The Improbable Path of the Avocado Pit

Episode 7 February 22, 2022 00:31:15
The Improbable Path of the Avocado Pit
Fruit Love Letters
The Improbable Path of the Avocado Pit

Show Notes

"I always knew you were special; then I discovered that you are very special - and evolutionary anachronism, a scientific miracle."

In this episode, Jessamine does things a little differently and explores the life of the avocado pit instead of the fruit. She talks with farmer Tom Siddons about the science of growing the avocado from seed and artist Maria Elena Pombo about how she uses the seed to bind us to a past and present community narrative.

Learn more about this episode of Fruit Love Letters at, on IG and Twitter at @whetstoneradio, and YouTube at /WhetstoneRadio.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey everyone. I'm Jesse Sparks host of the new podcast. The one recipe from the team behind the splinted table. This pod is all about that one recipe that you lean on. The one you share with friends, the one you make, when you need a little love. And the one, you know, will work every single time. Every week. I talk with chefs and gifted cooks from all over the world about their one and the story behind it. We're here to help you build your kitchen library. One dish at a time, follow the one recipe, wherever you get your podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:29 Have you ever wondered why rotisserie chicken is so cheap or whether eating a plant based burger can really help fight climate change? Or how about what labels to look for? To know which food is the healthiest or the best for the environment. If those questions intrigue, you try the new podcast. What you're eating from food They connect the story behind your food, to what you eat every day. What you're eating helps you understand how food gets to your plate to see the full impact of the food system on animals, planet, and people from conversations with farmers and chefs, to discussions with policy experts on the barriers to sustainability food prints, new podcast covers everything from the why to the how join host Jerusha clipper director of food, every other week for new episodes and more answers to the question you have about what you're eating, listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcast or at food you're eating Speaker 2 00:01:36 Avocado. I'm not gonna hide how hard this letter has been to write, because my love for you sinks deep. I've got feelings, guttural cellular. You are in my bones and I've got facts. Feelings tip the scales first. So I'll start there. It's as if your cells contain the missing links to my intestinal DNA. As I eat you, I feel like I'm snapping the final piece in a thousand piece puzzle, true satiety, add carbs chips or toast and all the world's grandmothers just tucked me into bed with sheets, still warm from the dryer, a profoundly tender love. This is enough, but I mention of your history that underlines my transcendental love for you. I always knew you were special. Then I discovered that you are very special. An evolutionary anachronism, a scientific miracle, your seed distribution, symbiotically relied on giant sauce and other prehistoric bohemus that could swallow you whole. These beasts became extinct over 13,000 years ago. Yet somehow you survived without a co-conspirator for over 5,000 years. Biologists have no explanation for this perseverance. You truly are the immaculate conception, fruit worship worthy. I love you. Speaker 2 00:03:15 I'm Jess star. You're listening to fruit. Love letters. Food for me is a way to express love. I'm a chef in Atlanta and I fold my feelings into the meals I cook for my family, my friends, even strangers. It can be hard for me to say, I love you, but you will know it when I serve you roasted radishes, nestled in their own greens. But if I peel you an apple slice you a perim, pick you a Mulberry with my stained fingers. Then we'll both know it's really serious fruit of course have long been considered symbols of love, even aphrodisiacs on this show. I'm exploring our love of fruit and what it says about us. People Speaker 2 00:04:10 On this episode, avocado, but there's a twist. I'm actually gonna focus on the avocado pit, not the edible fruit. Now I eat a lot of avocados and each time I slice a fruit, tap my knife into the pit twist to dislodge it, then scoop the seed out. I think about what a shame it is to throw away such a big piece of the avocado. I mean, of course, all fruit or most tough seeds. Some like apples are small. Grape seeds can be a nuisance while pomegranate seeds dictate the whole eating experience and berries, the seeds. Just add a lovely little crunch. There are other fruits who seeds command attention like mango or Papa, but it was the avocado pit that got me thinking about a seed's worth. We think of seeds as necessary to cultivate life, but they're not often used in commercial fruit growing. So our seed, so are scenes ultimately trash or do they too have a use when it comes to fruit? My exploration got a little conceptual, but let's start on solid footing with this basic question. Do avocado trees grow from seed? Speaker 4 00:05:25 We typically don't grow the tree all the way from seed. Speaker 2 