A true food phenomenon, the avocado epitomizes our time like no other. In the span of a decade, it has been involved in absurd injuries, surreal wedding proposals and sparked a bloody cartel war — all while being exceedingly gratifying to eat. We desire the subtly-flavoured, butter-soft fruit more and more each year, and its significance has pushed far past the produce aisle. The avocado has fast become a cultural touchstone with sociopolitical ramifications that will see us into the 2020s.
The staggering prevalence of avocado toast in the 2010s serves as the supreme testament to the product’s popularity. In its birthplace of Mexico (and other avocado-growing regions), naturally, smashing some of the fruit on a tostada or other vehicle is second nature: No explanation is necessary, no further instruction or recipe needed. But the origins of avocado toast as we know it — the brunch menu mainstay that has launched millions of Instagram posts — can be traced back to 1993 when Australian restaurateur Bill Granger of Bills in Sydney first smooshed avocado on a slice and called in breakfast.
The dish has only gathered momentum in the past decade, ultimately becoming one of the most well-trodden millennial clichés. From a sunny Sydney café to curmudgeonly fodder — remember the irony of the millionaire real estate mogul advising millennials to stop spending “$22 a pop” on avocado toast, and putting the money towards a down payment instead? — the dish now stands as an edible symbol of an entire generation.
As is our wont, what was once self-explanatory — toast + avocado + any additions or seasonings you like — has been elaborated on and codified according to the tenets of “healthy” eating. Cookbooks, recipes and impeccable styling inspiration abound. There’s even a market for avocado-specific gadgets — slicers, pitters, peelers, mashers, cutters and cubers — surely helped along by a spate of “avocado hand” emergency room visits in 2017. (One British plastic surgeon reported seeing patients who had plunged knives into their palms in a misguided attempt to remove the stone at a rate of roughly four per week.)
Meanwhile, multimillion-dollar advertising budgets have made avocados the unofficial food of Super Bowl Sunday. According to Ad Age magazine, the “Avocados from Mexico” campaign will return to the spectacle in 2020 for its sixth straight year with a spot that “will likely feature a celebrity in a humorous plot.” So far, the outlay has paid off: In the month preceding each game, avocado sales have increased 73 per cent as a result of the past five campaigns, said Alvaro Luque, the company’s president and CEO.
The effectiveness of the ads, which most recently starred American actor Kristin Chenoweth teaching a chorus of dogs to sing the “Avocados from Mexico” jingle, highlights an important factor when considering the ascent of the avocado. Its cultural currency isn’t simply due to the fact that it’s an exceptional product. A rash of avocado wedding proposals — as ridiculous as they may be — and 1.3 million Instagram posts don’t just happen. The internet doesn’t just spontaneously become obsessed with a single food inexplicably. Pivotally, marketing sets the stage.
“It’s been driven primarily by the trade, by trade marketing. But what’s happened is that’s seeped into social media and it’s a product that’s become far more hip than it used to be,” Mike Knowles, managing editor for Fruitnet.com , told the BBC in 2017. “It’s no longer synonymous with ‘70s bathroom schemes and the dinner parties that my parents would have. It’s far more about your hip, young consumers — people are Instagramming the hell out of this product and it’s just going like wildfire.”
While avocados have most definitely reached emblematic status in Canada, we don’t have to look back very far to find a time when they were much less common. According to Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, Canadians now spend nearly $300 million on avocados annually. But this wasn’t always the case, and if you remember the disappointing inconsistency of avocados in years past, you won’t be surprised to learn why.
As avocado analyst Avi Crane told the CBC in 2017, “Canada, for many years, was an orphan for the U.S. market.” Far from a major player, we once served as an avocado backwater of sorts, absorbing lower quality “No. 2” grade fruit. A significant shift occurred in 2012, which Crane witnessed while working for a fruit distributor. “During that time, we saw avocado consumption in Canada just go wild,” he said. “Sometimes we were exporting more to Canada on a weekly basis than to the U.S.”
Today, almost all of the avocados sold in Canada (95 per cent) come from Mexico, which is also the world’s largest producer. As cartels have moved from drug trafficking to exploiting the country’s multibillion dollar avocado industry, recent developments there only add to the food’s complexity. Not a new story when it comes to our global supply, unprecedented demand is accompanied by those willing to do whatever it takes to profit from it. This, sadly, includes razing protected land and seizing farms to plant groves, and even killing those who stand in the way, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.
As the 2010s come to a close, then, the peerless food of the decade serves as a reminder. While the avocado’s cachet has extended well past the culinary, the perilous situations facing the people who produce it — as with cocoa and seafood before it — must be illuminated.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019