Cruel enemies are stalking the world’s bananas and have been for decades. Who knew? Apparently Dan Koeppel. He has tracked not only the diseases that wiped out the every-day, Gros Michel
, banana in the 1930s, but has an eye out for the Panama disease
that is wiping out the Cavendish
banana, that is, the one that we see today in every supermarket and fruit stand. There is yet another mortal enemy to the banana in the world, called Sigatoka. And the up and coming threat is from a disease called Bunchy Top
, which sounds more like a character from Sesame Street, or Carrot Top’s heftier cousin, than a lethal virus. No one knows what effect it might have on our ability to add some slices of the world’s favorite fruit and fourth largest crop to our morning cereal.
There is a lot to learn about the impact of the banana on the world. And I would bet that all, or surely most of it, is in this book. Banana
was a fun, educational and often surprising read. There is a lot of information to take in, and while you may know some of the info here, it is certain that there is a bunch you do not. Did you know that the banana tree isn’t properly a tree, but a very large herb? Neither did I. Or that the bananas we eat are considered berries? Say it ain’t so.
How about the notion that the banana was the fruit referred to in ancient texts about the Garden of Eden. The climate in the Fertile Crescent was not conducive to apples. And there is some softness in the translations of ancient writings. The forbidden fruit was called a fig, which is also what the banana was called. And really, doesn’t it seem a more fitting shape for the job? Which makes it all the more ironic that bananas are essentially asexual. They do not breed. The fruit we eat today came from cloned plants. Mass-consumption bananas have always come from plants that do not propagate themselves, but require man’s intervention.
There is a hybrid grown in Asia that is high in beta carotene, promising an easier way to get vitamin A into picky children. Koeppel even traces the linguistic trail of the banana as it made its way around the world, noting similarities in local names for the fruit in diverse languages.
He peels back the layers of time to reveal the banana’s place in history. Latin America is prime here, with many tales of corrupt agricultural corporations, such as United Fruit (now Chiquita) and their machinations against local governments. He also points out that many technological advances arose from the need to transport this perishable product long distances in a short time.
So you get the idea, lots of info about something most of us never gave, well, a fig about. It is a fun read and you will find yourself saying (or thinking, if you don’t want to make the person next to you on the subway slowly edge away) “I did not know that.” Given that there are existential threats abroad to the common banana, and that we are not yet ready with a cross-bred version that is resistant to those threats, we should probably do what we can to appreciate the banana before it…um…splits.