Monday, April 16, 2018

The Rise of Avocados

The avocado has been hailed as this wonderful fruit of the decade. Its popularity is through the roof. Well, it's a delicious fruit that's my main staple, and for many people too. Juice, smoothie, protein bowls, as one of the fruits for overnight oats. We eat it as a meal.

Along with eggs, the super nutritional avocado is a part of my diet as a child with many allergies who's also a fussy eater. Somehow, I've still stayed in love with these two food items. I toggle between Mexican and Australian avocados. It depends on which one I find at whichever market I'm at. Avocados punk me all the time. Arrrrgh. But I still buy them to eat at home because it's ridiculous to pay for overpriced expensive tiny portions of avocado at the cafes. Unless they give me the whole fruit, then fine, I'd pay for that.

Brook Larmer's article on 'How the Avocado Became the Fruit of the Global Trade' in The New York Times published on March 27, 2018, is among many of those discussing the merits of trade of the fruit. California definitely doesn't supply enough volume to even feed domestic demand. There's huge environmental impact, of course, as with any popular produce, as more land is cleared to accommodate the planting of fruit trees or bushes. I clearly haven't felt guilty enough to stop eating avocados.

The avocado toast hasn't had such popularity till this decade. It's delicious. Salt flakes, a drizzle of lemon and olive oil, and dukkah. Plus a ton of raw shallots or onions. Gorgeous. It isn't just America's craze with the fruit. It's now a global obsession. Mexico produces a third of the global total exports of the fruit, with majority grown in the rich volcanic soil of Michoacán. 'Green gold', they call it. Australia produces avocados, but currently it's between seasons even as demand surges, and it's hence facing a shortage that should end soon.

The current US-China trade dispute does nobody any good, most of all the consumers. It still remains to be seen if US or China is worse-off for it. At least for this side of the world, steel and aluminum tariffs don't seem to hurt US and definitely would dent China's growth. But China's tariffs on food imported from the US sound painful...for the US. China imports tons of apples, pears and cherries from Washington state. These products could be supplied by the rest of the Asia-Pacific. The US exported about $20 billion worth of farm products to China last year.

I'm just not so sure about China's interest in riding on the exports with their homegrown plantations. Balancing out the world's supply sounds environmentally-friendly and ideal. International exports and profits, sure. But it would need lots of quality control and integrity to move away from the stereotypical perception and distrust of Chinese food and fruits.

Mexico was China’s largest supplier of avocados until last year, when it was surpassed by Chile. (Peru is moving in quickly, too.) In the future, the competition may come from China itself. With state backing, some Chinese businessmen are developing avocado plantations in the southern province of Guangxi. If they can come up with an avocado that matches the Latin American variety, at a lower cost, then the global market could shift. 
For now, though, China is adjusting. Most avocados sold there are hard and green — often to the confusion of the uninitiated. To solve this problem, Barnard’s Mission Produce built China’s first “ripe center” in Shanghai last year, with another to follow in Shenzhen next year. And Barnard is dreaming big. “If I could put four avocado chunks in every bowl of noodle soup in China,” he muses, “we wouldn’t have enough avocados in the world.” Only Mexican production would come close. And who knows? If American trade policy lurches toward a trade war, the farmers under the volcanoes in Michoacán might be eager to start sending their harvests to China instead.

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