Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fat Michael by any other name

Is... Cavendish?

It is if you're a banana. A sick banana, that is.

My dad sent me an interesting Op-Ed from the New York Times, by Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World - which points out that the banana we eat today is not the banana my dad ate when he was a kid. Something rather all the more fascinating to me as my friend (and erstwhile roommate) had made this very same point to me not that long ago. What are the odds?

According to Koeppel, 100 years ago the popular banana was a varietal called the "Gros Michel," and it was, by all accounts, tastier, sturdier and larger than the one, the "Cavendish," that we consume today. And this is not the past as seen through those "good ol' days" lenses - this was the estimation of the banana cartel itself, when faced with the prospect of its dying mainstay.

Caught in a mess of its own making (go figure) as the Gros Michel succumbed to a blight (the Panama disease) that had started killing the bananas in the early 1900s, and that, by the 1960s, ultimately rendered the tastier and larger fruit nothing but a sweet memory, the banana industry needed to find a new variety that could withstand the blight. The hardier Cavendish, immune to the Panama disease, was the winning entry.

Well, lo and behold, what goes around comes around, and the Panama disease is back today, bigger and nastier than before, and the Cavendish this time is not immune. The efficiencies and economies of scale engineered way back when to secure the financial success of the banana republics are now backfiring.

Dependent as we are on a single variety of banana to provide us cheap bananas, sadly, when one gets sick, they all get sick. Yes, we have no bananas. Ruh roh.

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