If beans are, as is sometimes said, a musical fruit, avocados are produce’s Forrest Gump. Far from being just a simple superfood with a deceptively tough shell, avocados have popped up, persistently, throughout some of the notable political and cultural controversies of the last century, from the War on Fat to the War on Brunch to the looming Tariff War on Mexico. They even endured, in typical hardy fashion, the Great Pea Catastrophe of 2015.
Avocados have, you might conclude, been pitted against history ever since they entered the American diet, and have long experienced collateral damage thanks to mercurial opinions on everything from nutrition to immigration to weevils. This weekend, as the nation consumes an estimated 200 million pounds of avocados while watching the Super Bowl, avocados will inadvertently enter the front lines once more, highlighting the clash between popular Mexican imports and President Donald Trump. Which makes it as ripe a time as any to consider the strangely contentious history of a very nutritious fruit.
From the beginning, the relationship between avocados and the U.S. was a tricky one. For one thing, their Spanish name, “aguacate,” was difficult for Americans to say. For another, it’s derived from the Aztec word for “testicle.” Avocados were introduced to the U.S. as a crop in the 19th century but not widely cultivated until the early 1900s, when, as Howard Yoon detailed for NPR in 2006, a group of California farmers came together in Los Angeles to debate their marketing problem. They came up with a new name (avocado), a plural form of spelling (no “e”) and a new strategy, forming the California Avocado Association (it persists today under a slightly different name).