Why I would never eat avocados

Updated: 26 November, 2019 08:16 IST | C Y Gopinath | Mumbai

If you knew that entire families far away live in terror or were being destroyed because of something you love to eat, would you still eat it?

In the state of Michoacan, Mexico, where avocado terror hangs like a smog, what used to be called oro verde (green gold) is now called blood avocado
In the state of Michoacan, Mexico, where avocado terror hangs like a smog, what used to be called oro verde (green gold) is now called blood avocado

C Y Gopinath I have never made a secret of the fact that I find avocados to be tasteless and unattractive. Yes, I know that they're super berries (yes, berries) full of healthy monounsaturated fats like oleic acid. I know about their phytonutrients. I know that their healthy fats help absorb those orange carotenoids you find in carrots and sweet potatoes. I know, I know. Avocados are God's gift to mankind.

But they taste like wet blotting paper mashed into paste.

The only reason that dip goes down the hatch is the tasty tortilla chip you scoop it up with and the onions, salt and other things someone added to the guacamole to disguise the avocado's native tastelessness.

In Nairobi, where I lived for six years, avocado trees grew on sidewalks and their fat, over-ripe fruits rotted on the ground. You could get a dozen for a few shillings. In July this year, a single Haas avocado cost $2.16. In Mumbai, ordered online, its price before a 20 per cent discount is R106. That's a lot to pay for green pasty mush, however healthy.

But there's another reason why I will request you, in all humility, to kindly stop eating avocados and find some other way to live forever: thousands of poor people are suffering rape, violent death, extortion and lives full of terror because of that heart-healthy fruit you love to eat every morning.
When I look at an avocado, I see blood. In the state of Michoacán, Mexico, where avocado terror hangs like a smog, what used to be called oro verde (green gold) is now called blood avocado.

On a Thursday in August this year, Mexican police found 19 gruesomely butchered bodies. Nine were hanging from a bridge, seven more slaughtered and another three dumped by the road. They were victims of a gang turf war in the western Mexican state of Michoácan. What were they fighting to control?
Avocados, actually.

Worldwide imports of avocado hit $4.82 billion in 2016; that's how much the mishmash is worth. Imports of avocado grew by 21 per cent that year and its average price went up by 15 per cent. The USA is the biggest consumer of avocado ($1.99 billion). Michoacán shipped avocados worth $2.1 billion that year.

Let me rewind. In happier times, when few had heard of the avocado, America's supply came mostly from select farms in California. But with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trading doors opened with Mexico and Canada and one of the things that came flooding in were Haas avocados. They came from the mountainous 60,000 sq km state of Michoacán in western Mexico. Michoacán, the world's top producer of avocados, exported over $500-million worth in 2015. If you're eating an avocado anywhere in the world, chances are it's from Michoacán.

There's more: Michoacán is the only place on earth where avocados grow all year round, thanks to its weather — hot, dry, and its soil, which is volcanic. For being so fertile, the little state has paid a heavy price in human blood.

Michoacán has always had strong drug cartels plying a thriving trade in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. In 2011, just as a cartel called the Knights Templar began growing in size, the US Drug Enforcement Administration launched Project Coronado and Project Delirium, two major operations to kneecap the drug cartel's delivery networks in the United States. Over 3,000 people were arrested. Suddenly drugs were not that easy to send out.

Meanwhile, avocado sales had doubled over a decade in the US; people were going nuts about avocado toast. Pound for pound, avocado had become more profitable than marijuana.

The Knights Templar extorted a fee for every box of avocados from local farms. Small farmers were forced to surrender their land to drug lords. Resistance meant violence, wives and daughters kidnapped and raped, murders. In Tancítaro, with over 56,000 acres of avocado groves, farmers paid $60 per acre every year as 'protection money'.

Many of the farmers of Michoacán, landless now because the cartels took them away at gunpoint, long for the 'good old days' when nothing more lethal than drugs went out of their little state. That has changed — avocado is now the 'low-hanging fruit' that cartels find more legal and more profitable than drugs. They get richer exporting something that the world just loves to lap up, is legal, and everyone is happy.

Well, almost everyone. For the poor farmers of Michoacán, living in fear of their lives, their women and daughters under constant threat of abduction or rape, avocado is a curse. The next time you sit at your Cuffe Parade balcony for a winter morning breakfast with guacamole, let yourself wonder who died two oceans away so that you could eat this thing.

This tasteless, pasty, yucky thing that everyone raves about.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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First Published: 26 November, 2019 07:59 IST

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