Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

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by Dan Koeppel
     
 

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Read Dan Koeppel's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A gripping biological detective story that uncovers the myth, mystery, and endangered fate of the world’s most humble fruit

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas areSee more details below

Overview

Read Dan Koeppel's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A gripping biological detective story that uncovers the myth, mystery, and endangered fate of the world’s most humble fruit

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprisingly mysterious; nobody knows how bananas evolved or exactly where they originated. Rich cultural lore surrounds the fruit: In ancient translations of the Bible, the “apple” consumed by Eve is actually a banana (it makes sense, doesn’t it?). Entire Central American nations have been said to rise and fall over the banana.

But the biggest mystery about the banana today is whether it will survive. A seedless fruit with a unique reproductive system, every banana is a genetic duplicate of the next, and therefore susceptible to the same blights. Today’s yellow banana, the Cavendish, is increasingly threatened by such a blight—and there’s no cure in sight.

Banana combines a pop-science journey around the globe, a fascinating tale of an iconic American business enterprise, and a look into the alternately tragic and hilarious banana subculture (one does exist)—ultimately taking us to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world’s most beloved fruit.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The world's most humble fruit has caused inordinate damage to nature and man, and Popular Sciencejournalist Koeppel (To See Every Bird on Earth) embarks on an intelligent, chock-a-block sifting through the havoc. Seedless, sexless bananas evolved from a wild inedible fruit first cultivated in Southeast Asia, and was probably the "apple" that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden. From there the fruit traveled to Africa and across the Pacific, arriving on U.S. shores probably with the Europeans in the 15th century. However, the history of the banana turned sinister as American businessmen caught on to the marketability of this popular, highly perishable fruit then grown in Jamaica. Thanks to the building of the railroad through Costa Rica by the turn of the century, the United Fruit company flourished in Central America, its tentacles extending into all facets of government and industry, toppling "banana republics" and igniting labor wars. Meanwhile, the Gros Michel variety was annihilated by a fungus called Panama disease (Sigatoka), which today threatens the favored Cavendish, as Koeppel sounds the alarm, shuttling to genetics-engineering labs from Honduras to Belgium. His sage, informative study poses the question fairly whether it's time for consumers to reverse a century of strife and exploitation epitomized by the purchase of one banana. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Nature and science writer Koeppel (To See Every Bird on Earth, 2005) chronicles the banana's history, from early cultivation to modern popularization, and suggests ways to save it from extinction. Expanded from an article originally published in Popular Science, the narrative covers the fruit's biblical roots (that forbidden treat Eve plucked may not have been an apple), the history of exploitative "banana republics" and the fruit's present precarious state. Ancient hunter-gatherers probably ate the subterranean part of the banana plant, the corm; the wild fruit, itself was inedible, with rock-hard seeds. Cultivation of mutated forms eventually yielded sweeter, bigger fruit, and the crop became a staple throughout Southeast Asia, Malaysia, southern China and the Philippines. Over thousands of years, the fruit crossed the Pacific to Africa, where the word for "food" and "banana" is the same in many regions. Once bananas arrived in the New World-via Polynesian sailors-they soon evolved from a luxury food into a necessity, as entrepreneurs figured out how to grow them in Central America and transport them by ship and rail in refrigerated containers that kept them fresh for the huge U.S. market. United Fruit (later Chiquita), founded in 1899, entered with other companies into an ever-deepening cycle of exploitation, violence and revolution in Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala. Tracing the banana's journey, Koeppel jumps around somewhat breathlessly. He travels from the genetic labs of Leuven, Belgium, to India's bustling markets, which sell more banana varieties than anywhere else. At his local Whole Foods in Los Angeles, he samples the exotic Caribbean-grown Lacatan variety, which he believeswill take over the world. A tenacious blight called Panama Disease threatens today's ubiquitous Cavendish banana, which gained ascendancy after the Gros Michel variety died out in the 1960s. The author crams an awful lot of information into brief chapters, but his evident interest in the subject will keep readers engaged. A lively, well-modulated survey. Agent: Laurie Liss/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101213919
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/27/2007
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
158,914
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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