RELOCALIZING FOOD

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

By DAN KOEPPEL
Los Angeles

ONCE you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century — enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite — will begin to unravel.

…Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined, which is especially amazing when you consider that not so long ago, bananas were virtually unknown here. They became a staple only after the men who in the late 19th century founded the United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita) figured out how to get bananas to American tables quickly — by clearing rainforest in Latin America, building railroads and communication networks and inventing refrigeration techniques to control ripening.

….In recent years, American consumers have begun seeing the benefits — to health, to the economy and to the environment — of buying foods that are grown close to our homes. Getting used to life without bananas will take some adjustment. What other fruit can you slice onto your breakfast cereal?

But bananas have always been an emblem of a long-distance food chain. Perhaps it’s time we recognize bananas for what they are: an exotic fruit that, some day soon, may slip beyond our reach

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What’s Your Foodprint?

Are you re localizing your food habits and diet? What foods/fruits have you weaned yourself off of lately?

Our little motto that we strive to eat by “if it’s not growing in my backyard then it ain’t local.”

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  1. Kory says:

    For all the readers in cooler climes like myself (particularly in states that touch upon the appalachian chain and ohio) I understand that the native Pawpaw is a nice banana substitute. It doesn’t ship well so that enforces locality in growing sources.

    Much like when I became vegetarian and found my diet diversified 100 fold, looking at more local food is another way to diversify. When the usual staples aren’t available we find new favorites. When constricted by the challenges of space and locality we explore new varieties. The end of bananas? Yeah probably, but what if…

    we discover other fruits and recipes that we can get locally?

    or we find that we must have bananas so we build sunspaces in our homes for dwarf trees, and what begins with bananas keeps going with citrus and who knows what else?

    …then its not an end, its a beginning.

    Localism is not a restriction, its an invitation, and a tasty one at that.

  2. lavonne says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what grows best on my balcony, but my salad greens and some herbs have been PTF’s version of local lately. Otherwise, all of my produce is grown within 100-200 miles, and I’m trying to narrow that down to 50 miles. I’m lucky to be able to shop at an organic food co-op that marks where its produce comes from, so I can make choices easily. And of course, I’m also lucky to live in SoCal — but we can’t get local grains here; that’s a problem. Oh, and I found a source of backyard eggs just a couple of miles away — cool!

  3. Nancy Kelly says:

    I haven’t eaten a banana in probably a year. (And yes I love bananas!) I credit your site for raising my awareness of food-miles and the importance of returning to local economies. I’ve also given up mangoes from Mexico which I dear love.

    Re fruit, right now I am eating sweet fresh peaches off my tree and the remainder of the tangelos. Soon it will be figs off my tree – a few months ago it was apricots (my tree). I planted a plum this winter, so in a year or two I will be enjoying plum season too!

    I see no need to buy anything in the way of fruit.

  4. Michelle W. says:

    Very eye opening! I would love to know of a link to southern california’s growing seasons, if you know one or have one on your site that I am overlooking. We will only be stationed here another 2 years, so will probably stick to containers for our gardening needs.

    On another note, I figured out how to read my electric meter! : ) I know, not very exciting to some, but since we are trying to become aware of our usage this was a huge deal for me. We have already cut back by 20% less energy than last month! Still a long way to go, but I was proud of that number. Baby steps. : )

    Have a great day and enjoy this cooler SoCal weather. It’s a nice one so far here in San diego.

    Michelle W.

  5. lavonne says:

    Michelle, I’m in San Diego too and I’ve done a bit of research on our growing seasons. I have a link for you, but I’m just on my way out the door. I’ll post it when I get back but basically, just think of our winter as an extension of fall. We don’t have freezes except in the higher elevations, so you don’t have to worry about that. [I assume you’re within 25-30 miles of the coast.]

  6. risa bear says:

    We’re in Oregon, feeding ourselves mostly on what we get from our 1.2 ac. We gave up bananas about 4 years ago — and for three decades, most of our meat has been what we raised or caught ourselves… now we’re cutting back on rice and wheat, learning to use more buckwheat and rye, and thinking about putting in a mini-buckwheat field. Yet to give up: apples out of season — and we have no excuse! five good heirloom trees.

  7. Katie says:

    We stopped consuming bananas a couple years ago when we started to become aware of food miles. Now we eat as much as we can out of our garden, supplemented with organic produce we get at the local farmer’s market (patronizing those stalls within 100 miles of our location or less). We make perhaps 1-2 trips to the grocery store per month for staples like local organic flour, beans, rice, and pasta.

    We’re slowly turning our 1/4 acre into a nearly self-sufficient food market. Our grocery bill has dropped dramatically, and we’ve decided to begin eating vegetarian.

    And that has made all the difference.

  8. lavonne says:

    Michelle, here’s a pdf file:

    San Diego Vegetable Planting Guide is a publication of the Coperative Extension University of California , County of San Diego, Vincent Lazaneo, Farm Advisor. It describes common cool and warm season vegetables, and suitable planting dates for coastal and inland San Diego County regions. This publication is in pdf format and prints to 4-pages.”

