Five years ago, dense but airy sourdough toast smothered with green gunk was the status symbol for millennials across the capital. It was synonymous with the lifestyle of the carefree Hackney dweller, who spent their Sunday brunchtimes strolling around Victoria Park before stopping by their local artisan café for the ultimate it-dish: smashed avo on toast. If you started your day with a perfectly peppered mush (plus optional poached egg) and posted it to your Instagram, it looked like you had your shit together. Whether in the form of a cute cuddly toy, or as the root of the ‘avocado hand-injury’ mini-demic, the exotic fruit was everywhere.
But devoted avo-fanatics have strayed away from them after revelations that the fruit is actually an ecological nightmare. Now, the dish is being struck off menus and replaced with the less problematic shakshuka or eggs benedict.
What on earth is going on?
How to spot a food trend
According to millennial and Gen Z global-food-culture expert, Eve Turow-Paul, culinary trends come from a number of factors including ‘community and belonging’, aka being down with the cool kids. ‘These trends are all about showing off to get social approval,’ she says, ‘in an attempt to fit in with a social group.’
‘People are online looking for something new and cool,’ she continues. ‘They post about it to let others know what they’re eating, making the new thing cool. These trends are short-lived, because once something becomes ubiquitous, it’s no longer special.’
The other problem is envronmental. Tucking into an avocado involves a carbon footprint five times bigger than eating a banana, due to the complexities involved in growing, ripening and transporting them. The majority of London’s avocados currently come from South America. ‘Importing avocados is harmful to the environment and local communities,’ says Santiago Lastra, head chef and owner of Mexican restaurant KOL in Marylebone. ‘There are lots of issues with avocado farming as a result of mass-production and cartels – it’s hugely impacting innocent farmers and indigenous people.’
On top of that impact, by the time avocados eventually hit London’s shops and restaurants, they’re often iron-hard and inedible, hence the need to smash them to a pulp and heavily season them with lemon juice and chilli flakes. Bettina Campolucci Bordi, chef and founder of @avodaily, an Instagram account with 16,000 followers that pays homage to the fruit, immediately noticed a difference in the state of London’s avos when she moved here from Spain.
‘Avocados are hit-and-miss when you get them in the UK,’ she says. ‘They’re expensive and they’re probably picked a lot earlier than they’re supposed to be. I used to get given bagfuls of them because they grow everywhere in southern Spain, where I lived for 12 years. There was a surplus of beautiful, ripe avocados, so I’d always use them in my cooking.’ On her Instagram page, the avo connoisseur posts pictures of sculptures carved out of avocados: birds, flowers and cats. ‘Now I’m living in London, I eat a lot fewer avocados and rarely work with them because they’re not as sustainable.’
An avo alternative
Santiago Lastra refuses to use the globetrotting guacs on his menu at KOL. ‘If you source avocados from Mexico, they will not travel well. To preserve the freshness, you will need to use pesticides and all sorts of chemicals which completely goes against nature,’ says Lastra. Instead of using avocados for the Mexican staple guacamole, Lastra has invented a pistachio mole. ‘We lightly toast pistachios and mix with some water and roast garlic to create the mole,’ he explains.
Sophie Wyburd, head of food at internet recipe overlords MOB, says that people have been ditching the avos and getting more experimental with basic food items. ‘People are doing really delicious things with tomatoes on toast, with loads of garlic, chilli and herbs mixed in,’ she says. ‘People are even mashing up peas to recreate the same visual as an avocado, but using an ingredient that pretty much everyone has knocking around in the back of their freezer that costs very little,’ says Wyburd.
Goodbye to guac
Well, going by London brunch menus, shakshuka and pan con tomate have usurped the avocado and are firmly on the throne where the little green sovereign once sat. Wyburd thinks so too. ‘The avocado craze is dead,’ she says. ‘In the cost-of-living crisis, everyone is becoming more educated about the cost of the food ingredients they’re using and how much food they can make with it,’ she says. ‘The avocado really doesn’t take you very far.’
So when ‘ripe and ready’ avos are in reality rock-hard, extortionate and unsustainable, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of us get the memo. ‘There’s a couple of staunch avocado-heads who will keep eating them for ever,’ says Wyburd, ‘but in terms of a food trend, the avocado is past it.’