In pursuit of the elusive avo
The search for a cheap avocado has become an unexpected middle-class concern in Joburg, with the fruit now a buttery symbol of entitlement.
And while its scarcity and collateral price damage over the past year are partly to do with the drought in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, that’s not the only reason for its luxury. Where Joburg’s high-end grocers, swanky lunch spots and even ordinary supermarkets are battling to meet the demand for especially the elusive, almond-flavoured Hass, avocado eaters around the world are paying top dollar for our cultivars.
This means that while we could pay as much as R20 for an avocado here out of season, the same can cost nearly R80 abroad.
These prices, and the scarcity, are in line with the kind of pain which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan likely intends to unveil when he announces the #Budget2016 on Wednesday.
The price shocks of last year are expected to deepen, with food inflation looking to rise above 10 percent this year. And so it may happen that the rich may yet have to pay R40 for an avocado, especially on import. But who would be prepared to lay down that kind of cash? Desperate Banters?
In Mexico, where the only way to eat avocado is smashed, in guacamole, there’s demand on the scale of blue agave. It’s now the world’s biggest producer of what is a staple food there, with its desire dating back to Tehuacán in Puebla state, about 12 000 years ago. And with demand for avos reaching about 2kg per capita per year now in the US, and about an annual 15 fruits each in Australia, there’s no slow-down for the barons of Michoacán.
But our quest after the affordable - or, indeed, any - avocado in Joburg is nowhere near as romantic. It used to start in the car as traffic-light shopping and once offered the best deal for a bag. At one time, you could pay R15 for a half dozen. At the moment, you’d be hard-pressed to even find an undersized fuerte between the amber and the red.
There are no avocados at the market in Rockey Street, Yeoville either, although you’ll still pay considerably less for a single cabbage at R25. And unlike one avocado, one cabbage can feed a family.
A young woman selling fresh produce assures us this is only because it’s the wrong time of the year, and points rather to the ubiquitous dried fish trading for a song at the next table. It’ll never run out.
Rubbing his hands together in plastic gloves, the assistant at the fruit and vegetable section at a central Pick n Pay is concerned. They haven’t had avocados on sale in more than a week, and even when they do have a few in stock, a four-pack costs about R70. He shakes his head. “For people like me,” he says, “we don’t even eat this. We can only afford potatoes.”
Those who still shop at Woolworths will be paying about the same, although you’d be lucky to find a twin-pack for R45.99.
It’s likely that competition for the avocado lies at the Joburg Market in Heidelberg Road, City Deep, where there are bags upon bags of shiny pieces stacked high in multiple layers on trolleys in every part of the hall. In the afternoon after the market has officially closed, forklift operators ease them into position like babies in arms, but can’t explain the mystery of their magnitude. It’s a secret.
No one knows where they come from. No one knows where they go.
One agent says she’d kill to have avocados permanently on her prized slab of floor. Worshipping its rise in profit, she describes the avocado in the lush adjectives of a lingerie saleswoman. And who can blame her?
At the Yamitsuki in Van Buuren Road, the baubled wives of Bedfordview choose the most refined reinventions of the avo maki from passing plates.
They don’t know or ask the price. Love hurts.
* Janet Smith is executive editor of The Star.