Why Bananas are Dead to Me. (Gasp!)

Via Emma Ruffin
on Jun 5, 2014
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bananas pesticides

“If you eat bananananas, you still don’t want to know this.” 


As an on-the-go student and athlete, I praise bananas for their super transportable, muscle relieving/brain reviving super-powers…not to mention affordability (thank you, Trader Joe’s trademark “19 cent banana”)!

As a raw-foods-loving, fledgling vegan I know as well as anyone that bananas are a godsend in the kitchen, used as an egg replacement or frozen as “ice-cream.” Yes, please.

But as an environmentalist who just returned from four months studying sustainability and tropical ecology in Costa Rica—

I now recognize bananas for what they really are: a social and biological nightmare.

Before you read on, watch this two-minute clip that shows just a slice of the shameful history of Chiquita, the largest banana producer in the world:


I’ll admit that the smug, glass-clinking cheers to the massacre of 1,000 innocent people at the end added unnecessary bias (did I mention it was a clip from a movie titled Bananaland: Blood, Bullets and Poison? You can probably guess what their agenda is), but hang tight.

I promise five, unbiased reasons why we should all refuse to support the banana industry (no matter how cheap, delicious and nutritious bananas may be…gulp).

Let’s fast forward to present-day banana production and consumption.

96 percent of Americans eat bananas, and the average American eats 26 lbs of bananas every year, which is twice the amount of any other fruit.

Chiquita and its bedfellows have clearly done their job: banana reigns king in the US.

Here are the reasons I’m calling for a coup:

1. Health Consequences:

Sure, each bite of banana might provide heart-healthy, potassium-rich goodness…but it is eaten at the expense of the health of children, adults and entire communities in Central and South America.

According to the 2011 Barraza et al. case-study about pesticides in banana production in Costa Rica (the third largest banana exporting country in the world), exposure is leaving communities sick and dying.

Ranging from the classic Pepto-Bismol list of symptoms to rashes, contact dermatitis, allergies, neuro-developmental effects, endocrine disrupting effects, sterilization, cancer, and death—banana pesticide exposure can have dramatic effects (24,000 workers in Central America have been sterilized due to exposure to the toxic chemical DBCP).

Aerial spraying disregards barriers, and in some cases plantations surround schools and neighborhoods.

The children, clotheslines and rooftops (from which many families collect rainwater for drinking) regularly become coated in toxic chemicals.

The grueling plantation work often falls on the backs of migrant workers who are forced to rate wages on a piece-meal basis, but who have 12 hour work days, six or seven days a week which are spent body-deep in chemicals and dangerous working conditions (although many are only compensated for eight hours spent in the fields).

chemicals pesticides banana agrochemicals toxic

To add insult to injury, their migrant status effectively blocks them from joining unions so they cannot petition for improved working conditions and do not have access to healthcare plans.

2. Environmental Abuses:

Bananas for export are grown on massive monoculture plantations (Costa Rica alone has dedicated roughly 125,000 acres to production).

Biologically speaking, monoculture is an inherently unsustainable practice. It is a chemical, fossil fuel and water intensive production method that depletes soil, destroys waterways and devastates biodiversity.

Unfortunately, banana plantations are monocultures on steroids.

There is only one species of banana grown for international trade (yes, you heard correctly) and because it is seedless, it must be propagated using shoots.

In other words, all bananas are exact, biological clones of one another.

These growing conditions make bananas extremely vulnerable to disease transmission.

The solution? Receive an extra-scary, extra-grande dose of chemicals (we’re talking the banned, the bad and the ugly: DDT, dieldrin, mirex, heptachlor, paraquat and over 400 other agrochemicals. Are you freaked out yet?) which bio-accumulate and devastate waterways and wildlife as well as human health (see #1).

Lack of government infrastructure in banana-exporting Central and South American countries means that there is little oversight of production methods.

Often times, aerial sprays overshoot plantations and hit waterways or rainforest—completely changing ecosystems.

Sedimentation and erosion of chemical-laced soil are suffocating our planet’s all-important coral reef and mangrove systems.

Did I mention the blue, plastic bags that are impregnated (that word freaks me out) with insecticides and placed around every single bunch of bananas? (I always try to use reusable bags when I grocery shop, little did I know that the bananas I once bought were grown in a bag, ugh…so much for feeling eco-chic).

blue bags, pesticides, bananas, banana

They are often found littering streets and stream beds in banana production regions, and have been found in the stomachs of fish, sea turtles and birds.

I’m not going to address the carbon cost of processing, transport and storing, but as you can imagine—it’s high.

3. Economic Issues:

The multinationals like Dole and Chiquita are incredibly powerful, often times having more available income than the host-countries’ entire gross domestic product.

The social and political clout of these multinationals makes it nearly impossible to change laws in favor of environmental protection and workers’ rights.

Self-sufficient farms that once grew a variety of crops are now bought and paid for by companies like Dole and Chiquita. Families have become food insecure, and now must import their food staples.

Also, because the bananas pass through so many different hands on their way to our shopping carts, the plantation workers, often living below the poverty line, suffer the greatest wage theft.

“More often than not plantations receive only five cents from every dollar [spent on bananas], which is then divided up, and as a result, workers are being paid shockingly low wages.” ~ Rebecca Cohen, author of “Global Issues for Breakfast: The Banana Industry and its Problems” (2009)

banana plantation blue bags workers rights

Because bananas are grown for export, money that would otherwise be invested in Central and South American countries is lost to the foreign corporations and communities.

These facts beg the question: How much are we not paying for when we buy the 19 cent bananas?

4. Corporate Corruption:

Chiquita still plays dirty, and is currently in the hot-seat for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to block the 9/11 Victims Bill, a subset of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which would expand “liability against those that had funded terrorists” aka expand liability to Chiquita.

