Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas!

Having lived in Russia during the early 1990s, when bananas were a novel rarity that merited standing in line for hours, I enjoyed this article and its focus on the strange ubiquity of bananas in the United States. The article doesn't mention the parthenocarpy (sterility) of the (cultivated) banana, which makes it very difficult to breed new cultivars that are resistant to a given disease.
Op-Ed Contributor - Yes, We Will Have No Bananas - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com: "Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined, which is especially amazing when you consider that not so long ago, bananas were virtually unknown here. They became a staple only after the men who in the late 19th century founded the United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita) figured out how to get bananas to American tables quickly — by clearing rainforest in Latin America, building railroads and communication networks and inventing refrigeration techniques to control ripening...The final piece of the banana pricing equation is genetics. Unlike apple and orange growers, banana importers sell only a single variety of their fruit, the Cavendish. There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It is the only kind that is shipped and eaten everywhere from Beijing to Berlin, Moscow to Minneapolis.
I guess I never knew that we ate Cavendish. It kind of bums me out, since I have a huge Cavendish with tons of fruit ripening out in my garden now. I agree that Cavendish is less tasty than other kinds of bananas I've tried. I have a NOID banana growing on the side of my house that every year and a half produces forty or fifty pounds of really tasty, custardy, half-size bananas.
That bananas have long been the cheapest fruit at the grocery store is astonishing. 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. Apples, in contrast, are typically grown within a few hundred miles of the store and keep for months in a basket out in the garage. Yet apples traditionally have cost at least twice as much per pound as bananas.
Well, let's leave aside the obvious geographism here, in the Deep South, where we're far closer to banana growing conditions than to apple land. (Ignoring, for the moment, the tropical apples growing in my grove.) $150 a barrel oil will surely change the way we eat as much as it changes the way we commute.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There was a very interesting segment on Fresh Air about bananas - it's probably an interview with the same author. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19097412

Mark

DavidC said...

Я тоже жил в России, в 1999-ом году, в Москве. Тогда летом легко было покупать банан.

Let's see how the cyrillic does....