Did you know that the bananas we eat today are mostly genetically identical? Have you ever thought, “when is banana season?”
The answer is: all year. Until they’re all gone.
I recently watched a Vice piece on the future of the banana crop, and how the banana we’ve been eating for the last 50 years or so, is likely to disappear very soon. This worries me. Not only because I like bananas in my smoothies, but because as a society, we aren’t learning our lesson.
Gros Michel bananas were the only bananas we ate from the 1800’s to World War II. That was the banana that Chiquita Banana and the United Fruit Company marketed to American consumers up until the 1940s. It was the banana that shaped the image of all bananas: long, perfectly yellow, and sweet, sweet, sweet. In the early 1950s, Panama disease, a banana fungus, wiped out most commercial Gros Michel banana production across the entire world.
So what did we do? We found another banana that looked just like the Gros Michel (it’s less sweet and less delicious) and planted another monoculture across Latin America. And today, the same disease is rapidly infecting portions of the world’s Cavendish banana crops in Asia and is likely to spell disaster for the monoculture-dependent worldwide banana trade. Bananas are the biggest export of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Belize and the second most valuable export for Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras.
So what’s the answer to this issue we continue to encounter? Biodiversity. We’ve heard about the dangers of wheat monocultures, corn monocultures, etc. We need to start planting various bananas trees and changing our expectations of how a banana should look and taste, and that we should get to eat bananas all year long. If you want to know more about the banana dilemma, check out the Vice episode on HBO or the Wired piece below.