Garden Clippings for December 29, 2018
Why is North America’s most popular fruit the banana? Odd, because we can’t grow bananas.
Apples on the other hand, are easy to grow in Canada and USA. Apples ship easily, last longer on the shelf or in the fridge, and are available in multiple varieties to suit every consumer’s taste. Yet, apples take a back seat to bananas.
We go bananas over bananas. They are cheap, easy to eat, somewhat tasty, and reasonably nutritious. Their taste is predictable. Everyone loves bananas. Nobody has ever taken a bite out of a fresh banana and said “Yuk, this one is too mushy, too crisp, too sour or too sweet.”
The bananas that eventually land up in North America’s grocery stores are grown in Central America where growing conditions are perfect and labour is cheap. Ecuador’s main export is bananas. The economies of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras are largely built on banana production.
Bananas are harvested while they are still green as grass. As soon as they are picked, bananas are sorted, broken into bunches, and boxed up into those familiar banana boxes. While bananas are green, there is no rush in shipping immediately to market, because they can remain “fresh” for a long time, up to two months.
Once bananas are picked and boxed, they are packed into specially designed shipping containers where temperature and humidity is tightly monitored to speed up or slow down the ripening process. Their ideal holding temperature is 14 degrees Celsius. If temperatures are allowed to dip lower, bananas turn black, the same as would happen if we stored bananas in the fridge.
While in shipping and storage, those involved in marketing keep a close eye on supply and demand. When the bananas are needed, ethylene gas is pumped through the pressurised container. Temperature and air flow are closely monitored to maintain consistent ripening.
The boat trip from Central America to local ocean-side ports usually takes about a week. Once arrived, the bananas are inspected for colour, texture and taste. The Canadian Food and Inspection Agency inspects the cargo to ensure no disease or insects enter the country. Each box of bananas is numbered and carefully tracked just in case a problem arises and the source needs to be traced.
At the port, shipping containers are unloaded and reloaded on trucks where they are sent to distribution points in major cities everywhere. Once again, the cargo is unloaded and again reloaded for their final trip to the grocery store. The journey from plantation to table is usually 3 to 4 weeks.
In the huge banana industry, not all is roses. The industry is often sighted for questionable labour practices at the farming end. Keen environmentalists question the energy cost and effect of shipping bananas across the world. There is also the question of waste. Bananas are readily tossed into dumpster bins because consumers have a huge affection for unblemished perfect yellow bananas without brown specks.