The Whole World Seems to Be Going Bananas

Bananas. A once innocuous, tasty and healthy fruit has increasingly been caught in a storm of controversy both here at and throughout the eco-blogosphere. Are bananas a healthy snack and an obvious sign of ethical consumption? Or should we avoid them as a non-local food which are often grown in poor labor conditions? You decide.

I have to admit I've been contemplating bananas for a while now. Bananas are a wonderful fruit for many reasons, but they are not local to the temperate regions where I've spent most of my life. For that reason, some Northern environmentalists have given up or limited their banana consumption.

About a year ago, I decided to take a month long local food challenge which involved giving up bananas for a month. While I had some issues with this (I'm a self-described cranky environmentalist), on the whole I found that while I still enjoy bananas, I just adore the taste of local seasonal fruit. Ethical consumption be damned, it's about the taste!

But that was before I had really started to study international development issues. As I read about how small-scale producers are left impoverished by large scale corporations, I started viewing the 'banana issue' as more of a social justice issue. Bananas not only involve considerable food-miles, non fair-trade banana producers often operate with poor labor conditions.

So when Jeff wrote a post commending Disney's Hannah Montana branded bananas as a type of socially responsible behavior, I simply had to disagree. In my opinion, a Hananah Montana sticker on a banana does not pass the muster for corporate social responsibility. However you feel about bananas, I simply don't feel like branded fruit passes the litmuss test for CSR.

A spirited discussion ensued, as Jeff pointed out that bananas are healthier than other foods that Disney has been endorsing, and that we should be encouraging Disney for promoting fruit instead of candy or fast food. Recently, Megan weighed in with her personal experience of visiting the banana plantations in Costa Rica. Although these plantations are considered to be some of the best in the world in terms of labor practices, Megan still noted several human rights violations at the plantations she toured. Not good news for ethical consumers.

Essentially, I think the debate about bananas comes down to the debate Jeff and I had. On the one hand, bananas are a beloved fruit. They're tasty, they're healthy, and before a morning jog, I enjoy nothing better than a banana. But they're also non-local for most of us in North America and Europe and there are clear social justice issues with the way bananas are produced.

In the end, you have to decide for yourself whether bananas constitute ethical consumption or not, but the answer for this ethical consumer has been to limit myself to only purchasing fair trade bananas. I find that fair trade bananas, while easy to find in London, are fairly difficult to find in the United States. If you can find fair-trade bananas at your local supermarket, I'd strongly encourage you to support the fair-trade banana market if you want to buy bananas. If you can't find fair-trade bananas, why not write a letter to your grocery store of choice and ask them to start carrying them? And if you want more information about bananas, I recommend reading this New York Times article written by Dan Koeppel.