00:05:31 Okay. That was easy. This is Tom sits. Speaker 4 00:05:34 I'm an avocado farmer. I own sleepy lizard avocado farm in south Florida. Speaker 2 00:05:40 I asked Tom to explain why we don't grow avocados from seed after all, just about everyone I know has taken an avocado seed, poked it with toothpicks and dangled it over water until roots took the promise of a tree. Speaker 4 00:05:55 Avocados are very genetically diverse. And as a result, every single seed will produce a unique tree. It's just like human beings. Every baby grows up to be a unique adult, a unique individual, even siblings who came from the same two parents grow up to be very different. If you've got an avocado tree in your yard with 200 fruit on it, right now, there are 200 seeds. One in each of those fruit, each of those seeds contains a unique set of DNA and it is going to grow into a unique tree. Now that's really good for survival, right? I mean, every time a new tree grew, it would be different than the ones before it. And the trees that had characteristics favorable to current conditions live, they survive and they survived to breed, Speaker 2 00:06:52 But what's best for avocado's. Survival may not be best for our PS. Speaker 4 00:06:58 Once we find that tree we love and we eat the fruit from it, we plant the seed. We have no idea what it's gonna be. And most of the time it's not gonna be as good as or better, right? There's like an infinite sort of range of what you can get. Speaker 2 00:07:13 Tom says on his property, there's a tree that bears this out. Speaker 4 00:07:18 I have a seedling tree out in the backyard, the edge of my yard, not in the Grove, but near our house. There's like a wooded area. And I think a squirrel or something must have just took a avocado back there at some point, cuz there's an avocado tree that grew from seed. There's no other avocado trees around it. It's not grafted in the last 10 years. It gave me fruit four times, okay. It gave me a hundred or so fruit one year, the next year it gave me 200. The next year it gave me one fruit. The next year it gave me two fruit, two years prior. It gave me nothing. And since then it's given me nothing and the fruit is gorgeous. It is so pretty. It's this beautiful, shiny pair shaped fruit, but the taste it's not unappealing, but it's bland. Speaker 2 00:08:09 So to avoid this growers graph their trees to produce the avocados. People actually wanna eat to graph is to combine branch or twig from a desirable tree, with the roots of a different tree. So you know what it is. You're growing to avoid the mystery of infinite diversity. This diversity stems from the avocados hetero. That basically means that the tree grows from seed has inherited different versions of a gene from each of its parents. People are like this and apples are too. If you haven't heard the apple episode yet, check it out. We discuss it there as well. But Tom says, there's another thing that makes avocados super diverse. Speaker 4 00:08:52 Avocados do not want to pollinate with other avocado trees of the same variety. There's 900 known varieties. There's actually well into the thousands, but there's 900 acknowledged, commonly known varieties of avocado. And none of them like to pollinate within their variety. So a has, does not like to pollinate a neighboring has IRO Chos and Monroes Chos love to pollinate Monroe. Monroe loves to pollinate Chote so not only are they heterozygous, which means they carry the genetic content from both parents, but they're getting very diverse genetic content because they do not breed within variety. Speaker 2 00:09:42 Tom says the avocados, we mostly eat the hats. It was a random result of this pinch for new characteristics, from seed to seed. It was discovered nearly a century ago. Speaker 4 00:09:56 And it's named after its creator. Rudolph has that was a tree grown from seed. He grew a seed in a pot. He planted it in his yard. He tried to use grafting to grow a variety of avocado called Fuerte grafts. Don't always succeed. His graft failed and the tree continued to grow from seed. His daughter and other family members tasted that fruit decided it tasted good. And he discovered a new variety of fruit that's called the has avocado Speaker 2 00:10:32 Has, and other growers started grafting. This one trees, branches. So they could grow more and more of it. Speaker 4 00:10:40 If you go to your local supermarket, odds are it's has avocados on the shelf and it is pronounced has a lot of people say Haas, other people say has there's a debate. I got a phone call from Rudolph ha's grandson telling me specifically how to pronounce his name. It's has, if you go to your local supermarket, odds are the avocado you're buying is a has avocado because that's 95% of the market in America. We eat 4 billion hats avocados a year and they are all grown from what is genetically the same tree. A tree produces about 200. So there are millions of trees producing has avocados, but only one. The original was grown from seed. Speaker 2 00:11:30 The idea of that makes me sad. Like we're cutting off the potential for something new, something exciting. But Tom says, it's not like no one messes with the seeds. Speaker 4 00:11:40 Well there's people all around me here. People