The California Avocado Festival is free. Parking is not: $10 a car. True, the clever and patient always manage to succeed in the streets, but when a town of 14,400 people suddenly inflates with 100,000 festival-goers, numbers do not augur in your favor, parking-wise.
So it happens that you pay to park at Carpinteria High School, then board one of two trolleys (nostalgic cable-car imitations) that shuttle people back and forth from the parking lot to Linden Ave, where four downtown, oceanside blocks bustle and buzz with the 24th Annual AvoFest2010. For three days, from October 1-3, two of the most important Carpinteria industries collide: tourism and avocados.
Guacamole exists—obviously, omnipresently—at AvoFest. But booths also serve sweet applications of the avocado (a taste not popular in North America, but pretty popular most everywhere else), among these: avocado teacake, avocado agua fresca, and avocado ice cream. Cold Stone dishes out said ice cream, which is met with mixed reviews. In line, someone mentions that McConnells purveyed it last year. (Someone replies that also missing from last year’s lineup is the deep fried avocado.)
Like lots of food festivals, only part of AvoFest is avocado-related. And Carpinteria’s general set up is such that the avocado theme diminishes as you go south toward the ocean.
At the front of the festival, there is a large white expo-tent, a place for auto-didacts to seek information from industry professionals. The California Avocado Commission (indisputably the most influential interest group in the industry) hands out free schwag—magnets, avocado scoopers, recipes—while Calavo, the industry’s biggest packinghouse, provides leaflets on nutrition. Not to be left out: on the far wall is Carpinteria Middle School’s “Best Dressed Avocado Contest” display, wherein students render the avocado in a multitude of different anthropomorphic identities. Winning dioramas included Halloween Avocado and Ballerina Avocado.
After the expo-tent stands the first set of commercial vendors. Then comes the Food and Beer section, flanked by performing arts stages on which is played a musical menu of jazz, country, rock, folk, reggae, and ska and all possible hybrids in between. (P.S. the name of the mainstage? Gauc’n’roll.) Meanwhile, a man dressed in an inflatable avocado suit mimes, poses, and solicits high fives from festival-goers. There’s another block of commercial vendors, as well as two kids’ sections (one of which contains bouncers). This year, the event-organizers added a big Nintendo photo station in the middle of Linden, avocado-irrelevant but definitely family-oriented.
AvoFest on the whole is very family-oriented. (Though, admittedly, it seems somewhat incongruous to be on one’s second cup of beer while watching the youth gymnastics team perform an avocado-themed adaptation of Wicked, the Broadway Musical).
Discretely speaking, the AvoFest event organizers use only the sectioned off part of Linden. But for one weekend every year since 1986, the California Avocado Festival more or less controls the town. An example: it absorbs the Carpinteria High senior class—they need community services hours, and AvoFest is where they can be found. If you’re on ASB or any of the sports teams, you’re working at the festival, says two Carpinteria High cheerleaders, who a few minutes later, I see performing a “G.U.A.C.A.M.O.L.E.” cheer.
“It seems less local than it used to be,” a contractor named Austin says in front of Sunburst Printers. Sunburst, located on Carpinteria Ave, has a table set up with festival T-shirts. It’s maybe worth mentioning that the official AvoFest T-shirt was designed by a man in Los Angeles. For some (local T-shirt printing companies, for example) it begs the question: if the purview of the festival is to benefit the Carpinteria community, then why contract so much business outside of it?
There’s a singular self-satisfaction that comes from finding the local and hidden during the biggest tourist weekend of the year—the unofficial flickers of AvoFest. Down by the train tracks, the Island Brewery serves Avocado Honey Pale Ale. (They can’t have a booth inside the Festival itself because of the AvoFests’ distribution rights with MillerCoors.)
Avocado Honey Pale Ale doesn’t really taste like avocado, but then again, it’s not really the point. The value of avocados in and of themselves is discrete. But the value of avocados as they relate to their respective localities and communities is infinite. To be gourmet is to be attentive, and not just to taste, but to food origin, and all the agricultural affect that goes into what we eat. Food for thought, and thought for food.