BananaThe banana is the perfect food! A snack with it’s own handle that comes in a biodegradable wrapper, it’s the ultimate convenience food. This unassuming, soft, sweet fruit has a fascinating and treacherous history. In Banana: the fate of the fruit that changed the world, Koeppel sets out to explore the scientific, economic, political, and historical aspects of the lowly banana. For good measure he even throws in a dose of banana humor.

While the history of how the banana spanned the globe makes for good reading, the real drama begins when the fruit was domesticated by shrewd American businessmen in the late 1800s. They realized the economic potential of the tropical fruit and set out to make it available to the masses. Through marketing and advertising, U.S. banana importers were able to make a product grown thousands of miles away cheap enough that it became a daily snack for many Americans. This was not without cost though to the fruit itself and those directly involved with production and harvest.

It’s not exaggeration to say that the banana has shaped and toppled nations. In Central and South America, workers who attempted to unionize were squelched by the influential banana industry which was backed by the U.S. government. Thousands of workers died in these insurrections.

The human toll in the banana industry parallels the destruction of the fruit itself. Only one variety of banana was commercially cultivated because it was transportable and long-lasting. This proved to be fatal when in the 1950s it was wiped out by a soil fungus. A replacement species was introduced, but it too is susceptible to the same fungus. Every banana we buy is a genetic duplicate of the next, and this lack of biodiversity is threatening to totally eradicate the fruit.

While the book can be very somber, it also provides many fun facts that you can use at your next party. Did you know:

  • some scholars believe the “forbidden fruit” in Genesis was a banana, not an apple?
  • the banana split MAY have been invented in Davenport, Iowa? (see page 65)?
  • the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” originated in 1950 when Panama Disease wiped out an earlier variety of banana?
  • the first bananas sold in the U.S. came peeled, sliced, and wrapped in foil to prevent the fruit’s suggestive shape from offending Victorian sensibilities?