who own nurseries and farms who engage in what's called seedling hunting. So they will set aside a portion of their property and they'll just let seeds grow and see what it gives them. And that's not just with avocados. It's with other types of fruit that this concept applies to. And up the street, I have a guy that's seedling hunter. He's the one that found a red avocado and he named it. He named it highly a red and he sells a tree. Now that produces red avocados. Well, if they just took that particular seed and grafted it, it never would've grown into the red avocado. It would've grown into whatever they grafted. Right? So what I said earlier about the genetic diversity being good for the survival of the Peria Americana species, but not necessarily the best for the human palette. The other side of that is there's secrets yet to be discovered there's seeds that haven't even been pollinated yet that at some point are gonna pollinate. Someone's gonna plant, someone's gonna let them grow. And in 10 years we will have the next interesting, delicious. What have you avocado variety. And we wouldn't have that. Were it not for these seedling hunters Speaker 2 00:12:53 Still? That's a very small percentage of the seeds. We produce eating 4 billion avocados per year are the rest of these pretty round pits. Just going to the dump. It turns out not all of them. People have found all sorts of uses for them. Some people make tea out of the seeds. A company called reveal recently started bottling avocado pet tea, a Colombian textile company called Suza, uses them to dye their fabrics. The pits make a beautiful pink color. And then I came across an artist that was using avocado pits to rethink our whole world. Speaker 5 00:13:31 Hi, my name is Melina POBO. I'm an artist in New York city. I think I'm mostly known for my work utilizing avocado suits, which I have been developing for the past. Maybe for five years, something like that. Speaker 2 00:13:44 Maria Elena is originally from Venezuela. Speaker 5 00:13:47 So I started when I moved here to New York city in 2011, I moved to study fashion design. And soon after I started working at Michael course as a fashion designer, but around the same time, I discovered by accident, not accident, maybe a coincidence of circumstances that you could die fabric with different plants. One of these plants were avocado seats and I had an avocado tree in my house in Venezuela. And I think this moment really changed something in how I was experiencing this reality of being outside of my country. And like, what does that mean? Speaker 2 00:14:23 She started to think more about the tree. Her family once had the house where it grew had been a joyful open place. Speaker 5 00:14:31 I have this very strong association of the avocados with my home and that house was sold some years ago, maybe like eight years ago or something. And it is a house where there were many gatherings like for family and friends, like we would always have these like very huge gatherings and maybe my brother would have some friends and I had some friends and my parents and we would be kind of like coexistent. Speaker 2 00:14:51 And this tree was a reminder of all that. Not necessarily its fruit, but its presence. Speaker 5 00:14:58 Like one of the things with this avocado tree I had back home, it didn't mean that I was sitting a lot of avocados. It meant that actually we had to give avocados to people. These were quite large avocados. So in my house we couldn't really eat them at the rate that the tree was giving them. So if I would go get a haircut, I would bring some avocados for the hair stylists and the other ones or to a house of friends. And it became like in our group of friends and family, almost like, oh, these are the avocados from Lamar, which is the name, which was the name of this house. Speaker 2 00:15:28 The avocados were a currency of community. Other fruit grew in the house too, but something about the avocados stuck with her, just like it did with me. Speaker 5 00:15:39 And slowly I started to explore this medium, well, not a medium, my material, Speaker 2 00:15:45 Her experiments focused on dying textiles with avocado pits. She did that for a while, mostly on weekends and her free time, she designed a collection of garments using the dyed fabric and then she got so into it. She decided to quit her job. Speaker 5 00:16:01 And then I had more time to really explore and understand what this meant that first year of not having a full-time job and just exploring this. That's when I started actually collaborating with, with restaurants, they started giving me their avocado seats. That meant that I had a lot of this material, Speaker 2 00:16:18 The more avocado pitch she collected and the more she thought about them, the more questions they opened up for her, Speaker 5 00:16:25 There used to be giants lost in south America and they were eating these avocados and they would eat the seed just the same way that maybe sometimes we by accent the seed of a watermelon and then they would poop it. And then a tree would be for grow out of this. And I think that this very simple thing for me started opening so many questions like about where I'm coming from. And also how can I explore with history