Some thoughts on Bananas

I love bananas. I eat at least 1 every day. They’re easy to carry, easy to eat without making a mess, easy to grab when I’m running late to class … They’re so common place, it hardly strikes me to think of them as a tropical fruit, but they are tropical and they have to be transported through a complicated system to get to Safeway before I buy them.

According to wikipedia: “In the current world marketing system, bananas are grown in the tropics where hurricanes are not common. The fruit therefore has to be transported over long distances and storage is necessary. To gain maximum life bunches are harvested before the fruit is fully mature. The fruit is carefully handled, transported quickly to the seaboard, cooled and shipped under sophisticated refrigeration. The basis of this procedure is to prevent the bananas producing ethylene which is the natural ripening agent of the fruit. This sophisticated technology allows storage and transport for 3-4 weeks at 13 degrees Celsius. On arrival at the destination the bananas are held at about 17 degrees Celsius and treated with a low concentration of ethylene. After a few days the fruit has begun to ripen and it is distributed for retail sale.”

So, why does this matter? Well, lately, I’ve been thinking about how to eat more sustainably. Based on wikipedia’s summary of banana transportation, it seems like it takes  an enormous amount of energy to get the bananas to my local grocery store. Eating them may be easy on my lifestyle, but is it easy on the environment? And say the whole process of importing bananas to Canada was environmentally unsound enough to convince me to stop eating bananas and start eating another fruit grown in the near vicinity of Vancouver? What if a whole bunch of other people did the same thing to the point where the global demand for bananas was significantly reduced? What if a relatively poor country like Dominica, where the economy depends primarily on bananas, became even more improverished because of a steep drop in banana demand? How would the country climb out of this poverty if they couldn’t export bananas anymore?

I realize I’m using slippery-slope logic and that such a banana-driven disaster sounds ridiculous. Yet, as I try to think about what it means to eat sustainably (and I’ve become convinced that in many ways that can mean eating locally) I’ve also been wondering about how deeply interconnected all of us are by the global markets that bring us our food, especially when our food comes from developing countries whose economies depend on agriculture exports….

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3 Responses to “Some thoughts on Bananas”

  1. Gajan

    But can poor countries with economies based primarily on agricultural goods climb out of poverty if they wanted to? Farming is an especially risky business given the impacts outside factors have on production (ie. weather). Also many poor farmers are price takers and deal with fluctuating prices from year to year. All this plus the relative lack of value-added opportunities and trade distorting subsidies don’t really help economies based on agriculture to grow (one of the arguments against free trade is that poor countries would be “stuck” as agricultural producers and wouldn’t be able to expand into more lucrative markets they are not already in).

    People probably aren’t going to stop eating bananas all at once and the local demand for bananas won’t be affected by 100km Canadian diets either. Hopefully, as the demand for bananas drops, Dominica would be able to diversify its economy and provide new opportunities for farmers now out of work… but maybe I’m just an optimist.

  2. Sonja

    It might be interesting to check out:

    http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2008/apr/science/ee_foodmiles.html

    “[…] transportation creates only 11% of the 8.1 metric tons (t) of greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) that an average U.S. household generates annually as a result of food consumption.”

    If you’re buying local, try to buy in-season local. Because the energy put into heating greenhouses etc. when we try to grow things like tomatoes and strawberries in the winter in Canada more than compensates for any savings in transportation fuel, compared to if we were to import these foods from a warmer place that doesn’t need greenhouses to grow them.

    The extent to which transportation of food contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as a result of food consumption is probably smaller than you think.

  3. Alia Dharssi

    Good point about farming being a risky export, Gajan.

    And Sonja, that article has given me some food for thought 😉 It’s amazing that “A relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same greenhouse gas reduction as eating locally, Weber adds. Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year.”

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