In 2008, in my senior year of college, a friend and I decided to make brunch. We schleped the extra mile to Whole Foods, where we bought organic eggs, crusty bread, and thick-cut bison bacon, all to craft some sort of open-faced sandwich with. The piece de resistance, however, was a thin layer of mashed, salted avocado applied between the bread and the eggs. I’m not saying I invented avocado toast, but to us and our friends (none of whom grew up with avocado), it was novel.
That novelty, which many people across the country were experiencing at that time, turned into an obsession. Avocado became a metonym for an entire millennial aesthetic. Chefs opened avocado-only restaurants. Avocado shortages became news as a nation worried where it’d get its heart-healthy fats. And finally, as avocado toast appeared at Starbucks and Dunkin’, the fervor waned. Which is why it’s hard to take chefs seriously when they say they’re ditching avocado because its cultivation is unsustainable. Sure, but it’s also just part of everyone’s diet now. Avocado is normie food.
We’ve learned some more things about the avocado in the past 13 years since I wowed my friends with the sparkling innovation of avocado and eggs, and not just that it’s singlehandedly responsible for millennials’ low rates of homeownership. According to the Sustainable Food Trust, avocado’s popularity in North America and Europe is responsible for the crop’s massive carbon footprint, as most avocados are still grown in Central and South America. Increased cultivation has driven up productivity “to the detriment of the environment and there have been accusations of deforestation associated with plantation expansion, which has negatively impacted biodiversity.” Its popularity has also meant populations in Central and South America, for whom avocado has long been a staple food, have a harder time accessing it.
Which is all why some chefs are saying they’re doing away with avocado on their menus. Thomasina Miers, co-founder of UK restaurant chain Wahaca, told the Guardian she switched from avocado to fava beans as the base for a guacamole-type dip because avocados “are in such global demand they are becoming unaffordable for people indigenous to the areas they are grown in.” The Guardian spoke to other chefs who’ve used peas, sunchokes, zucchini, and pistachios as avocado replacements. Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City, University of London, says this is what happens when “an exotic food becomes normalized with no thinking through of the consequences.”
The key there, however, is that avocado has become thoroughly normalized. It’s obviously great that more chefs are possibly considering the ecological impact of their menu choices, and giving more thought to local and seasonal produce sourcing even if that’s not “authentic” to the cuisine they’re making. But this would have happened anyway. Avocado toast is not a dish worthy of destination dining anymore, because by the time it shows up on the menu at Dunkin’, the trend is over.
Chefs could probably have phased out avocado on their menus without much fanfare, but nods toward sustainability have also become their own trend, whether it’s Eleven Madison Park eschewing meat (except for the rich people steak room) because it’s unsustainable, fast-food chains embracing plant-based meat, or brands vowing net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business to be seen making that choice. And of course, we can’t know what’s in any chef’s heart of hearts. Maybe Daniel Humm honestly wants to shepherd in a new era of sustainable, vegan cooking. Or maybe vegetables are just cheaper than heritage duck, and he found a way to spin a cost-cutting measure to his benefit. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both!
Either way, avocado is not a surprise on a menu anymore. It has been woven into the West’s culinary fabric as much as pumpkin spice, sriracha, and turmeric. It is the skinny jeans of food, reliable if not fashionable anymore. Which is honestly great. Instead of bearing the weight of our collective trend-chasing, avocado can now go back to just being food. May she rest well.