from this region? It tends to be very complicated, especially when you are from south America, because the way colonization happened for us is that most of us that are from that region, we descend from big teams, but also big team. Micers it's not a one dimensional view. Like I know that I have ancestors that suffer, but also people that inflicted the suffering. So I can't just like choose like, oh yeah, like the Spanish came and did this not like they're also my people, unfortunately like I, I have to accept both of these things. Speaker 2 00:17:18 One of the things she honed in on was Venezuela's current political troubles, which have made many Venezuelans flee the country, Speaker 5 00:17:26 Basically like Venezuela has this like huge diaspora. That it's something that has started in the past, like 10, 15 years. Like at this point around 17% of the population has left and it's quite a new phenomenon growing up. No one immigrated. Most of the people from my generation, their grandparents will be foreigners. So this is kind of like a new thing that we're trying to understand. Speaker 2 00:17:47 She was thinking about this intellectually, but she was also dealing with it personally. Her own family and friends from Venezuela were scattered across the globe. At the time a friend was getting married in the Netherlands. A cousin in Spain was receiving her first communion. Speaker 5 00:18:03 I wanna be there for these people that I love for these moments that are important for them. I can in theory, but I can't at the same time because I can't just go to Europe for two months and hang out. So I thought, well, I had already been doing workshops here in New York city in my studio and in other spaces. So I thought, well, maybe I can organize a series of workshops there and do a sort of avocado tour. Speaker 2 00:18:26 She contacted various cultural spaces about doing dying workshops and she asked her contacts in each location to start saving avocado seeds for her. Speaker 5 00:18:36 So I was harassing all of my friends and family for several months to please save the avocado seeds that they were eating. And at the beginning they would forget, but then everyone got super excited about it. And then they were sending me their photos. And even though like we were away, we were kind of playing this game together. When I was doing this avocado tour, I started in the south of Italy, in Calabria, in a small town there. And then I went to Spain to Madrid, Barcelona and a acid in Galia and then Berlin. And then the final stop was in Paris. Speaker 2 00:19:11 She noticed that in each place, the colors in her dying workshops came back different. It was because of the water. Speaker 5 00:19:18 And it's something that I already knew that this happened when you're working with extracting color from plants, that the same way that the water tastes different in different cities and it affects your hair and skin differently. It also will affect the colors on natural dyes. But I think seeing it week after week for two months and in a context also that I'm having to explain this to people really made me think that this was something that I could explore even more, especially the last stop was in Paris. Speaker 2 00:19:46 The fabric she died, ran from pale pink to almost mangenta. They were a physical representation of something more intangible distance. Speaker 5 00:19:57 I can almost map where my friends and family from Venezuela have gone through these different hu that we have from the avocado city. Speaker 2 00:20:04 When Maria Elena got home to New York, she started asking more people to send her water from their own towns and cities. Speaker 5 00:20:12 So at first all the people that I have harassed for several months in 2017 to save avocado suits for me, for when I would go do a workshop in their city, I asked them to please send me water with the idea of like mapping this Venezuela, diaspora to actually show all the different places in which we are through these waters, the product grew other people that were not Venezuelan heard about it. So I decided to make it a more universal thing and have these two levels, right? That one, that it's more about Venezuelan diaspora. And it's one that I would take a longer time to explore because it's quite heavy. It's something that for me, it's very real. Speaker 2 00:20:51 I ask Maria, Elena, how the project made her feel day in and day out handling all these avocado pits, using them to dye fabrics with water sent to her from around the world, by her fellow. I, Emma grays, Speaker 5 00:21:04 There were many people that I would always still speak with, but maybe not that often. And then this meant that every week they would send me an update. I didn't even ask them, but they were always very proud. And they're telling me that they had other friends contributing. And I honestly like they were friends that I had been talking, but very ly. And then we did this together and now we speak like almost every day because it's almost like reconnected us. And I think when you have a sort of excuse, it makes it more natural to start talking about other things that are more heavy. So we had this excuse and then we start to talk about I'm dating this person or I'm being offered