Monday, December 1, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 3

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

As I read your book, I thought heavily of the dichotomy of experiences surrounding the banana. Here in the States, bananas are basically luxuries. They’re cheap, convenient, consistent, and available year round, whereas, in many African and Asian nations, they are the staple for healthy living, and nutrition. What are your thoughts on this drastically different pair of experiences?

It’s really interesting, you know, the banana is the world’s oldest cultivated fruit. It’s been around for seven thousand years; it is the World’s fourth largest crop. Most people don’t really know this, and to us the banana is sort of this benign thing.

Yet, there are also similarities in the way we that we view the banana. It is, really, to us an essential product. It’s the cheapest fruit we have and it does serve a function as a cheap fruit. It does sort of act, not as much, or even, as a competitor to more expensive fruit such as apples, and oranges; it is that. But also is a competitor to snacks like candy bars and Doritos, and really lousy things that are in the American diet. You know, if you go into a 7-Eleven, you see a basket of bananas up there along the big grab of Cheetos, and the humongous double sized bag of M&M’s. You’re not as likely to see an apple up there – and if you do, that apple is gonna be a really crappy red delicious apple, that’s gonna be mealy and bad. On the other hand, the banana that you get you know is gonna be in good shape, you know it’s gonna taste good. You can tell by looking at it.

So in a sense there is a similarity in the essentialness of the banana here, and the essentialness of the banana in Africa. It’s a stretch, but my point is: we need the banana here, mostly because of the foolishness [laughs] of our industrialized diet. We should eat more bananas. Chiquita has actually – like the one smart thing this company has done – is try, and position this as a convenient food. That’s something the company has done for over a hundred years. I mean, I could talk a lot about the not so smart, and terrible things it’s done, but the idea that the banana sits there in the 7-Eleven, is a great idea. I can’t tell you how many people reach for that banana compared to reaching for the Snickers bar, I think, sadly, probably it’s not enough [laughs], but at least it’s there.

Now, on the other hand, in Africa, the banana is so much more than that. In Africa, the banana is life itself. You go to a village in Uganda the African banana isn’t just eighty to ninety percent of the calories. Now imagine eighty to ninety percent of your calories. Imagine your store with only ten percent of the food that it has now. Imagine your home with just ten percent of what you were able to eat. You would starve.

The banana is that.

In addition, as ninety percent of the calories, the bananas are also responsible for the other ten percent. In a Ugandan village, the banana is part of a village ecosystem. That tree provides shade to grow the rest of that food. So if that tree gets sick, if that tree dies, that shade is gone, and the rest of that food also goes away.

In Africa, were there is a lot of tension, where governments are not stable, without food, there is starvation, and there is war. So the banana is a lifesaver. There are efforts to save the banana, to prevent banana disease, to strengthen the fruit, and to make sure that there are different varieties of banana grown. And that people learn how to recognize banana disease, and do everything that they can to protect the banana against it. It is absolutely essential.
If we lose our bananas it is a terrible, terrible thing, but in Africa, to lose bananas is a death sentence to millions, and millions of people.

1 comment:

TexasDeb said...

So we tackle AIDS and malaria yet ignore that millions of people will starve to death without a reliable source of bananas to eat. How does that happen?

How do we make the threat of banana extinction sexy enough to win over some celebrity backing? We need a snappy slogan and some enviro-alarmist cred here.

But what can we really do? SImply buying more Cavendish bananas won't help anything. Ideas? Anybody?

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