Bananas. From past posts, you may have gleaned that not only do I like them on the less-ripe side, but generally feel bad about consuming this tropical plantation crop. Yet the banana is pretty much the cheapest and most ubiquitous fruit available in this country (funny, isn't it?). And particularly during my week living below the line, I came to appreciate the versatility and satisfaction a banana can instill in one's diet. However, that comes at a cost; and even more so because they are so cheap, it is important to seek out more ethically-produced bananas.
Bananas are a huge market: according to Rainforest Alliance: nearly $5 billion annually and the largest after the three major cereal crops. A perennial crop, bananas do not need to be replanted each year, and they are not restricted to any particular "season." They like the humid tropical band right around the equator, and need well-drained soils to grow. Depending on topography and the socio-ecological conditions, either plantation or smallholder production could be the primary modus operandus.
While I knew that the fruit held a sordid humanitarian record and a pretty poor environmental report card, the details were still a little hazy. It turns out that providing the world with a large quantity of cheap, uniform bananas has its environmental and social costs. Culprits of extraordinarily heavy pesticide and agrichemical use, and subsequent exposure of workers to the toxics, banana cultivation also results in serious deforestation and the pollution of waterways and habitats. Moreover, workers tend to earn less than the minimum subsistence pay, despite 400 million people relying on bananas for income, employment, food security, and nutrition.
But another crazy thing is that we essentially only utilize one variety of banana - the Cavendish (out of more than 1,000). Bioversity International, one organization working to conserve agro-biodiversity, is attempting to utilize diversity of both seeds and cropping systems to reduce threats from pests and disease, and the degradation of soil health. Maintaining standing diversity, and developing new varieties, is essential. As I always like to think of biodiversity - it's our insurance policy. We've already lost one variety (Gros Michel) of banana to a fungus, others could be less adapted to climate changes or new pests. As such, preserving diversity helps hedge our bets and spread risk.
So there you have it. Bananas in a nut-shell (or a peel?). For more information visit BananaLink. For something on which to apply your new found knowledge, see recipe below!
1 medium, ripe banana (try organic, fair trade, and/or Rainforest Alliance/Earth University)
1 heaping tbs cocoa podwer
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
5 drops stevia or 2 dates
1/4 cup non-dairy yogurt
1/2 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
1. Easy as always. Dump everything in a blender and let 'er rip. Enjoy!