this opportunity, or I miss home. Speaker 2 00:21:46 It was a completely different way of consuming the fruit, but just like eating together with friends. It established connections, wired new nostalgic pathways in their minds that lit up with the appearance of an avocado. Speaker 5 00:22:01 I remember even crying with some of the fabrics and I remember thinking, why am I crying? I'm just dying some fabric. And it's coming in different colors. Like this is so ridiculous, but it was very emotional Speaker 2 00:22:12 With avocados. She could process the mini feelings boiling up inside her. Speaker 5 00:22:16 What is it that we miss? And I think in many ways, even realizing like maybe I don't necessarily miss a place only, but also the people and also a time kind of like accepting. I moved to New York when I was 24. I'm 33 now. And I think for me, sometimes I get confused about, oh, I miss this place. I miss these people. But, well, I also wouldn't be doing these things anyways today. Some of the things that I miss, just because I'm, I'm an older person now, like I'm not going to be going to parties all the time. And I think I sometimes would lose perspective of this and then maybe talking with other friends or like, well, we also are just older, you know, like that kind of like you have to accept this, that it wouldn't be the same anyways. And I think also having this concreteness of like seeing the different colors and accepting like we are in these different places and the way that we see the world is different, right? Like we are the same, but we are not because we also have assimilated. Speaker 2 00:23:16 Her projects with the avocado kept evolving. She couldn't help herself. One thing kept leading to another one inquiry rolling into the next, all of them somehow connected to Venezuela, her absence from it, the diaspora as if the avocado pit with this genetic material, carrying an infinity of possibilities for what it might produce somehow encapsulated this strange new reality, the million, what ifs, once you leave your Homeland, Maria Alina started grinding the avocado seeds. It was for storage purposes at first because she had so many pits from the restaurants that were saving them for her. But the resulting paste reminded her of a specific beach in Venezuela. Speaker 5 00:24:02 I started to have this very intense memories of being like a child in these speeches with this very specific sand and playing with the sand and wondering like, can I also make things with this the way that I was making like a sand castle or something? When I was little, Speaker 2 00:24:16 She started thinking, what if the avocado paste could be a building material? What if it could be fashioned into fabric, a leather, an energy source? What if our whole world rotated around the avocado seed and what we could get from it? What would it look like? Then she tried to answer those questions with a project titled Larin, trea, the reentry, Speaker 5 00:24:40 The way that I frame this project, I grew up in Venezuela. Of course I already said it. And Venezuela's economy depends on petroleum and it's something like 96 or 99% of the exports are petroleum. And it's very interesting because many things happened there that I had to do projects when I was maybe in fourth grade to talk about petroleum and all the uses for petroleum and like that, I remember being very freaked out that like Baum was made with petroleum and then I didn't wanna eat Baum for a while. And it's something that I really like to eat. And then I was really, this is very weird. And like in Kaas where I grew up, you didn't see the oil fields because there's no oil there. But my mom is from a city where there is oil and the oil is being extracted there. And like you are riding your bike around and, and you see the, I always forget the name in English, but the oil extraction that they're like a little, Speaker 2 00:25:33 The Wells, I Speaker 5 00:25:34 Guess, yes, you see this thing and it's very present and there's been free university for the past, like 60 years. And it's all subsidized with oil and everything is surrounded. And people in general had a very positive view because it allowed a welfare system that was completely unheard of in the region. Speaker 2 00:25:53 But she says there's environmental issues around petroleum and societal issues that stem from a singular focus on petroleum in the economy. Speaker 5 00:26:04 You can't have an economy that is based on extracting one thing that is finished and it's going to end and you can't have an economy that depends on one thing that doesn't make any sense because when that one thing is not valuable anymore for the society, then it's over, which is kind of like part of the drama of like, why there's this huge fantasy? And they ask Perra today. Part it's not just that, but it is definitely a part of it. And I would have so many of my friends and people like, why avocado again? Why are you obsessed with this? And I was like, well, I have access to it. And I'm always going to have access to it. But for me it started almost like, I don't wanna say a joke because it wasn't a joke. Like we're gonna laugh. Ha haha. But almost like, well you see here, this is crazy, but you don't see it in this other