The avocado breakup: why a Seattle restaurant (and many others) scrapped avocados from their menu
Americans have a love affair with avocados. We will pay extra for guacamole, we’re willing to give up home ownership for avocado toast:
“A lot of people won’t own a house in their lifetime, when you’re spending $40 a day on smashed avocado and coffees,” said Australian millionaire and real estate mogul, Tim Gurner, famously, on an episode of 60 Minutes in Australia.
Even William Shatner wanted to talk about avocado toast with me.
“The quality of the toast, to me, is just as important as the quality of the avocado,” Shatner said on my podcast, Your Last Meal.
But Grand Central Bakery and Café, a small chain with about a dozen locations in Seattle and Portland, is breaking up with the avocado. At least for most of the year.
“We’re not serving avocados except for a couple of months out of the year,” said Laura Heinlein, Seattle cuisine manager at Grand Central Bakery.
Many restaurants and cafes around the world are also giving up avocados for many reasons including environmental.
“Avocados require a lot of water to grow,” said Heinlein. “84.5 gallons per avocado.”
Then they have to ship them up to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico.
“And then, of course, a lot of deforestation is happening because they’re going to make so much money, well, the cartels actually make a lot of money, growing this. We might as well plow [the forests down] and grow these avocado groves,” said Heinlein.
The decision is also political. Mexican cartels are siphoning money away from farmers and illegally profiting off of the multibillion-dollar avocado industry.
“Avocados are a big, lucrative business in Mexico,” said Heinlein. “When you have a big, lucrative business, certain players want to get involved. So, the cartel has gotten involved. The farmers that are actually growing the avocados are now having to pay ‘protection money’ to the cartels. We didn’t want to support that.”
JP McMahon, chef and owner of two Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland, calls avocados “the blood diamonds of Mexico” and encourages restaurants and consumers to stop buying them. Eighty percent of avocados sold in the US are from Michoacan, Mexico.
Heinlein said Grand Central will only add avocado to their sandwiches when they’re in season and will only source them from California.
Open since 1989, Grand Central has always been a leader in sustainability and seasonality. They were among the first to go 100% compostable and, for the past 15 years, they’ve only put tomatoes on sandwiches when they’re local and in season.
“Every sandwich had a tomato on it and they were pink, sometimes a little green, weren’t very delicious, they weren’t very ripe,” said Heinlein. “They were coming from afar.”
Heinlein says they braced themselves for avocado backlash, but haven’t gotten any. She thinks customers often want to do better, and they learn from businesses that set examples.
Instead of avocado, they’re now serving what they call garden mash.
“It is a combination of green peas mashed with white beans, olive oil, lemon juice, a little bit of garlic, salt, and pepper,” said Heinlein. “It fulfills that creamy, earthy flavor that you get from avocado. We worked a little bit hard on getting a great color. Most people would probably look at it and think it was avocado. It’s surprisingly well received.”
I love avocado and I have to say, I preferred the garden mash on toast and on their popular veggie grinder sandwich; it had a lot more flavor.
But the bigger question that’s been asked for some time is, what are we willing to give up for the sake of the environment and the safety of workers? Historically, we mostly only give things up because they’ve been taken away.
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- Rachel Belle hosts the James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal and she's an Edward R Murrow award winning feature reporter. Follow Rachel on Instagram.