Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bye-bye, Bananas!

By Jessie Dye

The Cavendish banana is on the road to extinction, both world-wide and certainly in my home for the next three months. Before we review this prospect, let us first consider the fact that someone named a banana Cavendish.

Cavendish sounds too upper-class for this humble subsistence fruit of the world. It's the African equivalent of the potato of my Irish ancestors, a healthy sustainable food for the poorest people of many lands. My image of an upper-crust Cavendish banana appears as a fruit on only the best tables and would be consumed by such aristocracy as the founder of the Golden Retriever blood line, Sir Dudley Marjorybanks, Earl of Tweedymouth. Regardless of the ridiculous name, this type of banana is not local to North America, is fraught with environmental problems, and is facing extermination by blight similar to the potatoes of my above-references ancestors. Because it is the staple food of much of East Africa, this potential banana apocalypse may create a famine ten times the size of the one that famously eradicated half the population of Ireland in the 1800's.

As it turns out, 100 billion Cavendish bananas are eaten world-wide; our local Washington state apple is less popular by half. The ubiquitous golden fingered fruit, however, is no longer welcome in my home because we are only eating food produced within three hundred miles for the next three months.How can we complain? Rainier cherries are in the markets now, and there is no more glorious tree fruit. The strawberries are late this year, and more delicious than I can ever remember. The earliest apricots peeked out at Wallingford farmer's market last Wednesday and Asian pears, blueberries, raspberries, and our tiny local kiwis have yet to show their sweet faces. We have the best fruit in the world in our own back yard, Sir Cavendish bedamned!

And then there are the apples: sweet, tart, red, yellow, golden and green. All within hiking distance from my home town, coming to fruition during the crisp autumn season. The local foods challenge becomes difficult when the Rainiers and Bings have been plucked for the year and the last pears have fallen. But apples last all winter and give away their goodness throughout the darkest most miserable months. My family can afford eat avocados andCavendish bananas and asparagus from Peru when the winter rains come, but I don't want to anymore. The limits of the land and the season are becoming my personal limits. I don't want to pay Chiquita or Dole (or worse, Exxon and Mobil) when I can support Wenatchee famers and keep my foodprint small. By eating local apples, I don't contribute to poison in the bodies of the workers of Honduras who pick bananas with a pesticide lode toxic to them and to the volcanic soil of Central America. Not only that, but I know the farmer who raises the apples; my food dollar pays for his kid to go to WSU and study agriculture to strengthen the farms to produce the apples that grow so well here in Ecotopia.

When winter comes it won't kill my family to go without the Cavendish. It might kill the families of our brothers and sisters in East Africa. Genetic diversity is one antidote to the Cavendish crisis and our local farmers produce that 24/7. Buy Washington apples not long-haul bananas; it matters.

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