Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Fate of the Banana and its Probable Extinction

I just finished reading Dan Keoppel's book, "Banana:  The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World".

Published in 2008, it's a fascinating journey through the history of the banana and how civilizations, government rulers, wars and mega-companies have evolved from this relatively inexpensive and humble fruit that outsells apples and oranges combined.

Dan briefly glimpses at the strong chemicals (the banana requires more pesticide than any other fruit) used in the growing of bananas and the significant physical harm it causes to the workers bodies (the movie trailer below shows the physical harm caused by Dole spraying chemicals on their farms) and the surrounding landscape, but the bulk of the book is focused on the bananas remarkable global growth (especially since the male portion of the banana tree is sterile) and the Panama Disease that threatens its very existence.

The most fascinating elements of the book to me were:

  • learning that the banana tree (it's really classified as an herb) reproduces through a Mother/Daughter relationship offering new shoots from the original tree that can be transplanted since the male portion is sterile.
  • learning that the banana our grandparents and parents grew up eating, the Gros Michel, is virtually eliminated from existence due to the onslaught of Panama Disease -- of which there is no cure.  The Gros Michel (or Big Mike) was bigger, hardier fruit that had a better taste and texture.
  • learning that the new banana plant, the Cavendish (originally considered rubbish by Chiquita when the Gros Michel was still around), is under the first rounds of attack from Panama Disease and may sadly only be viable as a commercial fruit for 10-30 more years.
  • learning that Chiquita and Dole are feverishly working to create the next banana that will withstand the attack of Panama Disease and that hopefully they can pull it off through cross-breeding and not genetic manipulation -- though both methods have proven unsuccessful for more than a decade.
  • learning that the forbidden fruit in the story of Genesis may have been the banana with a strong case for that being the case.
  • learning about the politics and mergers that created Chiquita and Dole.

If you're a foodie, you will appreciate this book and will appreciate even more your next banana.  People 30 years from now may not have the same opportunity.

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