Two years ago this month, my mother, sister and I went to Paris to celebrate Mom’s Seventy Fifth birthday. My sister had lived in France; I travel there regularly for work; but Mom had never been. It was a to be the trip of a lifetime for Mom, but things got off to a rocky start when she missed her first flight (we journeyed separately at the beginning from our respective homes). The reason: she needed bananas. No kidding. She didn’t have any bananas at home and felt she just couldn’t make the trip without them. So she stopped by a supermarket for bananas on her way to the airport, and as a result she missed her flight. In fact, she missed an entire day in Paris, due to the domino effect of missing that first flight. This story is now a big joke in our family, and we make sure to ask Mom before she travels, “Do you have bananas?” She doesn’t appreciate the sarcasm.
So it might seem odd that a daughter of the woman who can’t go to Paris without bananas (“Did you think they wouldn’t have any in France, Mom?” I asked) does not buy bananas herself. It’s been over a decade since I did, except when traveling in Central or South America, where bananas are a relatively local food and a real treat for me. Oddly, TBM also stopped buying bananas before I met him, and for the same reason: they’re just not “clean.” What I mean is, the production and proliferation of this fruit has a checkered past and present, troubled in every aspect from practices of the companies who dominate world banana trade, to the fact that the banana grown and sold almost exclusively is the Cavendish, creating a fruit mono-culture now subject to disease and facing possible extinction.
Some argue that due to the high nutritional content of bananas, they are a good choice when considering the carbon footprint of a fruit grown thousands of miles away from many of us, yet available all places, at all times, regardless of season.
Fair Trade bananas are becoming more common, mitigating some bananadrama by providing proper wages and conditions for plantation workers. After learning a bit more about this, I am almost tempted to buy fair trade bananas next time I see them in the market.
But I’ll still carefully consider the purchase, in light of what I know about bananas and their attendant woes. Besides, I can’t be missing any flights, or days in Paris, for a bunch of monkey business.
PS and Full Disclosure: though I have not purchased fresh bananas in a long time, I have purchased overly ripe (brown and black) bananas on the “clearance shelf” in the produce department. My justification-right or wrong- is that these bananas might not be purchased by someone else, and might be thrown out, going to waste entirely. I peel the ripe bananas, cut into segments, and keep in the freezer for smoothies or baking banana bread. I compost the peels.