One Question Quiz
Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller
Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller

KaiFebruary 18, 2022

The awards celebrating a controversial cafe staple, with a sly wink at the housing crisis

Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller
Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller

 Avocado toast and those who eat it are often the butt of jokes, but a group of enthusiasts are making it their mission to honour the dish – and spark discussion around its politics – by finding the best version in Wellington.

In a 2018 speech in parliament, then deputy prime minister Winston Peters said, “It is an inescapable truth that wealth has been funnelled to a certain demographic, leaving a generation of youth behind that have rightfully been labelled ‘Generation Rent’. Some of us don’t blame the plummeting rates of home ownership on a millennial fondness for smashed avocado.”

The cheugy favourite, avocado toast has been a political flashpoint for the global housing crisis and the broader middle-class squeeze since 2016. That year, columnist Bernard Salt argued in an article for The Australian that instead of buying smashed avocado on toast, young people should be saving to buy a house instead. That is despite multitudes of fact checkers noting the futility of giving up the brunch staple, among other splurges, in the efforts of saving for a home deposit. 

Despite this absurdity and the fact the dish was actually popularised in the 1990s, avocado-topped toast has become a cliched emblem for apparent millennial overindulgence and frivolous spending. Earlier this year, Kiwibank faced criticism for a quip on its website about first home buyers spending too much on takeaway coffee and avocado toast – which was later removed.

The controversial avocado on toast (Photo: Getty Images).

Damagingly, the dish has been used to blame individuals for an issue that in reality is much more complex and political. Amid sky-rocketing house prices, the myth goes: millennials’ fruitless pursuit for home ownership is the fault of their own individual avocado toast affliction, rather than any wider structural problem. Not to mention for many New Zealanders, both home ownership and avocado toast are entirely unaffordable.

The creators of the Wellington Avocado Toast Awards are hoping to use it as a vehicle to stimulate conversation about these kinds of political issues. 

“We just want to treat it as an opportunity for dialogue, along with some fun and humour,” says one of the creators, Alex Matthews, whose creative agency Xequals is a sponsor of the awards, alongside Obvious Brand Partners and The Spinoff.

“What’s so wrong with wanting to live in a house and eat avocado toast?,” he asks.

Beyond the political tinge, the judges say they’re also just keen to find some really good avocado toast. Toast topped with the creamy, mild green fruit is ubiquitous in New Zealand cafes, so the awards are inviting the public to nominate eateries they reckon deserve to be honoured for their avocado toast creations. 

And what constitutes avocado toast has been left purposely broad. Their rules state that “toast, as defined by us, is a toasted substance, typically (but not always) composed of a kind of ground flour, which has been baked, sliced, then toasted”. And that “avocado and toast should be the main ingredients, or ‘heroes’ of the dish, however additional foods and garnishes are encouraged”.

Alex Matthews (left) digging into avocado toast (Photo: Supplied/Essi Airisniemi)

With the financial impacts of the pandemic felt by many in the local hospitality industry, awards organiser Ciaran Jack of Obvious Brand Partners says they’re also hoping the competition provides a boost for Wellington’s restaurants and cafes. It’s about “combatting a little bit of fatigue in that space and giving people an opportunity to sort of reignite a bit of creative expression”.

Despite its relatively simple key components, when it comes to avocado toast, the judges reckon the possibilities are as abundant as the fruit is  – when it’s in season. Think sliced avocado on French toast, or avocado and feta smash with soft-boiled eggs, or avocado on rye with hot sauce. You could add sardines or pickles. Perhaps orange zest or perfectly ripe mango. Ribbons of zucchini could rest atop. Avocado could be turned into a mist and spritzed onto crackers – that is, if you were keen to get your Heston Blumenthal cap on. Chefs with keen knife skills might like to carve an avocado flower, or if you’re wanting to be explicit about it – a tiny avocado house.

Winners of the awards will be announced in late April and the judges have a firm idea of what they’ll be judging on. They’ll be looking at cost, quality, creativity, presentation and, most importantly, “overall deliciousness”. 

Avocados are New Zealand’s third-largest fruit export earner. Because of this, the timing of the competition is no accident either. With around 4,000 hectares of avocado orchards around the country, mostly located in the Bay of Plenty and Northland, they generate hundreds of millions in exports and domestic earnings. The awards organisers are hoping to encourage an awareness of the seasonality of the fruit. “We are not trying to create the next avocado drought, this is very much playing into the seasonality of avocados, and we are planning the competition where they are most affordable,” says Jack. 

“Millennials and their association with avocado toast is usually used in somewhat of a derogatory manner,” says Jack. “A bunch of millennials doing an avocado toast award – it’s nothing short of ironic.”

Keep going!