If there is one food my wife will not tolerate, it has to be the banana. Her categorical hatred of the banana is unflagging and the mere smell of a ripe banana will send her into paroxysms of disgust. This, however, doesn’t keep bananas out of our house. I have a young child that consumes approximately five bananas a week, and I have been known to eat one here and there (despite disapproval from my wife). The fact is, bananas are the most widely consumed fruit in the United States (more than apples and oranges combined) and, considering what you get for your dollar; they are insanely cheap (even the organic ones). Bananas are easy to store, a great source of nutrient-dense energy, and extraordinarily high in potassium, as well as magnesium. So what is not to like?
Well this is where the controversy begins. Some champion the banana as the perfect fruit – it comes in its own biodegradable package, it is easy to peel, and provides near-instant energy to those willing to consume them. Hell, some even take the banana’s existence as proof of God almighty and a conceptual stumbling block for atheists. But beyond the ubiquity of the banana is the simple fact that they are grown very, very far away from the continental U.S. and Europe. This requires bananas to be transported overseas, in climate-controlled containers for thousands of miles before they even arrive (presumably green) in your local grocery store. Some argue that, despite the long distance they may travel, bananas are grown in natural sunlight (no hothouses needed) and because they travel by boat (not plane) their carbon footprint is far less than airfreight. But consumers who remain vigilant about the environmental impact of their purchases routinely forgo the banana and opt for local fruits instead.
Beyond the environmental impact of transportation, the banana industry has a less than spotless record. Nearly all of the bananas imported and consumed in the U.S. are of the Cavendish variety, making up a sweeping monoculture. This monoculture, which puts the entire banana population at risk for fungus and disease (as most monocultures do) has been put into place in the pursuit of the maximum and cheapest yields has also been linked to local environmental damage and has required the liberal use of pesticides and fungicides – sometimes at the expense of plantation workers. Unless you are purchasing fair trade bananas, you are likely contributing to an exploitative third world profit venture, and even then it is hard to be 100 percent certain.
Another reason to be somewhat skeptical of bananas is that, while bananas are nutrient-dense, they are also dense with natural sugars. While not exactly like eating a cookie, bananas are relatively high in the glycemic index (55, compared to an apple which is about 30 depending on the variety). This index measures how quickly the carbohydrates in the food get digested and turned into blood sugar, which means a banana provides a significant spike in blood sugar when eaten. This could be potentially compromising for diabetics.
The last strike against the grand banana is something hardly factual, but more speculative. It is said that bananas are bad luck, at least if you run a fishing boat. There has been a long-standing superstition that fishing boats carrying bananas are cursed. Some believe that boats carrying bananas will catch no fish. Others believe these banana-laden boats will simply sink. There is little to back up this theory, but some fishing boat captains are so convinced that they will throw any bananas overboard (even a single banana or something with the image of a banana) before they leave the harbor. Go figure.
Are you a banana fan? Would anything get you to stop eating these exceptionally cheap tropical fruits? What banana alternatives would you suggest that are local, fair-trade, and equally delicious?