  9. Anita says:

    I have a few questions about eating locally.. I think is sounds like a very sound way to eat, until i realize that would mean I’d never have another orange.. never be able to use vanilla, lemon juice, lime juice – no citrus fruits whatsoever – so many spices that we couldn’t use, like cinnamon… so many things we’d have to do without!
    The only thing that grows locally (other than basics that we can grow ourselves) is hard red winter wheat, field corn (which is different than sweet corn) soybeans, milo for animals, and cotton… there really are no crops grown locally for human consumption…
    makes me wonder if we’re not living in the wrong state!

  10. Janice K says:

    Beautiful bananas by the way, are they “Dervae’s local”? I have a super dwarf banana, they claim it will fruit if taken care of. We’ll see. I have seen my grocery bills come down from $160/week (we’re organic) to $60/week since the summer harvests have begun.

    We are meat eaters, but we are trying to cut down. I have been eating more vegetarian lately. 2 out of 3 meals are veggie only, and have discovered less bloating, and have an overall sense of well-being.

    We also stopped purchasing apples and pears from Chile, Argentina and New Zealand(talk about miles!) out of season (our son LOVES apples). The bananas are still lingering…. it’s hard to explain to a 4 year old why all his favorite fruit options are out, even though he sees them available at the market. We are considering a mango tree for the backyard. Currently studying the varieties and climate compatibilities, and growth habits. (some are smaller than others, and smaller is good)

    Between our backyard and my Mom’s, we’re set on citrus trees, all except for limes once in a while.

  11. CityGarden says:

    Here in Greece, it’s too soon to stop bananas.
    We didn’t had bananas before 1985-1987 because our government forbid the import. The reason it was that we have some very very small variety in Crete and they want to promote and sell our banana variety. But our variety it’s not so tasty and we don’t have a lot of them.

    I remember as child that we wait the summer, to came our emigrant folks from Germany and bring us some bananas from there.
    When the forbid stops bananas it was expensive (we had drachmas money in past and I remember that watermelon costs 10 drachmas per Kg when bananas costs 1000 drachmas per Kg).

    Now bananas cost 1 Euro per kg (2,2 pounds) here. But the prices of our local fruits are more expensive and the local watermelon costs 0.50 Euro per Kg ( 1 Euro= 340,75 old drachmas).

    I also remember that we laugh when we see that sell slices of watermelon in other countries. It was so strange for us because we had 1 big watermelon in our kitchen every day.
    Now, one watermelon costs about 5-6 Euros and it’s too expensive for many people.

    When I remember all these and thought about the prices, I prefer to have cheap local watermelon (or other delicius local fruits) than bananas.

    And the funny part is that we import fruits and vegetables from other countries when we have the same fruits and vegetables here. I don’t understand this. It’s crazy.

  12. Anais says:

    Thanks for everyone’s input on how they are going about eating more local. Great opportunity to learn from everyone’s experience.

    Janice – yep, them’s our very own homegrown bananas!

  13. Anais says:

    CityGarden – Welcome! A fellow gardener and local foodie visiting us online all the way from Greece!

    Lovely basil plants you have there!

    Happy gardening.

  14. PhoenixJen says:

    Yep – bananas will have to wait until I can get a clump of pups growing and fruiting in my backyard. Time will tell if I will eat another banana!

    What’s exciting to me now is harvesting mesquite and carob pods (ripening right now) to make into flour for breads, cookies and tortillas (there is a tortillaria in Tucson making mesquite flour tortillas commercially – YAY), experimenting with native grains such as amaranth, panick grass and others and pretty much keeping my eye out for the food that abounds around me like nopales (young, tender cactus pads – yummy), saguaro fruits, wild figs and pomegranites in the alleys and tasty greens in the winter and spring. Ahhhh…..so many choices! So many new flavors!

    PhoenixJen

  15. jrumskas says:

    I began growing food in my normal small backyard 3 years ago and am hoping for 1000 lbs of food this year. Peaches, Plumbs, Apples, Tomato, Potato, Carrots, Kale, Summer/Winter Squash, Beans, Corn, Herbs. I will be learning how to dry, can, and freeze the extra food I produce. Every year I expand my garden and this year I added 3 cherry trees, 2 apple trees, will be adding a worm farm, and will be saving seed for the first time.

  16. karenhenks says:

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing it. Up until last year, I bought bananas every week at the grocery store, like clockwork. My small goal last year was to stop buying lettuce, and grow my own. I accomplished that, and this year my goal is to quit buying fruit. We have banana plants, but of course, they aren’t always fruiting. Right now, I am putting blackberries and strawberries from our garden on my cereal. Your website is my favorite.

