A LIFE WITHOUT BANANAS
In the heart of the Selkirk and Monashee Mountain Ranges, the moon light is glowing off the snow-capped mountain peaks and fills my bedroom with enough light to make out the titles of every book stacked along the far wall. My childhood alarm clock goes off like the timer of an old kitchen stove, and before I have a chance to completely open my eyes, I am at the front door slipping on a down coat and Sorrel boots with car keys in hand. I open the door and catch my first glimpse of the two feet of fresh snow that has blanketed the ground in the past twelve hours; and the only thought running through my mind is that there should be some happy clientele today. I proceed to clean the snow from my car, shovel a path from the driveway to the street, throw on some clothes, brush my teeth, apply a quick swipe of mascara and I’m off to start another day as a Canadian Mountain Holiday Heli-Ski (CMH) breakfast server.
People from every corner of the world come to enjoy an unforgettable week riding through powder waist deep on the remote slopes surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia. Some guest have been waiting their whole life for this moment, while others feel as though the lodge is their second home and the staff their family. For me the lodge is not a luxury experience; it is just a means of sustainability. I arrive at six in the morning and my soul purpose is to ensure heli-ski guest’s and staff start their day off right with an exquisite breakfast spread; complete with homemade hash browns, egg white omelettes, fresh cut fruit salad and Italian espresso. But on this snowy January morning as I finish up the last minute preparations, I realize that the fruit tower on the buffet table is missing bananas. With only five minutes to spare before the first guests arrive, I quickly dash through the old swinging doors of the kitchen, dodge the heated stares of the cooks as I walk directly through their work stations and begin rummaging through the pantry shelves.
In desperation I begin to pray, “we can’t be out of bananas…please God no …we can’t be out of bananas!” I pick up and move every box that is remotely similar to the Dole banana boxes that come out of the Sysco truck every Monday and Thursday afternoon, when a sinking feeling fills every ounce of my body and it becomes clear to me that there is in fact… no bananas.
Bananas are my go to fruit; I put them in and on almost everything from pancakes to smoothies, in muffins and on toast. As a child, I remember being an extremely picky eater and only agreeing to eat mainly from two food groups; carbohydrates and fruit. With time I have developed a more adventurous pallet; but even with my growing appeal to new tastes, the banana continues to provide me with the comforts of an old friend. But can old friends be “good friends,” or “ethically appropriate friends?” As a person who believes in the importance of making a conscious effort to reduce my carbon foot print. I try to buy local produce and meats but with no banana varieties growing in my local mountain niche, I struggle to abandon the fruit that has traveled across oceans to fulfill my hunger for sweetness.
Bananas make a meal. Bananas make a snack. Bananas are the diet of billions. But hidden within the biology of this signature fruit, lies a little secret. The abnormality of the edible fruits’ triploid genetic makeup makes the banana infertile and therefore unable to reproduce sexually via seeds. Generally this would be a concern in the world of plants because if a plant cannot produce offspring, the whole species will go extinct with the death of that individual organism. Nevertheless, bananas overcome their sexual limitation with specialized roots that produce identical clones of the main shoot called pseudostems. These pseudostems eventually take over as the main shoot once the fruit stalk of the parent plant has expired. Though for all its fecundity and abundance, vulnerability lies beneath the surface of the banana plant’s asexual life cycle, capable of making the familiar fruit a faint memory of the past.
As clones, the bananas of the world are genetically similar and form large monocultures of identical plants in tropical areas. These areas are extremely susceptible to chemical resistant pests and disease looking for nature’s next smorgasbord. The predecessor to today’s Cavendish banana, the Gros Michael, was discovered in the late 1820’s by a French botanist in Asia. The fruit of the Gros Michael was a huge success in developed countries across the globe, until it was hit with a persistent soil fungus (Panama disease) that wiped out the whole species by the end of the 1950’s. Although the Cavendish that decorates the countertops of most North American households is resistant to the Panama disease, another fungal disease is looming called Black Sigatoka. Black Sigatoka is also a soil borne fungus that is manageable with chemical fungicides. However the rate of fungal resistance to chemicals is so rapid, the disease is becoming harder and harder to control in banana plantations. Many individuals in Western society like me are so accustomed to having bananas available for purchase at every local corner store and supermarket that we do not realize that this fruit is not native to our diets. However our naivety and acquired desire for tropical fruit imposes immense selective pressure onto the Musa species gene pool. Without the ability to increase genetic diversity through sexual reproduction to produce Black Sigatoka and Panama disease resistant bananas, the lifespan of the Cavendish banana in my morning oatmeal may be numbered.
In order for someone to enjoy a week at the luxurious CMH Revelstoke lodge and paint the mountainside with the zig and zags of their downhill skis several modes of transportation are required; including a car to the airport, a plane to British Columbia, a car to Revelstoke and a helicopter to the pristine glaciers of the secluded mountain range. Unfortunately, with each of these methods of travel, carbon emissions are polluting the atmosphere and progressively increasing the universal vulnerability to global warming. At the same time, the bananas grown for North American consumption are sent every day from Costa Rica, Columbia and Ecuador and are a source of incredible amounts of carbon waste. As I finish piling bananas into the fruit basket of this morning’s breakfast buffet, I cannot help but think whether my job is endangered by global warming or the uncontrollable pests that could end the inclusion of tropical fruit in the mountain high ski resorts of British Columbia.
What did the banana say to the vibrator?
What are you shaking about she’s not going to eat you!
Gold SC, Pinese B, Peña JE. 2002. Pests of banana. In: Pena J, Sharp J, Wysoki, M. Tropical fruit pests and pollinators: biology, economic importance, natural enemies and control.Wallingford: CABI Publishing, 2002. p. 13-56. [cited 19 March 2012] Available from: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/trulibrary/Doc?id=10170093&ppg=21
Paggi M, Spreen T. 2003. Overview of the world. In: Josling T, Taylor, T. Banana wars: the anatomy of a trade dispute. Cambridge: CABI Publishing. P. 17. [cited 21 March 2012] Available from: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/trulibrary/Doc?id=10060555&ppg=17
Pena J, Sharp J, Wysoki M. 2008. Propagation of fruit plants. In: De LC, Bhattacharjee SK. Handbook of edible fruits. Jaipur: Global Media. P. 88-89. [cited 20 March 2012] Available from: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/trulibrary/Doc?id=10416583&ppg=82
Pearce F. 2003. Going bananas. New Scientist [Internet]. [cited 28 February 2012]; 177(2378): 26-30. Available from: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.tru.ca/ehost/delivery?sid=9602f8dd-b27d-4217-a0fc-e.
Masefield GB, Wallis M, Harrison SG, Nicholson BE. 1969. The Oxford book of food plants. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press. p.108, 193.