me who derive an income from them. But is this sub-tropical fruit on the edges of the American diet really that important? Perhaps not. (There… I said it. Avocados might not be that important.)
If we can talk about this one fruit in a more adult way, maybe we can have better conversations about the crops at the center of the American plate. Maybe we come to grips with the idea that all foods, all growing practices, all regions, inevitably involve trade-offs in terms of health, labor, economics, and the environment.
I think that would be a good thing. And since I can’t lead a conversation about commodity crops like corn or soy or dairy, I’ll talk about avocados. I’m going to start this conversation from where I am.
Which happens to be right next to a few hundred avocado seedlings.