Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Strange Ubiquity of Bananas

It is important to begin by saying that there are few foods yummier than bananas. It is really hard to argue with a food that is packed with nutrients, has a sweet taste and can (almost) satisfy a hardcore carbohydrate jones. There is also the fact that bananas, with their internal seeds, were grown by the tree expressly to be consumed and carried away for deposit elsewhere. In that way, you could almost say bananas want to be eaten. In fact, there is little about bananas that is not likable – the sunny, cheerful color, the friendly smiling shape, the blue Chiquita sticker to wear on your forehead the rest of the day. Always available, seemingly always in season, bananas have become our dependable, potassium-rich friend.

In spite of all of these yummy qualities, I've never given bananas much serious thought, beyond “A banana sounds good” or “I wish I'd remembered to buy bananas.” They've just always been there – in every grocery store, on every lousy hotel breakfast sideboard, in every state in this country.

And none of them – not a single one – was grown here. It's not just the US, either. For the majority of the banana eating population in the world, there is no such thing as a homegrown banana.

Think about it. The more you do so, the weirder it gets.

Though I've long been vaguely aware that bananas are grown in tropical regions and, from my shopping addiction, was familiar with the term "banana republic," I only suspected that there might be geo-political ramifications to the farming of bananas.

The concept only really came home to roost one evening when the Yummish Council had gathered to watch a Swedish art house film/skin flick. Whether it was because it was veering more to the “art house” or to the “skin flick,” I won't say, but we'd long since abandoned the plot in favor of making very tired IKEA and Volvo jokes. (I did have one moment of honest enthusiasm when I spotted a Hennes & Mauritz, aka Yummish Shrine of Tacky Acquisition H&M*, in the background of a scene.) It was in one of those typically Euro-film, very talk-y (OK, read-y. There were subtitles) scenes set around a table that I finally grocked it.

There are bananas in Sweden.

I checked a map, just to be sure. Sweden is really no where near Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, or the other places where bananas are grown. Then, again, neither is London, where, I recalled from first hand experience, they were on offer every morning in the refectory. (And easily pocketed for later, post-drinking consumption.) Neither is Michigan, where I was first introduced to the fruit. That was when I began to be freaked out by the strange ubiquity of bananas.

The point was again driven home while on an ill-fated motorcycle trip to Las Vegas, the full details of which I shall not bore you with here. (Suffice it to say, we spent 24 hours on the road and 10 hours in Vegas.) Along our route though the high desert of Nevada and California and then up through the Central Valley, we had occasion to stop at many gas stations and convenience marts – every single one of which had fresh, ripe bananas for sale. That is an unbroken chain of bananas from Berkeley to Barstow and beyond. I began to contemplate the vast global infrastructure necessary to keep all of those points of sale stocked with fresh product. (There is not a lot to interrupt one's contemplative process along Interstate 5.) My mind was blown.

I've not yet come to a definitive position on bananas. I'm still weighing out things like how the calorie needs of an ever-increasing population (7 billion!) will require imaginative innovation and how our current model of consumption is unsustainably carbon-heavy. Suddenly, though, the simple banana is no longer so simple. I may not have the answers, but at least I've started asking the right questions.

Today's exercise: Question why your breakfast is often better traveled than you.

Next: Why do I always have to be the one to come up with the topic? Oh, yeah... Whatever it is, it will be brilliant, I'm sure.

*This (and every) season's design concept: “Look at my thighs! Oh, won't you please look at my thighs?”


  1. Thought you'd think this was pretty funny...


  2. LOL!

    Have you seen this vid, Shalla?