Monday, February 16, 2009

Bananas ...

Banana Splits ... Chocolate Covered Bananas ... Banana Bread ... Banana Pie ... Banana Smoothies ... Banana Pudding ... and freshly peeled bananas as a snack. The list goes on and on. We love our bananas! The average American eats approximately 28 pounds of bananas a year. Nutritionally, bananas are very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. They are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese and Vitamin B6.

Most of the 6.4 billion pounds of bananas consumed in the U.S. every year are not grown here ... they are produced on massive monoculture plantations in Latin America, West Africa and the Philippines. And ... they are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop ... not to protect the actual fruit ... but to ensure that consumers see a picture perfect banana on their shelves.

In truth, when I began my research into bananas ... I intended to talk about pesticides. But I quickly learned that pesticides are just one concern of many. Another problem is that current farming practices, in many areas of the world, are contributing to the destruction of the tropical rain forest. The rain forest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. 75% of the earth’s biodiversity lives in these forests ... and it is being lost. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there ... banana production is associated with the following concerns:
  • soil erosion
  • heavy use of chemical fertilizers
  • loss of soil fertility due to monoculture farming practices
  • destruction of natural habitat
  • water and soil pollution
  • poor working conditions/wages of banana workers
  • small farmers being evicted from their land through violent means
Who knew that this sweet treat was such a controversial product. I certainly didn't.

Once again, there is power in our purchases. Did you know that the three largest producers and distributors of bananas are Chiquita, Dole Foods and Del Monte? These three US transnational corporations control up to 70% of world exports. They are public companies with shareholders ... and that means they respond to consumers' demands. There are two things we can look for when buying bananas:
  1. Buy organic. In 2004, less than one percent of bananas sold in the US were organically grown. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, that number is growing approximately twenty percent annually.

  2. Buy Fair Trade bananas. Read the label and look for the words "Fair Trade Certified". The Fair Trade certification system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes integrated farm management systems that improve soil fertility, and limits the use of harmful agrochemicals in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers' health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations. If you don't see the label, tell your store that you'd like them to stock Fair Trade produce (including bananas). You can do this my sending an email or letter to their corporate offices, calling them or by visiting the following site:

The Dole Food Company now offers organic bananas from Ecuador, Peru and Columbia. This is a start ... and offers us hope for a better world.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.