BY REBECCA BLANDÓN
It’s almost impossible to go a day without running into today’s hottest new food celebrity: the avocado. In all its inner-green glory, the brown-shelled fruit has achieved a sense of cool unprecedented for fruit, but it wasn’t always this way.
A basic staple in Latin America since 7000 BC, the avocado was considered a fruit of fertility by Aztecs and was originally called, the “ahuacacuahatl,” meaning “the testicle tree.” A part of the berry family, the so-called “alligator pear” climbed ranks over time: in the late 17th century the avocado went from being known as “the poor man’s butter” to an exotic and mysterious fruit endowed with mythic powers that “provoked lust,” according to the Spanish. In 1833, the first batch of avocados were grown as ornamental plants in Florida shortly before the mother tree of all Californian avocados was transplanted from Latin America into American soil around 1913. Since the 1920s, American avocado farming has expanded, creating over 80 varieties of which 90% are grown in California. Today, about 43% of American households buy avocados, which is largely due to the avocado’s pervasive character across multiple industries including food, fashion, art and even sports.
A media personality of its own, the avocado has captivated a powerful media following from epicures, fashionistas and creatives alike, gaining countless affirmations across the digital landscape. The avocado has successfully leaped from its place as an everyday fruit in the supermarket to the celebrity subject of internet memes, graphic t-shirt designs and tattoos. Highly featured in healthy but indulgent recipes, chic fashion trends and art pieces, the avocado is also largely adored by women who are often celebrities themselves: writer Lena Dunham, fashion blogger Leandra Medine, artist Miley Cyrus, and chef Nigella Lawson are all proponents of the avocado, supporting its growing career as if it were their own. And maybe it is because, as Medine once said, the avocado supersedes its own nutritional purpose as a healthy-fat food by providing an “edible therapy and visual calm,” that acts more as a comforting friend than a mere ingredient. Case in point: guacamole during Super Bowl time is every viewer’s best friend. Not surprisingly then, the avocado has evolved to breathe a life of its own before our very own eyes, greeting us in a variety of forms, stealing the show as avocado toast, avocado earrings or avocado portraits.
The Novelty of Avocado Advertisements on Super Bowl Sunday
Just last year (2015), the Super Bowl aired its most expensive ad yet: “Avocados from Mexico,” which may have also been its first ad to promote produce. In the commercial, “the ideal year-round snack” is served as a vibrant green dip surrounded by a bountiful ring of chips. Yet as early as the 1990s, the tradition of stuffing oneself with chips and dips on Super Bowl Sunday led advertisers to create the “Guacamole Bowl,” a special competition between the NFL players’ guacamole recipes. In addition, avocado-themed PR campaigns eventually set the avocado’s destiny as one of the most popular foods sold and advertised during the Super Bowl today. This year, the trend continues with another Super Bowl Sunday commercial promoting the beloved fruit – a star of its own accord, alongside performers like Beyonce and Coldplay.
The Avocado’s Multifaceted Power In The Kitchen
Known as a power food for its mono-saturated fats, low-calorie makeup, and good cholesterol, avocados outwin the most famous celebrities in their versatility. The fruit has multiple alter egos, taking form as guacamole, salad-dressing, pasta sauce, smoothies, ice cream, creamy paste and edible mini-bowls. This ad announces 17 avocado recipes that provide various ways of eating the delightful fruit in combinations of cooked or raw avocado, in chunks or as thick paste, served alone or mixed with other ingredients. Each type of dish speaks its own language, appealing to different consumers in a gendered manner. For example, guacamole is persistently marketed as the the staple food for Super Bowl Sunday, a day-event centered around one of the most masculine sports: football. Men are also encouraged to ask for dollops of creamy avocado in their Chipotle burritos and Subway sandwiches, all in efforts to add macho-ness to the meal. For women, on the other hand, the avocado is a golden ingredient with a cool, calm and collected appeal meant to augment and transform any dish into a healthy and aesthetically pleasing one.
Eating Avocado Toast Represents Success
Like most culturally influential figures of its time, the avocado has its ring of devout followers, many of which are pioneering women in their respective industries. Mindy Kaling, a talented actress and writer with a shrewd and intelligent personality, shows off her home-made avocado toast in this personal instagram post. Kaling’s photo portrays avocado toast as a token of her successful lifestyle, elevating the dish as a representation of her social status, just as many millennials do through their own social media posts of other popularly chic foods like kale. Celebrities, as described by Johnston and Goodman exist as “big citizens” in society, serving as paragons of respectable lifestyles. In this case, Kaling’s actions therefore become an empowering form of expression for others who wish to follow in her prospering footsteps.
When Eating Avocado Isn’t Cool Enough, Wearing It May Do The Trick
Although the avocado primarily served as a star ingredient in a wide array of dishes, it has recently become the main feature of silly but mod apparel. Targeting mostly women, designers and advertisers believed that if it wasn’t in the kitchen that most women spent their time, then it was in the dressing room. Retail stores and trendy brands for millennials, like Urban Outfitters, sell collections of avocado-themed attire. Wearing avocado socks, avocado jewelry or even having an avocado permanently inked on one’s skin, is purely kitschy and yet fashionable. The avocado’s endearing and colorful aesthetic also makes it a wonderfully photogenic fruit and in effect a worthwhile subject for memes, Instagram posts, and graphic prints. Many people, especially women, take delight in capturing the avocado’s presence, treating it as a human celebrity and perhaps subconsciously wishing that they too could exemplify its popular and fresh aesthetic.
Avocados Are Just As Famous As Vincent van Gogh
Not limited to sports, food or fashion, avocados have their place in the art world’s facetious mimetics as well. A CBS photo essay titled, “25 Famous Paintings Improved by Avocados” includes Vincent van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting from 1889, embellished with half-sliced avocados and pits gleaming in the night sky. Other famous works like Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Rene Magritte’s The Son Of Man are also adorned with avocados, turning the classic paintings into absurdist and purposefully kitschy images by avo-fans themselves. As a newfound star, the avocado steals the show in these iconic paintings, “improving” the originals by centering them around the avocado’s unexpected, but gracious appearance. These photos, although absurdist, reflect its audience’s fascination for its very image – a truth that transcends its nutritional and culinary value, making the avocado one of the few fruits to have crossed the boundary that separates the inanimate from the animate. The avocado itself has become a spectacle much like any real-life celebrity. One can only imagine where it’s figure, color and texture may appear next – the possibilities seem endless in a commercialist world that seeks to monetize off any successful fad like the avocado.