Austin360Cooks: Why ‘guac-gate’ isn’t good for American food culture

If you thought Texans felt strongly about beans in chili, just try putting peas in their guacamole.

That’s what happened last week when The New York Times tweeted a recipe calling for freshly shelled peas mashed with avocado to make a fancy guacamole. I went out to lunch (for tacos and guacamole, no less) and by the time I got back to my desk, President Barack Obama was chiming in via Twitter: “respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic.”

Yes, this really is the food world we live in today. One in which pizza crust made out of cauliflower can quietly exist without public outcry. One that demands “the next kale” or “the next cupcake” but can’t gin up enough demand for educational food programming on television. One in which Americans buy too much food, don’t eat leftovers and throw 40 percent of it away.

One in which pea guacamole can exist for years but suddenly, on one otherwise pleasant day in July, consume an entire nation’s attention, almost as much as that white (or was it blue?) dress.

I’ve expressed my disdain for the fetishization of food before, and these monsoons of outrage over what should or shouldn’t belong in guacamole — or if it should be called a dip instead of guacamole — are just distractions from the real issues at hand.

Which issues? Off the top of my head: Why aren’t we teaching children and young adults to cook before they leave the house? Why don’t we have a food system that makes it financially viable for people to want to become farmers? How are we supposed to make decisions about what to eat when the labels don’t give us the information we want?

Not everything about food has to be so serious. I get that. I have a lot of fun with food in my own kitchen and here in this food section. We even printed a recipe for that cauliflower pizza crust without a snide comment in sight.

Maybe my criticism of this “guac-gate” is this: The recipe at issue was created to satiate an incessant demand for something shiny and new, the fresh take on the old favorite, the shortcut to save you time and improve the results. But because the dish crossed some imaginary cultural line, we blame the recipe developer, not ourselves, for pushing too far.

What really gets me is that on days like that one, it seems like we don’t have enough to do but are still saying we don’t have enough time to make dinner.

Pea-Free Guacamole

This pea-free recipe for guacamole is from producer Rachel Corbelli, who made a “control” version to taste against The New York Times’ pea guacamole, which fellow staffer Melissa Martinez made. We tasted both during a livestream on Periscope and found the pea version lacking, not because of the peas, but because of too much lime and not enough tomatoes and onion.

2 large Haas avocados

1 medium tomato, seeded and diced

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 medium jalapeño, seeds removed and minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 garlic cloves, minced

Juice from 1/2 lime

Salt, to taste

Cut avocados in half and remove pits. Use butter knife to roughly slice avocado, creating rectangular chunks. Scoop out with a spoon and put in a bowl. Add tomato, red onion, jalapeño, cilantro, garlic and lime juice. Stir and gently mash some the avocado chunks.

Add salt, stir again and taste. Continue adding salt until satisfied. Serves 4.

— Rachel Corbelli, producer

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