California’s iconic food

In the NYT yesterday, a feature story on agriculture’s contribution to the California drought. The teaser on the front page:

How We Drain California
Each week, the average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water by eating food that was produced there. To fundamentally alter how much water the drought-ravaged state uses, everyone may have to give something up. A guide to thirsty foods, like the avocado.

Illustration: a slim sliver of avocado, with the caption:

The average American eats a sliver of California avocado each week. It takes 4.1 gallons of water to produce.

Alas, the avocado is California’s iconic food. Avocados would be a considerable sacrifice for Californians, and everybody, Californian or otherwise, would have to give up guacamole, even on Super Bowl Sunday.

Some background. California’s Central Valley developed in the 1920s and 1930s into a region where almost anything could be grown, and in fact the agriculture industry set itself to growing just about anything there, including extremely water-thirsty crops like cotton, alfalfa, and rice. (The NYT piece estimated that growing 2 oz. of rice requires 15.1 gallons of water.)

But now we are running out of water.

The avocado. From Wikipedia:

The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree native to Mexico and Central America, classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae along with cinnamon, camphor and bay laurel. Avocado or alligator pear also refers to the fruit, botanically a large berry that contains a single seed.

Avocados are commercially valuable and are cultivated in tropical and Mediterranean climates throughout the world. They have a green-skinned, fleshy body that may be pear-shaped, egg-shaped, or spherical.

… The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish aguacate, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl [Spanish lawyers — abogados — have nothing to do with it.]

Culinarily, and in ordinary language, avocados are vegetables; in the technical terminology of botany, they are (like bell peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, and tomatoes) fruits. In fact, as I noted in a 2013 posting “Stone fruits, nuts, and berries”,

Some fruits (in the botanical sense) similar to stone fruits are neither drupes nor pomes: the avocado, for example, is a large berry (in the botanical sense) with a single large seed.

An avocado tree:


And an avocado fruit:


Guacamole. On this blog, in a 2013 posting “More dipspreads”, there’s a section on the dipspread guacamole (with a photo). And from the Wikipedia article on guacamole:

Guacamole has pushed avocado sales in the USA to 30 million pounds on two days a year: Super Bowl Sunday and Cinco de Mayo.

(There is substantial variation in the pronunciation of guacamole in English: initial /gw/ vs. /w/; first vowel /a/ vs. /æ/; final vowel /i/ vs. /e/. NOAD2 has /gw/, /a/, and /i/ in its only AmE pronunciation.)

California conveying ‘avocado’. The word California in the name of a food preparation usually signals avocados in it: various types of California salad have avocado chunks in them or an avocado dressing; a California burger has slices of avocado on it; a California roll is a sushi roll with cucumber, crab, and avocado in it; and a California club sandwich is some type of club sandwich with avocado slices in it (and often bacon and sometimes sprouts). Some photos: a California burger, California rolls, a California chicken club sandwich (avocado and bacon but no sprouts):




Welcome to California! Have some avocado!

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