5. The alternatives (read: Rainforest Alliance, Organic) aren’t solutions:

Sure, Chiquita has two Rainforest Alliance certified plantations, but that means nothing more than they recycle the blue bags and have stricter chemical controls.

The certification does nothing to protect against worker rights, and still allows for massive erosion, biodiversity loss and coral reef sedimentation.

Nothing is changed with regards to the energy intensive production and transportation methods.

Because bananas are so evolutionarily volatile, the costs associated with large-scale organic production is high. Plantations must often be abandoned after pest/disease outbreak which leaves hundreds of thousands of acres fallow each year.

Unless you live in the tropics where you can have a banana plant shading your back patio, the time has come to boycott bananas (although in a few years, we may not have a choice).

Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.

Let us continue asking questions and use our purchasing power to create a more sustainable, and sane future. I think even Carmen Miranda would agree.

banana plantation unhappy frustrated sad chemical agrochemical pesticides blue bags waste

P.S. Want to make a change but are worried about getting your daily value of potassium?

Ain’t no thang. Bananas only provide about 12 percent, which is less than half the amount found in the average avocado (which has a whopping 28 percent).

Or you could get 22 percent in half a cup of dried apricots. Heck, a baked potato provides 26 percent!

For more potassium-rich alternatives, check here.

Now promise me that this is as close as you’ll ever get to a banana again…

Relephant Bonus:


Why Choosing a Fair Trade Banana is an Act of Love 


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Author: Emma Ruffin

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Ted McGrath/Flickr, BananaLink/Flickr, Rosilyne/Flickr, Marko Vesterinen/Flickr, Marcelo Montecino/Flickr


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Bonus: The Dark Truth About Bananas (youtube.com)


About Emma Ruffin

Emma Ruffin is a mindful creator and seeker of knowledge, joy and adventure. She now resides in beautiful Boulder, Colorado as a freelance writer, social justice and climate change activist and artist. She loves desert flowers, ginger turmeric tea, speaking Spanish and making checkout clerks laugh at the grocery store. So check her out! Insta, Linkedin.


57 Responses to “Why Bananas are Dead to Me. (Gasp!)”

  1. Heather Lane says:

    I didn’t see anything in this article mentioning EARTH bananas. http://www.earth-brand.org/english/bananas.php
    They sell these at a local market here in Costa Rica called Auto Mercado and according to their website, Whole Foods in the US, imports this brand of banana.

  2. seth says:

    Thats ridiculous. Potatoes are super healthy! your body uses those sugars and starches to create energy. Potatoes are also sources of vitamin A, vitamin B6, calcium, and excellent sources of fiber, iron, vitamin C, and potassium! Its just the way we typically prepare them in America kills all the goodness. Potatoes are a fantastic, under-rated vegetable.

  3. TC the Great says:

    Hmm probably would mean something if a really gave a flying f*** about Costa Rica. By the way this banana I’m eating is deeeelicious! 😀

  4. Brad says:

    Whilst I agree in general with your research, you should plainly state this is about bananas produced for export at the lowest cost. I happen to be a yogi expat in Panama and there are choices here like red bananas and other small varieties known as bananito or criollo. To spread your alarmism to plantains and these other varieties is bad journalism without proof. I know someone personally that worked for one of the largest fruit producers eventually sold to Chiquita, so your monoculture and pesticide claims are valid. However, when the “bananacalypse” happens, the single variety grown “Cavendish” will not be available, but there are 400 varieties grown. Yes, the plantations and working conditions are horrible. Boycott those, but select bananas that aren’t grown that way instead of saying “AVOID TOTALLY”.

  5. Mike Ryan says:

    Used to live in Zancudo, Costa Rica. Zancudo is located in the Golfe Duce in the Southern Pacific Zone directly across from the Osa Peninsula. Golfito, is the major port there and used to be the home of United Fruit. If you ate a banana up until the 70's, I believe, it most likely came from Golfito. About 90% of the bananas shipped to the U.S. came from Golfito. Zancudo is a peninsula between the Golfe Duce and the Rio Coto Colorado River..(big Crocs). The plantations used to float the fruit down the river into Golfito. There was a large American section of town with more upscale homes than the locals. There was a strike by UF's workers who were being exploited in many ways. The strike turned violent & UF left Golfito almost overnight Turning the town into a poverty ridden ghost town. Now there is nationally established Free Port there drawing people from all over to go there & purchase greatly reduced goods…lots of big ticket items. We owned a small resort & bought our liquor there. I once purchased a bottle of Barolo wine for $10. This is a long way of getting to my big point. Aerial spraying is common. We had an employee who used to work at a Rice Plantation just down the road. When they spray they try to prevent overshooting the field. This young man was forced to stand in the middle of the field holding flags so the plane could judge its approach. They sprayed all over him. God knows what was in that pesticide cocktail, but whatever it was, it made him ill. He was young, had serious health problems, married with several children. That's how corporations treat their workers. More important to waste pesticide than a person's well being.

  6. carlos says:

    What I don´t understand is why the author believed necessary to apologise for the “the smug, glass-clinking cheers to the massacre of 1,000 innocent people at the end”.

  7. Chris says:

    It’s good to wake people up to the environmental and social effects of the food we eat. The long history of workers and ecosystems being abused by corporations is appalling. However, to say that consumers should stop buying bananas ignores the existence of companies like Grupo Hualtaco, a cooperatively owned company in Peru that sells sustainably grown and socially responsible bananas. They happen to sell to Europe, but they’re not the only group doing bananas the right way. For the writer to basically advocate putting people like them out of business because other growers are unethical is reckless and overly simplistic.

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