My parents arrived in NYC in 1975 with little money, few friends and no jobs. Our first apartment would have been cramped if we owned anything and it was 12 flights up (which proved to be a force during the 1977 blackout and the elevators went out in the 100 degree heat). If this home did nothing else for me, it’s open door policy to all things creepy and crawling got me pretty impervious to insects (aka cockroaches). In short, things were rough and tight for us, but my parents hit the pavement, found jobs and in time, built a life for us which included a house in a kid-friendly neighborhood, two cars that only sometimes broke down, some Cabbage Patch Kids for me to adopt and wholesome home-cooked meals every single night of the week…but no avocados. Seriously - I don’t even think I knew what an avocado was until the middle of college. Alas, sad times.
College was an exciting time for me with my friends introducing me to hummus (amazing!), white cheddar, OJ with varying pulp percentages and sandwiches served in pita vs regular bread (my mother only cooked proper South Indian food at home, so my staples included tamarind, chili peppers, bitter squash, pumpkin, lentils, rice and freshly made yogurt, while my after-school American food stockpile was made up of the usual suburban suspects of processed cheese, packaged chips, juice in a box and frozen fish sticks…you know, for a special treat). My mother categorically did not buy fancy (“expensive”) food. I remember the legend of when avocados entered the premises and my father made guacamole. Upon seeing the green mystery, my mother dumped it all out, fearing it was a bowl of fungus. That loss and the prohibitive cost ended what could have been my avocado education until I moved into a city overrun with young people who like to eat fancy green things that confuse their parents (then it was avocado, now it is kale).
One day, a friend gave me some avocado for my hummus pita and I just couldn’t believe what was happening. A split, a stab of the knife, a twist and a slice, and the creamy dreamy richness was just beyond anything I could imagine and I was furious as to how I could have gone so long without one.
Me: Mom? What’s up with that? Avocados are really good!
Mom: Are you kidding me? Do you know how much one of those things cost?
Well, no matter. I was an almost adult and could buy all of the avocados my wallet would allow, and it didn’t matter that I lived in NYC where nary is there an avocado tree but there are a whole lot of bodegas.
Many years later, having thrown down pounds of avocados, I am at a place in my life when I am seriously thinking about the food I eat - about what it’s doing to me and what it’s doing to others. Every Saturday, I go to my local farmers market and fill my bags with in-season vegetables and fruits, all that inspire my creativity and enthusiasm in the kitchen. It feels good to support the old lady who sells me the freshest eggs around or the cheese woman who pretends I don’t ask for a sample every single week or the cool Tibetan crew who plays Hindi music while slicing off my carrot greens. The gnarly veggies in oranges, purples, reds and greens are so vibrant and flavorful that a little salt, pepper and olive oil are all I need to enjoy such gorgeous food.
Admittedly, I never got into the organic food thing (I know, blasphemy), mostly because when I graduated college (and grad school, for that matter), I was a broke artist who just couldn’t afford to shop that way. I wanted to, but the cost, short shelf-life and my mother’s voice in my head made walk away from Whole Foods and towards my local family-run grocer. I figured, at least I was helping someone with my eating. Years later, I still vibe the small business model, but am doing so by eating seasonally and locally because while organic is good for the world and for you - buying locally is still the better option (local and organic is the absolute best option). Aside from giving back to the producer, local food is fresher and tastes it, generally costs less, encourages biodiversity, is often pesticide-free (and if you shop at the farmers market, you are able to get to know the farmers and their growing practices first-hand) and unlike my avocados, does not leave a heavy carbon footprint when traveling to your plate. Just as we all ate once upon time, eating what is near and at hand is really how it should be.
So, back to avocados - maybe it’s my shifted perspective, maybe I’ve seen much of this love affair out, but I haven’t been buying them lately at all. In the moments when I get a hankering for mashed avocado slices on sourdough with salt, chili and olive oil (is there an end to this food trend?) - I choose organic because until I move to Mexico or Central America (which, actually, I would jump at the chance to do), these gorgeous green gems will cost the world too much to satisfy me and at the end of the day, if that cost is prohibitive, my mother definitely would not approve.