The slippery slope of banana farming.
May 6, 2010 8:37 AM   Subscribe

A little background about that oddly shaped yellow fruit and the potential for bananageddon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (47 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Every time I read about banana history I always gets tuck of thinking of bananas actually growing in Cavendish. A little girl used to live there.
posted by GuyZero at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2010

More on bananas from the NYT. This op-ed piece from 2008 was really interesting. This article is older, but interesting, too.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2010

But everybody knows bananas were perfectly created by God for human consumption.
posted by kmz at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Until the middle of the twentieth century, most bananas on sale in the developed world belonged to the Gros Michel cultivar.

I guess that's before he started NOFX?
posted by knave at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Gros Michel is apparently not extinct, as the article states. These Chowhounds claim some restaurants occasionally feature Gros Michel on the menu.

Ever since I learned about the Gros Michel I've wanted to try one. I have new hope!
posted by agropyron at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2010

Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas todayever again.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The International Banana Club has the world's largest collection of banana related items.
posted by gman at 9:11 AM on May 6, 2010

I had no idea the banana was a hideous hybrid freak formed by ghastly and blasphemous miscegenation betwixt rival plant species.
posted by Mister_A at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2010

I learned about this after I was reading a Richard Scarry book with my young son. The bananas in the grocery store were hung in a big bunch, and I realized I'd seen them hung up that way in other old pictures. But why no more? I did some research and found that Gros Michel bananas were tough enough to be transported in bunches, but the Cavendish replacements fell apart and had to be transported in boxes by the "hand." Bananas are indeed fascinating.
posted by rikschell at 9:27 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I read that as banaggedon. You know, the day when EVERYONE self links.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Laugh-a while you can, monkeyboy. Anton LaVey's sinister plan to make "Yes, We Have No Bananas" the occult anthem proceeds to fruition from beyond the grave.
posted by adipocere at 9:35 AM on May 6, 2010

Is that a freakish and fragile genetic mutant in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
posted by gman at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2010

If you're going to post this you may as well post the entire site. Seriously, this and all the other stories are amazing.
posted by basicchannel at 9:45 AM on May 6, 2010

Mefite soulbarn wrote the book on bananas, by the way.
posted by TedW at 9:52 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the plus side, Ernie will now be able to hear Bert perfectly well.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:10 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Fascinating. Also, banana science.
posted by sveskemus at 10:12 AM on May 6, 2010

I knew that bananas were all sterile clones, but I didn't know how they originated -- or that it was possible to get a few to produce seeds with lots of hard work by banana sex workers. (Okay, I admit it, I just like saying "banana sex worker".)

Apples are also mostly clones, but that is because apples do reproduce sexually (as opposed to assexually by pollinating itself). Since it always has two parents of different types, the offspring will not have the exact same characteristics as either parent, and that's bad if what you want is another MacIntosh tree and not a MacIntosh-Granny Smith cross. So we clone them in the similar ways as bananas and navel oranges. I've actually eaten a clone of an apple tree that first grew in c1600 -- it was tiny, delicious, and unlike any apple I've ever seen available commercially. (Well, a bit like a Russett -- but much better).

Back to bananas -- Bananageddon seems like it would have devasting impacts on the economies of banana exporting regions. But it feels like there really is nothing easy to do about it. Develop other varieties, sure, but that seems to be very difficult.

And/or diversify the local economy, which is always easier said than done, partly because no one wants to be the first.

on preview: the "banana as evidence of intelligent design" thing always cracks me up. It was intelligently designed: by us.
posted by jb at 10:43 AM on May 6, 2010

Bananas are slacker fruit and lazy people should be truly concerned about this...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:10 AM on May 6, 2010

User 26214 to the Blue, please.
posted by Danf at 11:26 AM on May 6, 2010

I prefer Bananarama to Bananageddon.
posted by Mister_A at 12:11 PM on May 6, 2010

My dad believes that bananas are one of the world's four most miraculous substances. (The category includes air, water, bananas and silicone.)

To say he loves bananas would be an understatement. I once did a radio show about food, and asked him to describe his love for bananas as I recorded. Instead of a soundbite I got 45 minutes.
posted by Madamina at 12:36 PM on May 6, 2010

Haha, I get Panama disease when I hear the Van Halen song.
posted by elder18 at 12:44 PM on May 6, 2010

My dad believes that bananas are one of the world's four most miraculous substances.

Fucking bananas, how do they work?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:45 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

As for me, I think that if managers are uncomfortable with the term design, they should call it a "banana." Bananas are beautiful, functional, organic, unique, measureable, portable, pleasurable and provide a delightful, emotional experience to consumers. Bananas embody what CEOs and managers are struggling to achieve in using design to create new products and services.

Yes, it took the legendary designer Michael Bierut to make me have this epiphany. Banana.

Quoting Bruce Nussbaum
posted by infini at 1:20 PM on May 6, 2010

Where is your god now Kirk Cameron?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2010

Bananas embody what CEOs and managers are struggling to achieve in using design to create new products and services.

posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2010

I had no idea the banana was a hideous hybrid freak formed by ghastly and blasphemous miscegenation betwixt rival plant species.
Only when H.P. Lovecraft eats them.

My dad believes that bananas are one of the world's four most miraculous substances
Your father is a wise, wise man.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2010

I say this in every thread, but you know what sucks? Being allergic to bananas.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:44 PM on May 6, 2010

I say this in every banana thread, I should say for context.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:45 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

that too, GuyZero, that too
posted by infini at 1:48 PM on May 6, 2010

infinitywaltz -- I feel your pain. I'm not allergic to bananas, but eating them gives me a terrible stomachache. This only came on with adulthood, and before that bananas were my favourite fruit.

and now I can't have them, except cooked into things (which is nice, but not the same).
posted by jb at 1:57 PM on May 6, 2010

The predicted death of bananas has been discussed here before, back in 2008. The article in this FPP looks like basically just a rehash of the earlier articles, including those linked above by Adm. Haddock. So while it's not precisely a duplicate, it isn't offering much new, either.

