I’m a born-and-raised Southern Californian. I’ve lived out of state twice. Once, when I was 19, for a semester of college in NYC, and this past summer when I returned to the East Coast to teach at a tiny university in Virginia. Never have I felt my admittedly obnoxious Californian superiority more than when I visited the small town’s farmer’s market, which had been hyped to me as one of the town’s treasures. I was so bummed when I burst onto the town square that Saturday morning and found a handful of stalls selling a smattering of apples and root vegetables. It was like the first act of The Wizard of Oz in reverse—I left the technicolor world of the California fruit basket and landed in a world where the produce was lackluster and sepia-toned. And, to my horror, there was nary an avocado to be found. Of course there wasn’t. I wasn’t in California anymore.
You see, I suffer from a chronic condition common to denizens of my home state: California Avocado Superiority Complex. It’s a subset of the California Superiority Complex Regarding Anything and Everything Californian Including but Not Limited to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Our Body Mass Index, Weather Patterns, and, Of Course, Our Produce. As a Southern Californian, I’m well aware that our life of ease inside our temperature-controlled little bubble has some downsides. (This drought, for one.) But it’s really hard not to feel quietly superior about our state’s golden status, particularly when it comes to produce.
Nowhere is a Californian’s produce smugness more evident than in our relationship with avocados. We grow 90 percent of our nation’s avos (yes, we say avos, and also guac) with Florida chipping in the last ten percent. And the avocados here, really, are everything you want them to be: Creamy, buttery, rich. (God bless the avocado, King of the Healthy Fats.) In California, you can get 10 avocados for a dollar from a farmer on the side of the road, and each perfect superfruit tastes like Cali loves you just a little bit more than the other 49 states. Preparation is basically nonexistent. Slice with a knife, eat with a fork. A dribble of lemon juice or a sprinkling of sea salt if that does it for you, but any add-ons are strictly optional.
You see, the California avocado’s singularity comes not from how it is eaten, but rather where it is eaten, in the very state where it was grown. Because here’s a secret: Sometimes the context for food really matters. You could take an avocado across state lines, drive it to the Southwest, truck it all the way to the East Coast, you can eat a fresh avocado anywhere in the continental United States, and it may be perfectly ripe, but it won’t taste quite as good as it would here. A California avocado depends on its context. It really should be eaten in the sun-kissed, cool-breezed state in which it was grown. Even in the hyper-globalized world we live in, you can’t really untangle food from its home.
Go on the official California avocados website and you’ll hear all about how the “sun-kissed soil and cool breezes” plus a dash of the “magic of California” all work together to create the nutrient-rich superfruit. On these small, family farms, avocados aren’t merely grown like other lesser produce, they are “handcrafted.” These descriptors are all awesomely, vomitously, quintessentially Californian. The sun just happens to kiss our soil in this latitude and longitude, add a cool breeze, and boom, magical avocado. Yes, it’s admittedly totally gross to believe one’s own hype. But you know what? When I came back from Virginia, and saw the lavender- and lime-colored cauliflower, the baskets upon baskets of juicy berries, and a veritable mountain of perfect avocados, I straight-up cried. I’m not sorry. It’s worth being snobbish about some things. The California Avocado Superiority Complex is an affliction for which I don’t want the cure.