Banana book author Dan Koeppel wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times yesterday that served as a banana primer for the uninititated (me, for instance).
The piece was filled with utterly fascinating banana food-culture info, like the fact that Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined. Serious eaters, did you know that? I didn’t.
Koeppel rightfully professes astonishment that bananas are so cheap: “They’re grown thousands of miles away, they must be transported in cooled containers, and even then they survive no more than two weeks after they’re cut off the tree.”
And they’re still less than a buck a pound in the stores. What gives? How can that be?
Koeppel says that the origins of cheap bananas are rooted in the late nineteenth-century business practices of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International). The company kept prices low by exercising iron-fisted control over the Latin American countries where the fruit was grown.
How rough were the United Fruit hombres? In 1929 the Columbian government shot down protesting banana workers who were gathered in a town square after church. Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, shouldn’t one of you be making a movie about this?
“Virtually every banana we see today is a Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise and too small.” In the day when microvarieties rule, how come no one is growing and selling any of the other thousand varieties of bananas? Shouldn’t Alice Waters be using artisanal bananas in her desserts?
Since there are no bananas grown in the U.S., aren’t bananas anathema to locavores? One of the serious eaters says she feels guilty every time she eats a banana because they are grown so far away.
Should we all feel guilty? Can a banana tree grow in Brooklyn or Berkeley?
We may not have bananas around forever for locavores to kick around. Bananas may possibly disappear from our grocery store shelves soon, due to a virulent strain of Panama disease. If we can save the whales and we can save the Berkshire hog, can’t we save the the Cavendish banana