All this talk about fair trade chocolate has resulted in an unwanted side effect for me - constant chocolate cravings. Ugh. So I thought we would take a break from chocolate and talk about something a little more healthful. :-)
Did you know that when bananas first became available to US consumers, just after the Civil War, they were considered a luxury item, and were sold wrapped in foil, peeled and pre-sliced to protect those gentile 19th century citizens from embarrassment over the fruit's indiscreet form? (Thought I'd warm you up with a little entertaining banana trivia.)
Anyway, on to the serious stuff... in order to transform bananas from an expensive indulgence into an affordable snack for the masses, large companies (i.e. Dole, as well as the company that has come to be known in modern times as Chiquita), identified Central America as the ideal place to supply us with inexpensive, delicious bananas. Then they proceeded to clear-cut the rich forests of Nicaragua, Columbia, and Guatemala, and transform them into banana plantations.
In addition to the obvious environmental problems associated with clear-cutting native rain forests and shipping bananas thousands of miles from Central America to wherever you happen to reside, other problems have come to light -
- In the 1950's, Central America's first democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted in a US-sponsored coup. His offense? Asking United Fruit (now Chiquita) to pay fair prices for land and obey the Guatemalan constitution.
- For decades, this kind of intervention in Central American politics has been commonplace as a means for keeping bananas cheap and plentiful. It has also been instrumental in keeping plantation workers overworked and underpaid.
- As recently as 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the US government for giving $1.7 million to a right-wing death squad organization in Columbia.
The information in this post came from the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine (see Food, Inc., beginning on page 40).