  17. Helen says:

    I live out in the middle of the Mojave Desert ~ Zone 13 ~ our growing season is mid-Feb. through Nov., interrupted by nearly 3 months of incandescent, growth-stopping summer heat. I would love to feed my family only what can be grown locally, but I’m beginning to get discouraged…..there’s only so much that can be done with arrow weed and tamarasks.

  18. Kerr says:

    It’s funny that this morning’s featured wikiHow was this: http://www.wikihow.com/Grow-Banana-Plants

    But not everybody can grow such a needy plant themselves. Says here they need 20 months without a frost, or a climate-controlled greenhouse, plus a lot of water. Who can afford that? And is it really more carbon-efficient to eat home-grown bananas if you have to build a (okay, solar) heated greenhouse out of plastic for them in the winter, and dump gallons of water into their soil, depriving who knows how many other potential staple crops?

    Another exotic, the loquat, grows all over my neighborhood as an ornamental, and it’s just as tasty and brings back even sweeter childhood memories for me.

  19. Krystelle Ellaby says:

    I feel a bit sorry for any one who can’t grow bananas in their backyard. It’s winter here (Australia: 27 degrees South), so ours isn’t fruiting right now, but we still have bags of bananas in our freezer. They are ugly black things, but thawed and added to banana bread or muffins, mmmm. Even just take off the peel and plop them frozen in a blender with a dash of yoghurt or milk, my son thinks this is better than ice cream.
    Bananas here are $4- $5 a kilogram, that’s $1.40 – $2.40 American dollars per pound. Even though there are plantations within 50 kilometres of us.
    Bananas are also one of the fruits with the highest chemical residues. So best to eat organic or or not at all.

  20. Krystelle Ellaby says:

    p.s what about strawberries on your breakfast instead? or grated apple?

  21. Wendy says:

    Ironically, one of the first foods we cut from our diet when we went local was bananas.

    Two years later, we don’t buy supermarket produce (unless it’s from a Maine farmer, and typically only during the winter). Right now, we do make the exception for olives, but as I’m learning new tricks with pickling, that will likely change before the season is too far gone ;).

  22. Chookie says:

    Is LA really too cold for bananas? I can grow the sugar bananas you pictured in my back yard in Sydney with no trouble at all. The fruit takes 6-18 months to ripen, depending on when the plant blooms, so they can’t be grown commercially, but that’s not an issue for a home grower. I should think that as bananas are gross feeders and like water, they would be good to use in greywater purification systems too. The leaves provide a lovely subtle flavour if you blanch them and wrap them around fish for baking.

  23. Evelyn says:

    I still love bananas. I live in Florida because what you can grow here even if having too much humidity is a pian sometimes.

  24. mary says:

    Does anyone know of a farmers market in East Tennessee or Western North Carolina? My family will be traveling from Oklahoma to a family reunion in NC next week. We have changed our eating habits so much in the past two years that we are uncertain how to maintain those choices ‘on the road’. We’d love to buy local even while we travel – but just don’t know what is available in other states.

    We have not traveled in over two years – so we are rusty on what would make good, healthy travel food besides dried and fresh fruit, granola, etc. We DO NOT want to depend on restaurant fare or even grocery produce – yikes! How does a homesteader and make from scratch cook ever go away from home? I feel totally tied to the familiar setting of my 4/10 acre homestead and kitchen. Our bodies have acclimated to the healthy home food as well. I am nervous about how to feed us all as we travel. I would welcome any advice!

    ~Mary

  25. Frugal in Mexico says:

    I grow several kinds of bananas,including the kind pictured. I lost 2 “trees” to wind the last 10 days. I also have giant old Mango trees but they are all wormy when ripe & I am organic. Apples & pears & most berries won’t grow here,along with rhubarb. I once planted seeds of ground cherries but the plants grew year around & never bloomed. I don’t buy fruit from Chili anymore. Thank you for this wonderful site.

  26. Hannah says:

    I just planted my first banana plant in my garden this morning. I am like Chookie near Sydney and we can grow bananas fine. I have a sugar banana growing.

    I have friends with a more established garden near me who have fruit to eat from their garden all year round. I went over to their place on the weekend and scored the last of the tamarillos, some windfall kiwi fruit and heaps of lillipilli (native Aust) berries.

    I have oranges ripe on my trees and am planning on adding stone fruit, figs, blueberries and mulberries, oh and raspberries. I still buy bananas, as they are grown here in Oz, when I see them on special, but am trying to always buy seasonally. Still I’m excited about future banana harvests of my own.

  27. Sharon says:

    Helen,

    Some resources:

    1) PhoenixJen’s list may work for your area.

    2) for inspiration under similarly challenging circumstances see
    http://ag.arizona.edu/oals/ALN/aln46/lancaster.html
    and especially the thumbnail of the map down the lefthand side of the page.

    3) Dryland Farming and water harvesting books
    http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/books/volume1/
    http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/books/

  28. Alida says:

    Wilkes County has a Farmers Market on Saturdays. There are farmers markets in Western North Carolina….

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