Quote of the day: AVOCADOS

April 1, 2018

AVOCADOS

The precious commodity that drives Michoacán’s economy and feeds an American obsession is not marijuana or methamphetamines but avocados, which local residents have taken to calling “green gold.” Mexico produces more of the fruit than any country in the world — about a third of the global total — and most of its crop is grown in the rich volcanic soil of Michoacán, upland from the beaches of Acapulco. It is one of the miracles of modern trade that in 2017, Mexico’s most violent year on record, this cartel-riddled state exported more than 1.7 billion pounds of Haas avocados to the United States, helping them surpass bananas as America’s most valuable fruit import. Nine out of every 10 imported avocados in the United States come from Michoacán.

The real marvel of Mexico’s avocado trade, however, is not so much its size as the speed of its sudden growth. Avocados have been cultivated in Mexico for around 9,000 years. (When Spanish conquistadors first encountered the oblong fruit in the early 16th century, they called it aguacate, after ahuacatl, an Aztec word that means testicle.) Despite this deep history, Mexico exported very few avocados — and none at all to the United States — through the 1980s, when a California-based company, Mission Produce, opened the first avocado-packing plant in Uruapan. The United States had banned Mexican avocados since 1914 over fears of an insect infestation and cheaper competition. But in 1994, Mexico, Canada and the United States enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement — and soon thereafter the United States began lifting its ban.

An avocado explosion followed. In 1994, Americans consumed a little more than one pound of the fruit per person per year — almost all from California growers, whose harvest comes only in the summer. Today, that figure is up to seven pounds per person year-round. Fueled by a growing Latino community and Hollywood stars promoting the health benefits of the fruit’s unsaturated fats (Miley Cyrus has an avocado tattoo on her arm), America’s avocado craze has intensified every year. An estimated 135 million pounds of avocados were consumed in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl last month. (The Super Bowl is America’s top avocado day, just ahead of Cinco de Mayo.)

–Brook Larmer, New York Times Magazine

illustration by Andrew Rae

 

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