Like I said in the previous thread, I've eaten what I was told were Gros Michels, and they are fabulous bananas. They aren't extinct yet, and probably won't, as long as they are still being cultivated by small-scale subsistence farmers.
posted by Forktine at 2:59 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My major adviser in college was a plant biologist in his middle 70s who, as a young researcher, had worked for awhile on the industry project to come up with a cultivar to replace the Gros Michel. He was a sharp old guy at the end of a long career, and was fond of telling stories about the more colorful aspects of his work over the years, including his stint in the banana business. The Gros Michel, I remember him saying, had been pretty much the Platonic ideal of the yellow banana, and that it was one of his great regrets that he and his group had not been able, quite, to replicate its sweetness in the Cavendish variety the fruit companies eventually settled on as its replacement. They also failed to come up with anything that could match the Gros Michel's ripening characteristics: it could be picked ripe and would stay ripe in transit and after purchase. You'd buy one yellow and it would stay that way for well over two weeks. The Cavendish ended up being a decent substitute for the fruit companies, he told me, but it was no Gros Michel. That banana was something else.

Down in the greenhouses behind the biology building, over in a corner, there was a huge old broad-leaved banana plant that had grown until it reached the roof glass, and then, with no other route open to it, had curled over and gone sideways about half as far as it was tall. It had clearly been there for a long time, and it's hard to overstate how out of place it looked amidst the tidy racks and trays of small plants being grown as part of one experiment or another. One day I asked my advisor about it. He explained that he had grown it from a cutting he'd taken of one of the original Cavendish plants.

One does not usually think of familiar things like bananas in terms of beginnings or endings (in fact, one does not usually think much about them at all). It was interesting to look at that plant in the greenhouse and to think that it was, in some sense, both a beginning and an ending, and whether it seemed more of a beginning or an ending to you was just a function of how old you were, and whether you remembered what had come before.
posted by killdevil at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: large squads of banana sex workers
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:26 PM on May 6, 2010

The real Bananageddon.

BTW, United Fruit Co. was transformed into Chiquita Brands by the Carl Lindners (Sr. & Jr.), founder of Cincinnati's third favorite ice cream, United Dairy Farmers (Sr.), and immediate past owner of the Cincinnati Reds (Jr.).
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:13 PM on May 6, 2010

I always thought the major problem is not that there aren't other varieties of bananas that could be commercialized, it's that the American consumer won't accept a banana that doesn't resemble the Platonic Banana: perfectly yellow, without black spots on the skin and exactly 8 inches in length. I can get 6 or 7 delicious types of bananas at any local market where I live, but they are green when ripe, or small, or skinny or have mottled skins etc. Dew Bananas (a close gros michel relative), Gold Bananas, Dream Bananas, Banana Bananas: every one of them has more flavor than the Cavendish. When I took my children back to the States (I'm in Malaysia), my mom, trying to find some familiar food, gave the grandkids some Cavendish bananas. They took one bite and said no thank you.

Also, the bit about the fragility of the plant seems exaggerated too. Bananas appear to hybridize like mad where I live, and edible bananas with seeds in them, though not commonly sold in the market, seem fairly common in the wild. For instance, I had a banana appear in the scrub beyond my backyard which produced a large, delicious, green-when-ripe banana that no Malaysian I knew could identify.
posted by BinGregory at 7:56 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

with an unheard-of yellowness and inexplicably amusing shape.

I think I could explain the amusingness.
posted by pompomtom at 9:43 PM on May 6, 2010

A friend of mine believes mango in banana shape, with the banana's practicality for eating, would be the perfect fruit. I tend to agree, or perhaps a hybrid banana-mango with a mixed flavor would be even better. My point is, why don't the banana sex workers get on this?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:24 PM on May 6, 2010

I can't think about bananas anymore without hearing Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor saying, "Bananas are good." I don't even like bananas.
posted by colfax at 12:14 AM on May 7, 2010

I cannot stand Cavendish bananas. They taste like what I imagined gruel would taste like when I was a child and first learned there was actually a food called "gruel".

I always thought I just hated bananas, until I started living in a place where another variety (the apple banana) is commonly available. Those, I eat all the time.
posted by kyrademon at 3:27 AM on May 7, 2010

oh binGregory, memories of goreng pisang hot from the hawker's hands...
posted by infini at 3:31 AM on May 7, 2010

Ooh yeah, fried bananas are the best! My favorite are the pisang tanduk - two of those great big monster plantains from the fruit stall fried up at home feed the whole family.
posted by BinGregory at 5:15 AM on May 7, 2010

or plain ol plantain chips, just like mama used to make, dyed with turmeric and sprinkled with a bit of salt and chilli powder ;p
posted by infini at 5:17 AM on May 7, 2010

They're like the hippogriffs of fruit.
posted by NoraReed at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2010

More banananology:
Other parts of the banana are edible too: the purple heart or bell at the end of the banana fruit stalk can be steamed and eaten as a vegetable. The tender tissue at the core of the banana trunk (umbut pisang, locally) is also edible when cooked, though I find it plain and watery.

Leaves of the banana are useful in the kitchen. People may be aware of using the waxy surface for a plate, popular in south India. The leaf is also used as a wrapping for sweets and snacks, where the leaf often imparts an essential flavor to what is cooked, like with pulut bakar - nothing but glutinous rice roasted in a banana leaf.

Bananas are also used in tropical horticulture, like the pisang derhaka: the Banana of Treachery.
posted by BinGregory at 10:51 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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