context. We can make anything from anything basically like if you really allow yourself to be creative and to try and to experiment, you can have many possibilities. Speaker 2 00:27:00 This infinity of possibilities, the avocado pit carries to Maria Elena then went way, way beyond the potential kinds of fruit. One might grow. It was a new imagining of society. Speaker 5 00:27:15 It requires a very different dynamic, right? It requires that you have to save things and you have to all collaborate together and it's never gonna be something so majestic, but it will be equally meaningful. And it's the complete opposite of petroleum that it's always very majestic. It's always like skyscrapers and highways and subways. And it's always very flashy. So for me, that's part of it, especially in this context of Lara, which means basically sort of like the reenter it's reimagining how this return of the Venezuela, the aspir could be like, if we all do go back and we are changed, right? Because we have had these years outside and we are going to see things differently. So we are going to see possibilities that maybe before we didn't see and we ourselves will have gone through the same changes that the avocado seats went through. Speaker 5 00:28:04 You know, like I have to boil the avocado seats. So they gave me color. I have to grind them like I have to destroy them. And then they transformed into something else. And I feel like I have the past 10 years, I have been boiled and grinded, but still every single time, something better has come out. And I feel it's the experience that when I'm talking with people and in my case, my experience has been one of the easiest ones of the many people that I know there's still this perseverance that you are being boiled, you're being grown up and then something incredibly comes out of this. So I think it's on that on one level that, but also this idea that we are gonna build this thing together in a completely different way, we all have to collaborate and it will not be so flashy, but it might be actually even better. Speaker 2 00:28:50 It's just an avocado pit, something we casually tossed to get to the fruit itself. But in Maria Elena's hands, it turned into a way to connect with far flung loved ones, a way to conceive of a better world. Speaker 5 00:29:05 I don't think that I could have like 10 years ago decided like I'm going to create this body of work about avocados. Like I think it would have not felt right necessarily. I think I would have felt that it was weird, but I discovered that it had all these material possibilities and there's so many stories around them that it felt like a good metaphor to explore this idea of the house that once was. And I mean, it's the house, the physical one, the Maria House, but it it's also the city and the country and a specific moment in time. Speaker 2 00:29:37 I did this interview months ago now, but I still think about it often how the avocado pit is a wonder rich and metaphor. And all it takes is the right set of hands to harness those narratives of possibility and connection. It reminds me of something. Tom sits. The avocado farmer told me, Tom was talking about the pit a seed, not as metaphor, but he seemed to have arrived at many of the same connections. Maria, Elena had, Tom said, the seed is powerful. Speaker 4 00:30:09 Like I tell people before you plant that tree, I want you to just sit down and think about what you're about to do. Right? You're connecting the earth to the sun. Like you're literally putting something in the ground with roots that attaches it to the earth. And on the other side are leaves that open up to the sun and you create a machine that takes energy from the sun and nutrients from the earth and produces something that contains energy, that people then eat to go on and go about their lives. And you're connecting it to something that takes seven minutes for the light to get here from, to me, it's just really an incredible thing. If you really think about the way things are connected, like we're not just connected to each other. We're not just connected across the planet. When you put a tree in the ground, you're connecting to something way the heck out there in the solar system. Speaker 2 00:30:58 So next time you pluck an avocado pit from the fruit. Take a minute to think about that. Thanks to Toms and Maria, Elena Povo. You can subscribe to fruit love letters anywhere you get your podcasts and we'll be back next week. With more love letters to fruit, fruit love letters is part of what stone radio collective. Thank you to the fruit love letters, team producer, Joof audio editor, Bethany sands researcher, Carolyn Crosby and intern indigo Clarkson. I'd also like to thank what stone founder, Steven Saturn Wetstone radio collective executive producer, Celine Glaser sound engineer, max JE associate producer, Quentin Liau and sound turn Simon lavender I'm Jess star. Thanks for listening to fruit love letters. You can learn more about this [email protected] at Instagram and Twitter at Wetstone radio and subscribe to our YouTube channel Westone radio collective for more podcast, video content, you can learn more about all things [email protected]

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