Thursday, August 6, 2015

California Drought and San Diego Avocados

My first visit to San Diego was in spring during mid-50s. I was charmed with the climate and Balboa Park. It was “love at first sight”. When I heard about a job opening a decade later, my mind was set and I was ready to face my destiny. “Maquiladoras” (an operation in a free trade zone) was just happening right over the Mexican border. I like Mexican dishes. My favorite avocados are mass produced. I took my family and other to Old Town, Coronado, La Jolla, El Cajon, Escondido and even to Tijuana on weekends, all in pursuit of Mexican cuisine. Our Sunday lunches were from “Salazar’s”, at the Clairemont shopping center around the corner from where we lived and we all loved their burritos and Chimichangas.

I often took newly arrived expatriates to introduce them to Mexican tacos and quesadillas. Their first reactions were wry and unfavorable. But I thought they would thank me after awhile as their taste developed. My conviction was firm. However, very few thanked me.

Coming back to Japan, I miss everything Mexican. Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka have a Mexican restaurant or two. I frequented El Torito in Roppongi when I was in Tokyo. The nearest city where I live now is Fukuoka.

A good thing is that we can buy avocados throughout the year at our local Price Club. The zooming Japanese import of avocados, mostly “Hass” (pronounced hoss) are from Michoacan in Mexico (95%). I visited Uruapan, the avocado capital of the Michoacan State. The import price is between 300 yen and 400 yen each.

Recently I read the sad news that the California drought may reduce avocado production and my favorite San Diego 'Chipotle' predicts suspension of serving guacamole at its restaurants. I’m praying that Mexican avocado groves will escape the drought so that we Japanese can continue to enjoy this delicious fruit with no inflationary price.

Planting of avocados in San Diego dates back to 1892 according to the California Avocado Association. The oldest avocado tree in San Diego County was a Mexican seedling in Escondido, which came from the Department of Agriculture, Washington. Avocado is as old as rice in human history, Incas being the first to harvest as early as 500 BC. I found a tale of savage revenge from the South American country of Guiana. Ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca cultures believed that avocados nourished the body externally as well as internally. Mayan folklore tells how the famous Indian, Seriokai, was able to trace his unfaithful wife to the end of the world. The lovers adored avocados and ate them wherever they went. Seriokai followed the young trees, which sprang from the discarded seeds. The three, the lovers and their pursuer, are now in an endless race up in the sky, Serioki as Orion, his wife Pleiades, and her lover, the wicked tapir as Hyades.

In Mexico, the avocado has long been considered an aphrodisiac. An old Aztec legend describes how young and beautiful maidens were kept in their rooms for protection during the height of the avocado season.

Avocado production in San Diego was strong in the 1900s, occupying the third position in the top agricultural produce along with tomatoes, celery, strawberries, artichokes, etc. which were harvested perhaps with the great contributions by Japanese-American and Mexican-American farm workers.

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