The Colonization of Avocado Toast
From a “poor meal” to a $14 Instagram worthy post, here’s the story of Avocado Toast.
If you asked me as a child what my favorite breakfast meal was, I would reply - with dreamy eyes and drool at the edges of my lips - “avocado on bread.” Warm bread in the morning, split open and smothered with freshly, smashed avocado chunks and sprinkled with salt and pepper is still one of my favorite meals. It’s a meal that defines nostalgia perfectly. Each bite brings me back to the circular table in the corner of my abuela’s kitchen in Brooklyn - a staple in the morning routine. Watching her make her café con leche while carving out the slices of avocado for me, in total silence, is a memory I’ll carry for me until the end of time. It was my bridge to our homeland of Puerto Rico. It was a meal my abuela brought with her to the mainland when she moved from Puerto Rico to New York City. This made our morning routine incredibly special and gave me a great sense of pride in learning a little tradition from my family heritage.
Fast forward to 2022 and I loathe seeing avocado toast on fancy menus in SOHO cafes and on petite serving plates at high-end eateries with a price tag of $14 or more. Even in the times of high inflation, the average cost of an avocado is $1.36, according to Eater, and a loaf of bread is $2.50, and a pinch of salt and pepper…let’s call it an even $1.00. The point is…avocado toast doesn’t cost $14 but when it has become colonized, the price is justified by the masses.
Look up the history of avocado toast and you will quickly be convinced that the delicious pairing started in Australia then stolen by the Californians as their speciality. A deeper dive proves this theory to be false - and to all of my Hispanics, it proves to us that everything we value is up for grabs…even some damn bread and avocado.
According to a Taste article:
In old newspaper archives, Birdsall found a recipe dating back to 1920 in San Gabriel’s Covina Argus, from Martin Fesler, who instructed readers to mash avocado with a fork and spread it on “a small square of hot toast.” Here were the Dead Sea Scrolls of millennial brunch.
The same article mentions the favoring of the avocado dish back in the 18th century by the British:
In the 19th century, it wasn’t just the Australians who had an affinity for the pairing. Avocados were so well known among the British that they were called “midshipman’s butter” or “military subaltern’s butter.” Even then, avocado toast was a dish for the fashionable. An 1843 dispatch from Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, in the Manchester Guardian recalls that the breakfasts for “the sharp-set” included “the fine avocado pear called among the military’s subaltern butter,” which they ate on French rolls or the garlicky “common island loaf.”
(We all know how the British roll…so it’s undeniable that their credentials bring much skepticism.)
Originally known as ahuacate, the rebranding of the avocado name occurred in 1915 by the California Avocado Association. “In an 1882 dispatch from Jalisco in The Times-Democrat of New Orleans, a reporter finds that “the finest fruit in Mexico is a vegetable and that vegetable is the ahuacate…there are scores of ways of preparing the ahuacate. Eaten raw, with bread and salt, one soon learns to like them.”
Mexico is the birthplace of the ahuacate - aka the avocado - and has been dated back to the Aztec people - dating the delicious fruit to over 10,000 years ago. Avocado was a “foundational Aztec food, so much so that early Spanish settlers called avocado “mantequilla de pobre” or “butter of the poor.”
From ahuacate to aguacate - avocado’s name in the Caribbean - the avocado is synonymous with the Hispanic culture. Served with any meal from beans and rice to sopa and bread, avocado makes any Hispanic meal ten times better. While many still see avocado as the “mantequilla de pobre” Western civilization has adopted this fruit as the Mecca for the elite. Complicating its original recipe with a topped fried egg, or radishes and sesame seeds or tomato slices and red onions, the explosion of avocado toast in America - and on Instagram - has left many Hispanics wondering if there will ever be an end to the colonization of our cultures. From the pure dismissal of its origins to its current, hefty price tag, avocado and toast in 2022 is anything but a “butter spread for the poor.”
Next time you see avocado toast on the menu in the Upper West Side, be sure to salute the Aztecs and remember where it all started.
Reminds me of when Madonna started drinking coconut water. Suddenly this thing of my childhood was the “in thing”....they even have avocado toast at Dunks! SMH