Posted on January 19, 2009 by Tia Lalani

In line with this year�s food theme, Dr. Hatt will challenge our pre-existing knowledge of not just bananas, but of all the food we consume.

by Dylan McConnell

Where would we Canadians be without the humble banana? Certainly without banana splits, Bananarilla Booster Juices (with extra banana) and the quintessential lunchtime snack we all know and love. Bananas are available to us everywhere and have been made symbols in our everyday life. Our children watch “Bananas in Pajamas.” We buy clothes from “Banana Republic.” And, of course, no good slapstick comedy routine would be complete without someone slipping on a banana peel. But bananas are not grown in Canada, so how can we consume more of them than any other country in the world?

Dr. Kierstin Hatt, a sociology professor here at Augustana, plans to answer this question (and many more) in her upcoming colloquium entitled “Gone Bananas.” In her opinion, “our increasingly globalized food systems have literally, gone bananas; following the same socially and environmentally exploitative production model of the banana industry.”

Many Third World countries are considered “Banana Republics,” countries that rely entirely on the exportation of one sole agricultural product, such as bananas or sugar cane. This absence of diversification makes these countries susceptible to abuse from multi-national corporations (like Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte) that take the bananas for very little cost and sell them to developed countries like Canada and the United States for a substantial profit. Of course, minimum wages and adequate working conditions would cost the corporations too much to implement, so the people residing within these banana republics are heavily marginalized. Dr. Hatt says that “the banana stickers that we are so familiar with are symbols of the disconnection from the social and environmental realities of the food we eat. We typically have no idea that someone was paid a low wage to spend their days putting these stickers (by hand) on bunches of chemical-drenched bananas in order to gain brand recognition by transnational corporations such as Chiquita.”

But even beyond the unpleasant politics of the banana trade, how much do we know about the fruit itself? In my brief chat with Dr. Hatt, I was let in on many of the secrets that she will likely reveal in her colloquium, such as the fact that bananas actually do not grow on trees, but on tall stalks of grass. These stalks were transplanted from Southeast Asia during the years of European colonization to Central America, where they have since been genetically modified to the point that they need chemical sustainment to survive. This is why bananas are constantly under the threat of extinction – because every banana is just a clone of another, they have no chance to naturally develop a resistance to the bugs that threaten their existence.

Dr. Hatt will cover such information and much more in her presentation on the fascinating world of the fruit we think we know so well. In line with this year’s food theme, Dr. Hatt will challenge our pre-existing knowledge of not just bananas, but of all the food we consume from places like Costa Rica, the Philippines, or just outside of Kingman. So join us on Monday, January 19th from 12:30-2pm, as we learn more about one of our staple snacks – bananas.

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