I sometimes watch my coworkers make avocado toast in the office kitchen. The company provides a generous bounty of snacks — chips, nuts, energy bars — because late capitalism is all about perks. The alpha snack food, however, is the bowl of perfectly ripe avocados that appear weekly. They are a prize.
While I fire up the coffee machine, my colleagues get to work like hungry shoemaker elves, splitting the oblong treat, toasting the nine-grain bread and, then, smearing the precious green butter. Each one has their own special recipe: Some drizzle their breakfast with olive oil, some sprinkle a little paprika on it (I’m guessing from a private spice stash), and one person likes sesame seeds (maybe everyone has a secret stash of spices and I need to get with the program).
They eat their avocado toast with a fork and knife, or cut into quarters, or folded, like a slice of pizza. I don’t usually make avocado toast at work because I’m smug. I’m also older than everyone else. Bountiful smugness is the only real gift of old age. I would never be caught dead enjoying free food. I have too much integrity. If I eat avocado toast, it’s going to be at brunch, at a bougie trough in Brooklyn, and I’ll be paying twelve dollars for it. Yes. I understand that I am not part of the solution.
A few years ago, I was living in Los Angeles. This was when avocado toast was a hot trend bordering on a religious ritual. For about a year, avocado toast was almost a currency. I could have paid my bungalow’s rent with it. That was truly the golden age of avocado toast — I’d have it with pomegranate seeds or fresh fennel or a poached egg.
This past Christmas, I introduced avocado toast to my mamacita. I call her my “mamacita” because I refused to learn Spanish growing up. I was born white — like my dad — and I wanted to speak the language of all my friends, who were also white, like me. So when I showed her “avocado toast,” she wasn’t surprised that I was still speaking fluent white people. She then pointed out that it was just a fancy version of chips and guacamole. I probably responded with “but antioxidants” because I just assume every new food fad is packed with antioxidants, whatever they are. My mom grew up on the Texas border and she’s tough. She’s the sort of person who, even in her 70s, is able to dig a ditch at a moment’s notice if she has to. She doesn’t suffer fools. But she loves one. Me.
I know things about avocados. For instance, they are fruits — gigantic berries, to be precise. The incredible hulk of berries. I also know that 13,000 years ago, the avocado was the preferred snack of the giant ground sloth. The avocado should have gone the way of the giant ground sloth, and why they’ve survived is a bit of mystery to scientists. It is clear that these hardy mega-berries fought against extinction in the hope that, one day, they’d be glorified by young urban professionals who also love toast.
I know more facts: Avocados are a healthy source of pantothenic acid, dietary fiber, vitamin K, copper, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamin C. They have a high-fat content — almost 80 percent of their total calories. Oh, and I almost forgot, I hated avocados growing up.
I mean, they’re a miserable fruit, if you think about it. There’s a very brief window when they’re edible, but most of the time they’re either rocks or blobs of brown slime. And, let’s be honest, guacamole is just a margarita garnish. No one actually likes guacamole. I never did. It was one of those foods that would make me suck my face inside of itself, like a collapsing star. At dinner, my mother would serve sliced avocado on the side of the meal and I would dread the green crescents.
My dad, of course, would salt and pepper his avocados and then slurp them up. I even remember him putting those slices on toast. I like to think of my old man as a proto-foodie, but he was actually a child of the Great Depression, that time long ago when Americans were so broke that jokes about eating boots were funny because they were true. His generation loved putting stuff on toast. Beans, stew, gravy. Toast is a filling bed for sloppy foods. If anyone reading this would like to credit my dad as the creator of a classic hipster cuisine, please feel free.
So I largely ignored the avocado. Then I turned 22. When I was 22, I wanted to move to New York City because one night I drank hallucinogenic mushroom tea and during an episode of “Friends,” Ross turned to me and said, through the TV screen, “Move to New York City, John.” I moved to Queens, which is like Brooklyn if Brooklyn wasn’t so pleased with being Brooklyn. Like most of New York, Queens is a riot of different cultures and immigrants and everyone is politely stepping on each other’s faces. One thing Ross never told me was that 22-year-old me would totally hate the 42-year-old me who turns up his nose at free food in the office.
To be young in New York is to be broke. For that matter, to be middle-aged in New York is to be broke, but in a more hopeless way. That’s a whole other story. I found myself living in a heavily Mexican neighborhood where knowing Spanish would have helped and, yes, I bitterly appreciate the irony. If I had learned Spanish, my neighbors may have been nicer to me and I totally could have hung out with them and done the one thing that unites all New Yorkers, no matter their race or religion or economic status, and that’s bitch and moan.
Those days and months and years were, as they say, lean. My meager receptionist paycheck would go mostly to rent, and the subway, and whatever was left over went to food. I invented an inexpensive meal I use to call “Tons Of Rice” that I would douse with A1 Steak Sauce. I also started putting whatever can of food I could buy at the Dollar Store on toast. However, man cannot live on cheap carbs alone and so, one day, I noticed avocados for sale at the corner bodega, which normally only sold cigarettes, lotto tickets, and mummified beef sticks. Improbably, they were perfectly ripe and inexpensive and, in a diplomatic swoon, I smiled at the proprietor, who I assumed was Latino. “Me gusta avocados,” I said, or something like that. I think he muttered, “you gonna buy that, kid?” My memory is foggy. All I really remember is that avocados reminded me of home. I almost called my mom collect but I didn’t want her to worry.
Also, it didn’t hurt that avocados are fruits — gigantic berries — and so succumbing to scurvy would be, momentarily, thwarted. That night, I made avocado on toasted Wonder Bread. “I wonder if it’s really bread” is a little joke of mine I thought I’d share. It’s a simple recipe: Split the avocado and mash it up (in the skin) with a fork. Toast the bread in your oven’s broiler because you don’t have a toaster — I like it a little burnt. Salt, pepper, and a little A1 Steak Sauce if you’re feeling experimental. That’s the best avocado toast recipe I know.