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Nothing More Than Peelings

Nothing More Than Peelings

Despite its thick skin and robust appearance, the banana is actually a delicate fruit. And in case you didn’t know, bananas are experiencing an epidemic that could wipe them out in the next couple of decades. Yes, there are serious things happening in the world at large, but I want to talk about the banana.

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In a truly fascinating interview which I heard last night on NPR’s Fresh Air, Dan Koeppel—author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World—taught me that the banana is a fruit with a sordid past and an endangered future.

In the late 19th century, bananas began being cultivated in Latin America and the Caribbean when a group of entrepreneurial “banana men” set out to usurp the apple as the eminent fruit. To compete with the apple, which is grown locally throughout the United States, the cost of producing and shipping bananas needed to be next to nothing.

This was accomplished through the enslavement of people, the control of land and domination over governments. Never wont for missing out on a good thing, the U.S. government backed these banana men, who set up puppet governments (a.k.a. “Banana Republics”) to allow them to control production and land use. The U.S. government intervened by sending in the Marines to crush any worker uprisings, and the C.I.A. launched propaganda campaigns to overthrow democratically-elected presidents. The first Banana Republic was set up in Costa Rica, then in Honduras, then in Guatemala, and this went on throughout the history of Latin America. The banana monopoly is now successfully controlled by two major companies, Chiquita and Dole.

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Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. And the banana makes up 80% of caloric intake in parts of Africa. The average Ugandan eats 500 pounds of bananas a year, in contrast to the average American's 25 pound consumption.

Despite its immense popularity around the world, the banana is actually a very fragile fruit susceptible to all kinds of diseases. Currently, this big yellow fruit is under attack by the AIDS of the banana world, a fungus called “Panama Disease.” Due to the fact bananas are cultivated by taking a cutting of the plant and not by a seed, their genetic make-up is exactly the same in every single fruit. So one fungus can wipe out an entire plantation since all of the plants lack the same immunity.

Even though there are five kinds of bananas grown locally in Brazil and three kinds in Australia, the future of the fruit lays in the hands of American companies. Big corporations are the only people who have money to fund research and implement new cultivation techniques to protect the banana’s future.

Noblesse oblige—if you’ve made money off the backs off of the little guy, whether it's through labor, an idea or a natural resource, you really need to consider the sustainability of that community and that resource. Why do we think that our self-interests begin and end with us when, in fact, you and I are not different?