By: Holly Bowman 17 April 2018
Sometime around May last year, we entered into lengthy debates and discussions around the inclusion of the mighty Avocado on our breakfast menu at the North Star Coffee Shop & General Store.
The popularity of this humble berry (yes an Avocado is the single seeded fruit of an Avocado tree) cannot be underestimated. If you are a food outlet serving brunch and breakfast items nowadays you are expected to have it on your menu. But how did it grow to become the well-loved staple it is today?
The avocado is thought to be Mexican in origin having been around for an estimated 12,000 years. Early migratory populations used it as a high source of fat and energy and transported it right the way down to Peru – up until the mid 1800’s it was a fruit enjoyed natively before commercial production and export started in around 1850 in the state of California. Nowadays, the avocado is firmly cemented in Australian food and culture but it wasn’t until the Second World War that it started to make its mark there with the arrival of American servicemen who introduced it to the local population.
The rise of the Antipodean brunch culture here in the UK has of course meant we have firmly taken the avocado into our hearts and homes. Coffee shops have become the new pub providing the youth of today with a social space to interact and bond in – the avocado seems to have fueled this change in our culture and habit with its highly instagrammable vivid green and creamy flesh perfectly contrasted with a scattering of chilli flakes or lemon zest… It is a business owner’s dream requiring minimal preparation or hob space meaning it can feature on a menu even if there is no dedicated kitchen to produce it in. It suits a wide range of dietary requirements being suitable for vegans, it is dairy free and it appeals to the health conscious being a source of ‘good fats’ and energy. The very image of an avocado summons up thoughts of a healthy lifestyle and sunnier climes – surely something that is so good for you has to be good for the world too right?
Not exactly… When we started the Coffee Shop here at Leeds Dock alongside the lovely ladies from Noisette Bakehouse, we shared concerns over the damaging environmental impact of the avocado industry with regards to water shortage and energy usage. The nature of our business is coffee and as a result, we feel very in touch with the issues and challenges of the industry both socially and environmentally – as our business has expanded to include a retail and food offering, we feel it only right we display the same concern for everything we produce and sell.
Avocadoes are highly reliant on the supply of water for successful production, in some cases requiring up to 1000 litres of water to produce just a kilo. The explosion in consumption has resulted in mass production in areas of California and Latin America eating into water supply and causing severe drought in some of these regions. Chile in particular has suffered as a result of large scale production – being an area of low rainfall it is heavily reliant on groundwater supplies which have dramatically diminished as a result of the avocado industry. Unfortunately the high price fetched on the international market due to high world wide demand provides an incentive to keep the industry growing.
Ironically, the market for this oro verde (green gold) tends to encompass the most consumer conscious made up of people who are very aware of the choices they make with regards to their purchases. Independent specialty coffee shops are so in touch with where their coffee and milk come from – factors of traceability and social and environmental responsibility are of upmost importance to them in this regard but is the same care and attention showed when it comes to the avocado?
As a new business it is a real dilemma to face, the simplicity of the dish and the insane demand we have for it makes it a tough choice to exclude it from any menu. We opened with the much loved Avo on Toast topped with pickled red onion and Japanese furikake – the ultimate Instagram friendly dish. Jay in the kitchen became known as an avocado wizard for his ability to slice them so perfectly they almost resembled petals with his intricate presentation. Whilst it certainly earned us a few customers and a few hundred ‘likes’ on social media, it actually wasn’t doing our bottom line any good. Out of a tray of 18 avocadoes that were purchased for a day’s trading, just half of them would have the characteristics required to make the cut – there could be no bruising, no discolouring and they had to be perfectly ripe for ultimate aesthetic impact.
Beyond drawing our attention to the real wasteful nature of the avocado as an ingredient in a world revolving around the visual presentation of a dish, it also got us thinking about the steps taken in the transit of the avocado from supplier to consumer and the carbon footprint this generates. They have to be refrigerated whilst being shipped to keep them from ripening too soon, then they have to be perfectly ripe upon delivery to the consumer. How much energy is being used in this process? However much it is it then has to be doubled to account for the fact we can only use half of what we receive due to the inevitable damage done in transit. In keeping with our desire to have a positive environmental impact wherever we trade we no longer feel able to turn a blind eye to the harmful effects and impacts of the industry.
It is with a heavy heart that we have taken it off our menu in an effort to utilize more seasonal and British grown produce and hopefully draw people’s attention to the amazing choice we have on offer for dishes that do not have such a detrimental impact on our environment. We will continue to review our offering to ensure we have everyone’s dietary requirements and preferences taken care of and are, as we speak, creating a replacement option that will be Vegan and dairy free whilst still delivering that same creamy and fulfilling eating experience. We would really love to hear from you on this with your comments and opinions, we know some of you (ourselves included) are mourning the loss of the avo on our menu and for that we are sorry! We hope you can understand the steps we have taken and think twice before tucking into your daily Avo – all is not as it seems.