Where do bananas come from?
No really, where? Michigan? North Carolina? Florida? No matter which supermarket you step into in the US, you can always find a pile of bananas for a cheap price. They're a staple of many of our diets and the saviors of runners everywhere. But where do they come from?
The answer: Latin America, well over 2,000 miles away, depending on where you live in the US. Bananas need a tropical climate and rich soil to grow, and the most common place for bananas to be grown is in the middle of the rainforest.
28lbs of bananas per person per year. Consider first, the amount of rainforest space it takes to produce that many bananas. Unfortunately, massive plantations by Dole and Chiquita have downed over 50,000 hectacres of rainforest, just in Costa Rica alone. Combined with the effects of monoculture (depletion of the soil by constant farming of just one crop) and the extreme use of pesticides (208 chemicals at 44kg/hectacre), we are rapidly destroying one of the most beautiful places on earth, just for our eating pleasure.
Unfortunately, the environmental destruction of a banana does not stop there. How much fuel does it cost to fly a plane one way from Costa Rica to the US? Once the bananas make it to the US, how much trucking fuel is used up transporting these imported fruits across the nation? It's no secret that we are running out of fossil fuels, but it might be surprising to hear that all of the transportation costs for these companies are tax deductible, ie: tax dollars are paying to have our bananas shipped to us from a hemisphere away.
The carbon footprint of a banana is astronomical, and something I feel a little shocked to have been supporting by eating my 28lbs of bananas per American per year.
Why are bananas so cheap?
A few weeks ago I was at the grocery store and I was astounded to see bananas on sale for 19 cents/lb, while local Michigan apples (presumably more in season and shipped less) were going for 80 cents/lb. How are bananas, clearly not very cheap to produce or transport, some of the lowest-cost foods in the produce section?
poor treatment of workers. Like the meatpacking industry, the growers of bananas are far underpaid and exposed to horrid working conditions. Many fall ill in the presence of the extreme levels of pesticides, and there are even a few cases of men becoming infertile due to pesticide exposure.
Another horrifying figure is that while banana exports constitute up to 41% of a Central American country's exports, the country only retains 11.5% of the retail value profits, with the other 88.5% of profits being given to foreign companies--aka Dole and Chiquita. In short, the US is exploiting these countries for their banana exports.
What can you do about it?
- Stop buying bananas-- this is obvious, but a quick way to limit your consumption and support of these companies
- Look for bananas under the Rainforest Farms or Rainforest Alliance brands. They'll usually have a sticker with a frog or a rainbow on it. These bananas will likely cost more, but came from an environmentally and ethically sound background
- Buy local fruits-- although bananas aren't native to Michigan, apples, peaches, grapes and berries are. Choose local!