A is for Avocado: How a ubiquitous fruit defined a decade of generational inequality

The first letter in the New Statesman’s A-Z of the decade.

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In May 2017, an Australian millionaire property developer called Tim Gurner ruined brunch.

Suited in an open-collar shirt, hair slicked back, the Melbourne mogul gave an interview to 60 Minutes Australia explaining matter-of-factly that young people would never own their own homes when they’re “spending 40 dollars a day on smashed avocado and coffees”.

“When I was trying to buy my first home,” he said, “I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.”

This was the turning point for the avocado – and I don’t mean when it goes all grey and woody on the inside.

From that moment on, it became so much more than an aesthetically pleasing toast accompaniment. It was now a byword for millennial extravagance, and was quickly seized upon by older generations accusing millennials of living in excess, hence their spectacular failure to afford property.

The inconvenient truth, of course, is that no matter how hard the majority of the millennial generation save, they will never have any prospect of affording a deposit. And this is down to generational inequality, rather than too many avocados on toast of a weekend.

Young people in the UK face much higher housing costs, relative to their incomes, than their parents did at their age. Millennials are half as likely to own their own home at the age of 30 as baby boomers were.

We can have as many brunches as we like, goes the argument against avo-shaming, because there’s nothing possible to save up for.

Although avocados have been swimming in prawn cocktails since they hit the UK’s shelves from central America in the Sixties, they have come to define this decade in food and lifestyle, as well as inequality. Wellness trends, Instagrammable dining and socialising over brunch characterise a generation that drinks less and is more health-conscious than its elders. These days, it seems only our fruit comes stoned or smashed.

Avocado’s reputation as a superfood led to such a spike in consumption that there was a recorded rise in knife injuries as people tried to peel them and remove the stones – an injury dubbed “avocado hand” by doctors. No birthday goes by for anyone under 35 without receiving an avocado-themed card, and the world’s first all-avocado bar opened in Brooklyn, New York, in 2017, followed by an “avobar” in London’s Covent Garden.

This proliferation also caused a backlash, with environmental concerns about the fruit’s popularity in the west putting too much demand on farmers and pressure on water supplies. In 2016, Greenpeace Mexico warned against the “displacement of forests and the effects on water retention, the high use of agricultural chemicals and the large volumes of wood needed to pack and ship avocados”.

Taken with their most loyal brunch date and fellow journalistic stereotype, the flat white, avocados are also now a lightning rod for the homogeneous “hipsterfication” of a high street or community. When cafés begin serving avocado toast, the cliché is to declare this a harbinger of gentrification.

That’s a lot of cultural and socioeconomic baggage for one little fleshy fruit to carry, which is why it’s the perfect opener to the New Statesman’s alphabet of the decade.

> This article is part of our A-Z of the 2010s.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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