»In which we have no bananas

Dan Koeppel, author of the outstanding history Banana, has an editorial piece in today's New York Times. He suggests that the rising price of fuel and the ongoing floods in Ecuador will combine to produce $1/lb. bananas, a significant price threshold for this ubiquitous food. He discussed the factors that have kept banana prices low, and the monoculture that makes the contemporary consumer banana extremely vulnerable to blight, and draws the conclusion that we ought to look for a different fruit to enjoy on our bicycle rides.

His book (full title: Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World) does not directly answer a question that pops into my mind almost every day: why do bananas from the street vendors always cost a quarter? His methodical research and vivid writing have brought me a more clear understanding of the supply chain and shenanigans of getting a banana to the cart. Last week I tried a short red banana, a different variety from the standard Cavendish, and found it surprisingly difficult to eat. After having eaten at least a banana a day for decades, I am completely accustomed to the specific taste and texture of a particular banana; this Red Banana (PLU 4236) took me by surprise.

The editorial is a reprise of themes from his book, written with a more moral tone than the book itself.

… 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.

By sticking to this single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable. …

In recent years, American consumers have begun seeing the benefits — to health, to the economy and to the environment — of buying foods that are grown close to our homes. Getting used to life without bananas will take some adjustment. What other fruit can you slice onto your breakfast cereal?

But bananas have always been an emblem of a long-distance food chain. Perhaps it’s time we recognize bananas for what they are: an exotic fruit that, some day soon, may slip beyond our reach.

salim filed this under deep-fried and media friendsy at 05h41 Wednesday, 18 June 2008 (link) (Yr two bits?)