The True Cost of Bananas

Why North America needs a new favorite fruit

Posted in Food Systems on August 05, 2014

Take a drive with me through Costa Rica. Rows upon rows of identical trees blanket the landscape. Blue plastic bags filled with chemicals hang from the canopy. The ground is bare, there are no birds, no other crops grow nearby, and remnants of rainforest on the outskirts of the plantations remind you of the ecosystems sacrificed to satisfy our demand.

The workers wear short sleeves in the heat and only thin cotton masks cover their mouths and noses. Clouds of pesticides pour out of their bags, billowing up into their unprotected faces.

Blue plastic bags filled with chemicals hang from the canopy.

Blue plastic bags filled with chemicals hang from the canopy.

What is hidden within the blue plastic? What crop destroys acres of rainforest and poisons its harvesters? The answer: sweet, delicious bananas.

According to the USDA, the U.S. consumes more bananas than any other fruit. Only two percent of the world's bananas are certified Fair Trade, and with every other imported bunch, we are supporting the unfettered consumption of fossil fuels, the mass destruction of rainforests, and unjust labor practices.

The U.S. consumes more bananas than any other fruit.

The U.S. consumes more bananas than any other fruit.

California offers a cornucopia of fruit due to its mild Mediterranean climate. This bounty includes: oranges, apples, strawberries, tomatoes, dates, figs, persimmons, and kiwis, and all are available from sustainable, local farms. We could easily do without the banana, so why don’t we? 

We have the power as consumers to preserve livelihoods and ecosystems.

At the very least, we could purchase bananas labeled Fair Trade Organic, thus supporting just labor practices and organic farming abroad. We have the power as consumers to preserve livelihoods and ecosystems through what we purchase, so the next time you find yourself holding a banana, think about tropical deforestation, pesticides, and worker’s rights before you take a bite.

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