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Toronto chef says we need to stop eating avocados

A Toronto chef is telling people to stop eating avocados, which may come as bad news for people who love to pile the smashed fruit on toast as elaborately and as often as possible.

According to one Mexican-born Toronto chef, our appetite for guac and all things avocado is wreaking havoc with both the environment and the culinary culture of much of Latin America.

Aldo Camarena of Quetzal and Xolo (a Latin American pop-up concept with Ashley McKay, not to be confused with Xola) immigrated with his family to Canada as refugees in 2006 when he was 11, and has spent the last 12 years working in kitchens.

"The current rate at which this fruit is being consumed, and its increase in demand, directly threatens the way of life of millions of people," Camarena tells blogTO. "Be it from lack of access to water, deforestation, land erosion, criminal activity or inaccessibility to our produce."

Though they're now grown in many parts of the world, the avocado is believed to have originated in Mexico.

Camarena understands the Northern love for what is technically a large berry, but he says simple culinary variety and creativity could solve some of the problem.

"There are hundreds of better options out there for people looking for a dip or a spread for their toast," he says, some of which may be on offer from Xolo soon.

Water is a big issue. It takes 60 gallons of water to grow a single avocado, and as Camarena says, Mexico already has an issue with available clean drinking water.

"When you consider what that means for people who actually live there," he says, "it becomes a much more serious issue than having to buy plastic bottled water for two weeks while on vacation."

So not only is it an inefficient food to grow, a variety of factors including mishandling, over-handling, pests and a notoriously finicky ripening process mean that a lot of those avocados never make it to the consumer. 

The delicate nature of avocados means they can be sold at a high price (as we probably all know from being stung at an expensive brunch), and as the demand for avocados continues to grow in North America, they're being priced out of the range of locals and are starting to fade from their plates.

"The price of avocado continues to increase, and with it, so does its disappearance from the tables of those who count on it as part of their diets," says Camarena.

"To many Latin Americans, avocado, also known as aguacate and palta among others, is not just a dip to watch the Super Bowl with," he says. "It isn't a trendy superfood, nor is it something to overindulge on. For many of us Latin Americans, that naturally ripe, local product is pretty central to our diet, culture and identity."

In the United States, per capita consumption of avocados has increased by 440 per cent in the last 20 years. In Canada, we spend nearly $300 million on avocados per year. Our increased consumption of avocados is largely due to rebranding efforts including renaming from "alligator pear" and marketing schemes concocted for the Super Bowl

"If you want to do something nice for the earth today, either cut down on or entirely cut off your avocado consumption," Camarena says. "There is one sustainable way to consume avocados, and that is locally and in moderation."

The vast majority of our avocados still come from Mexico, so finding a more "local" option would be tough, and while you can certainly cut down on your avocado intake, Camarena is sympathetic to guacamole addicts and has suggestions for ingredients and recipes that can help replace avocados.

He suggests a guacamole alternative inspired by both Venezuelan "guasacaca" and Mayan sikil p'ak (pumpkin seed paste) made with two blanched, blended Mexican tatuma squash (kind of like a zucchini) or roasted poblano peppers and two tomatillos. He says that similar to guacamole, it's a versatile recipe that can be adjusted to preference.

"Through our choices and actions, we can find ways to reduce damage to our land, and give it space to restore itself," says Camarena.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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