Breaking up is so hard to do, but I’ve made my decision. Tonight’s guacamole will be the last I ever prepare. In future my signature fish tacos may have to make do with just a piquant pico de gallo pairing. I chop up (not too finely) chunks of avocado to a soundtrack of Radiohead – In The Right Place and Kid A from a newly exhumed double album of early Noughties new directions. The definition of bereft.
The avocado’s detrimental impact on the environment and global communities has long plagued my conscience, but I’ve put it on the back burner since cafe brunches with obligatory avo on sourdough are hardly my natural habitat and I regard this veg-come-fruit as special treat, not a staple. Especially given the supermarket lottery of rock hard stuck to the stone or brown mushy surprises after all those air miles.
The tipping point has been a week’s worth of besuited fossils dithering away at Cop26. The planet in safe hands; you’re having a laugh. Combine this with my recent reading list of ethical books on food and farming – James Rebanks’ English Pastoral, Julian Baggini’s The Virtues of the Table and Wendell Berry’s The World-ending Fire – and it’s become Adios Avocado.
So what’s the environmental case against the big A? Let’s start with the carbon footprint. The bulk of the production is in their native Central and South America, so they travel over 5,000 miles to reach Europe and on top of that require temperature-controlled storage en route. It also takes an awful lot of precious water to cultivate them originally – at the extreme end as much as 320 litres to grow just one avocado.
And then there’s the monopoly of Mexico, which now produces over a third of the world’s 11 billion avos, eight out of ten from the state of Michoacán alone, a huge amount of which are destined for the USA. There was never a Wall against them. Amazingly, thanks to the power of television advertising, seven per cent of the annual US consumption takes place on the day of the Super Bowl.
With the huge demand comes all the downsides of intensive, industrial scale agriculture – agrichemical overload, the exploitation of labour and deleterious soil degradation. And, of course, in Mexico criminal gangs are omnipresent to follow the money – exports from Michoacán pre-Pandemic totalled $2.4bn. Check out a Guardian piece from 2019 that details the battle for control of this ‘Green Gold’:
“The 19 mutilated bodies, nine hanging semi-naked from a bridge in the Mexican city of Uruapan, were initially thought to be the result of a clash between rival drug gangs. But the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which claimed the murders in August, is believed to be fighting for more than drugs. It wants dominance over the local avocado trade.”
Meanwhile, the environment is being criminally abused, too. Forest lands with diverse wildlife have been destroyed to create the brighter sun conditions to produce avocado, thus contributing to global warming.
Yet we all know how willing we are to ignore what’s happening on the other side of the world when a food import is as creamily delicious as an avocado, especially when the ‘sustainable’ word is wheeled out.
Whatever their sustainability claims, I still feel The Avocado Show is an irresponsible venture. The avocado-centric restaurant brand that started in Amsterdam finally opened permanently In London this autumn, with indications they have an eye on other UK cities, including Manchester. There’s a vapid client base waiting, beguiled by Intagram pictures of beautiful green dishes, apparently. I despair. What’s not to like about the ‘infamous’ avocado burger that uses a whole avocado cut in half as a bread bun alternative? Everything.
Fortunately, elsewhere some thought is being given to creating guacamole substitutes minus the avocado. It’s a start. I’ve never been the hugest fan of Thomasina Miers’ Wahaca chain but, while understandably retaining sustainable avocado on her Mexican-influenced menu she has sought a guacamole alternative. Step forward the Wahacamole – a dip made from fava beans, green chilli, lime and coriander.
Over in Toronto the Mexican chef Aldo Camarena has put forward a version made with courgette and pumpkin seed paste. Frozen peas and broccoli have also become part of the ethicl equation. I’ve tried both takes without enthusiasm. I can’t even get my head around a new guacamole from Kol, a high-end Mexican restaurant in London, that’s a blend of pistachios, pine oil, cucumber juice and fermented gooseberries.
And so to my requiem for the One True Guacamole tonight. Once I recall a Manchester restaurant pairing guac with lobster. Tonight’s home-made fish tacos are done with halibut. Is that really a sustainable fish choice? The eating life used to be so much simpler.