Thursday, February 14, 2013


If you are a runner (or even if you're not), likely you've eaten a banana recently.  Likely you eat one almost every morning.  Likely you always have a bunch at your house.  Well, I bet you didn't know that this particular breed of banana is the Cavendish.  Or that the Koran implies that the forbidden fruit was actually a banana, not an apple.  Or that Americans (while Stateside) may not have access to bananas in two decades.  Or that the banana you are now eating was grown in either Ecuador or Guatemala or Honduras. Or that... well let me just list the cool facts I learned while reading "Banana" by Dan Koeppel.  In chronological order:

  • 1870 - Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker purchases 160 bunches of Gros Michel bananas in Jamaica, and sells them in Jersey City for $2/bunch.  This is the first known commercial banana transaction in the US.
  • 1876 - The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition features bananas (as a cheap and healthy substitute for apples)... the beginning of America's love affair with the banana.  The other major sensation at the exhibition was the telephone.
  • 1885 - Baker starts the first banana importing company: Boston Fruit (later changed to United Fruit and then to Chiquita)
  • 1900 - Standard Fruit (eventually changed to Dole), a rival company, is founded in New Orleans, the central arrival point for all US banana imports.
  • 1900 - Panama Disease (it decimates banana crops) is identified in Java.
  • 1904 - The banana split is invented in Pennsylvania.  And Columbus, Ohio.  (It's invented in Iowa in 1906 as well as Wilmington, Ohio in 1907).

  • 1916 - United Fruit's Great White Fleet is temporarily dry-docked after German U-Boats sink several of the vessels.
  • 1920 - The Fruit Dispatch Company if formed to distribute bananas in the US.  Over the years, this Co. develops refrigerated shipping, central warehouses for supermarkets, and product-tracking systems that will utimately morph into today's retail technologies such as bar coding.
  • 1924 - United Fruit prints recipes for corn flakes with banana slices.
  • 1935 - Sigatoka disease is identified in Central America.  This is the major blight facing today's global banana crops.
  • 1958 - The end of the Gros Michel era nears.  Chiquita scientists begin experimenting with replacements.
  • 1961 - Wide-scale adoption of the Cavendish banana begins.  Because it is much less hardy than the Gros Michel, the banana box is invented.

  • 1967 - Chiquita distributes 90,000 recipe cards detailing an unheard-of creation: the peanut butter and banana sandwich.

  • 1970 - Replacement of the Gros Michel by the Cavendish is complete.
  • 1972 - Black Sigatoka, a disease that rots banana leaves, is first observed.
  • 1985 - A new incarnation of Panama Disease begins to appear in Asia.
  • 1998 - The world's largest banana-processing plant is opened in Costa Rica.  It can handle 50,000 bananas daily.
  • 1999 - US banana consumption is 100 fruits per person per year.
  • 2001 - A new disease called banana wilt begins to spread in Africa.
  • 2003 - The first organically grown bananas are exported from Ecuador.

  • 2005 - The Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation, subcontracted by Chiquita, begins a secret project... To develop a Cavendish replacement in anticipation of what many believe is inevitable: Panama disease will hit Central America.
  • 2006 - A national banana-research lab is opened in Uganda, its mission to develop both conventional and bioengineered hybrids.
  • PRESENT - Panama Disease continues to spread.  Outlook dim.
We as Americans will be affected by the end of the banana, if it does in fact come to that.  However, we do NOT depend on the banana to stay alive like some countries around the world.  If a cure or a replacement is not found soon, it could mean large scale hunger in third world countries.

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