Week 2 Reading Summaries

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World – There is new evidence that the banana may have actually been the fruit that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. If the Garden of Eden was in the Middle East, where it was believed to be, then the land is horrible for growing applies but great for growing bananas. Bananas are very difficult to breed for genetic modification and are hard to ship because they immediately start to ripen once they are cut down off of the plant on the plantation. After the Civil War, bananas were seen as a luxury in the United States. Lorenzo Baker was the 1st person to export bananas to the U.S.; he exported them from Jamaica on a whim to see if he could earn some extra money. In 1885, Baker and Andrew Preston partnered to create the world’s 1st commercial banana company. The company was Boston Fruit, now known as Chiquita. Joseph Vaccaro started Standard Fruit a few years later, known today as Dole. Central America has the perfect climate for growing bananas, but it did not have the available land or infrastructure in the 1800s. Henry Meiggs went to Chile & built a railroad; he made a deal with the government that if he built the railroad he could have the cleared land along the side to plant banana plantations. Meiggs and Preston teamed up and renamed the company United Fruit; Preston went on to create the world’s first refrigerated shipping system so the company could export bananas from Central America to the U.S. without them browning.  In the 1950s, Panama disease hit and wiped out nearly all of the Gros Michel banana plantations. The banana industry and scientists rushed to find a solution; a new Panam disease resistant banana took over the market – the Cavendish. In the 1990s, the Cavendish became susceptible to the Panama disease when the industry attempted to plant it in Malaysia. Because Malaysia was home to native bananas that evolved over time, diseases evolved over time as well. Today, Panama disease and other diseases remain a big problem. Mapping of the banana genome began in 2001 in an attempt to genetically modify it to resist all serious diseases. Another common approach is to spray chemicals on the plantations, but this can be harmful to the workers and the consumers; it can also cost owners an extra $500 per acre every time the chemicals are sprayed. Potential solutions to the banana crisis include: growing organic only, giving up eating bananas in places where they cannot be grown, and genetically modifying the banana to resist disease.


In Praise of Fast food by Rachel Laudan looks the history of our food culture. She talks about how food has changed dramatically in the last few centuries. Instead of men doing manual labor in the fields all day and women working in the kitchen preparing foods all day we now have more time to spend on other things thanks to processed food. The article also addresses culinary Luddism that is the idea that we should go back to the older more natural ways. In my mind it is not that realistic, but Luddites are right that we need to know how are foods are prepared and that we need to think about foods with a modern unbiased perspective.

Tangled Routes by Deborah Barndt is in interesting read that talks tomatoes and their shift from subsistence agriculture to industrialized and globalized food production. Mayans and Aztecs were first to domesticate tomatoes, but it wasn’t until the Mexico started to really export them in the 1880’s that they became popular. The article then focuses on the differences between the production in the United States using machines and lasers to pick and sort the tomatoes and Mexico who hand picks and sorts them. The next stage is the transport, trade, and distribution to Canada and the United States. With the average shelf life of a tomato being 4.7 days the transport process has to be quick. Mexico ships 700,000 tons of tomatoes annually to the United States and Canada. Then having a high demand for tomatoes seeds are now modified so they do not contract diseases and at times the tomatoes are sprayed with ethylene to speed up the ripening process. Ethylene is poisonous for people to inhale, so the tomatoes are locked in a room for 24 hours when sprayed. It is clear that most companies like McDonalds want nice industrialized beefsteak tomatoes that will slice nicely rather than the plump delicious hand picked tomatoes.



3 thoughts on “Week 2 Reading Summaries”

  1. Thank you for such a thorough summary of the readings. I was most intrigued by the piece on bananas because they are such a staple in my diet. I found it interesting to see that when asked, the majority of the class say that they eat at least a banana a day. A food item that is so intrinsic to our diet should be produced in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, like most of the food industry, that is largely not the case. The whole idea of the “Banana Republic” in Latin American countries have posed many ethical issues with entire country’s economies based on the banana industry. There have been situations in which workers have gone on strike and been killed. There needs to be diversity in the industry and regulation to avoid unethical behavior and even homicide over a crop. In addition to there being need for diversity in the industry, there is also a dire need for diversity in the crops themselves. Having genetically identical bananas leaves them susceptible to being wiped out by a disease. We in fact saw this take place with the Cavendish banana that was affected by the Panama disease. In the end, I believe there is an overall need for an increase in biodiversity, but also a reliance on Genetically Modified Organisms. GMO’s (bananas) could help reduce the use of pesticides, and make them more resistant to disease, which in the end would benefit the environment.


  2. I also enjoyed reading the Banana book. I found it difficult to put it down once I started reading, and neglected other school work to read it in its entirety. For a couple weeks I recommended the book to just about anyone who would listen to my (less thorough) summary, and my go-to fun fact became: “Did you know the bananas we eat today are not the same as the ones our grandparents ate? Bananas used to be much sweeter!”.
    As much as I enjoyed the book, however, I was similarly moved by the tragedies and corruption entwined with the banana industry. The comment above mentioned the horrible calamities brought to each nation that took on the banana business (sometimes by force, too). The book also mentions the misfortunes of numerous past leaders of banana companies. With all the negative energy surrounding the banana industry, I would hope the future has no option besides ethical improvement. The world loves bananas, but we need serious change before the banana can love us back again.


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