Bananas are more than just one of the world’s most-consumed foodstuffs. They are also a symbol of the perverse profit-driven hijacking of central American politics (ergo the “banana republic”) and, if Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Johann Hari is to be believed, a parable of the dangers of dominant agricultural monocultures. (Via The Grinder).
Bananas are dying rapidly, Hari writes, the victims of an uncurable fungus called Panama Disease. The disease permanently contaminates banana plantations, making replanting impossible. It also spreads rapidly, ruining crops in quick succession.
Hari says Panama Disease is an existential threat the yellow fruit that will leave us only with the bitter taste of a lesson learned:
Soon — in five, 10 or 30 years — the yellow creamy fruit as we know it will not exist. The story of how the banana rose and fell can be seen a strange parable about the corporations that increasingly dominate the world — and where they are leading us.
Hari gets a bit hyperbolic about the evil corporatist conglomerates, in my opinion. But the history of the banana is very clearly a lesson in the importance of diversified agriculture. The first mass-produced variety of banana — the Gros Michael — fell victim to Panama Disease and was extinct by the end of the 1960s.
The popular type of banana on our store shelves today is the Cavendish, a smaller, sweeter variety that replaced the Gros Michael. Giant fruit companies thought the Cavendish was immune to Panama Disease, but that is hardly the case.
In many parts of Africa, the crop is down 60 percent. There is a consensus among scientists that the fungus will eventually infect all Cavendish bananas everywhere. There are bananas we could adopt as Banana 3.0 — but they are so different to the bananas that we know now that they feel like a totally different and far less appetizing fruit. The most likely contender is the Goldfinger, which is crunchier and tangier: it is know as “the acid banana.”
I knew a dude in college called “the acid banana,” but that was for a whole different reason. Anyway, it sounds like there’s not much we can do to save Chiquita Banana’s headpiece. Anybody know any good plaintain recipes?