The 19-page introduction to Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World is quite interesting. If you know nothing about bananas other than that they are a tasty and easily portable treat (and really, why would you?), you’ll learn some fascinating facts in these introductory pages.
First, the banana most widely sold today, and the single most popular variety of fruit in the world, is the Cavendish banana, and it’s in danger of disappearing due to disease. The previous variety, the one our grandparents enjoyed, was the Gros Michel. This variety also disappeared due to disease. And if you’re wondering why bananas seem to be so vulnerable to disease–that’s the most interesting part of all. Banana aren’t grown by seeds, they’re cloned. As author Dan Koeppel notes, “One banana begets another in a process similar to taking a cutting from a rosebush–and multiplying it by a billion. Every banana we eat is a genetic twin of every other, whether it is grown in Ecuador, where most of our fruit comes from; in the Canary Islands, which supply Europe; or in Australia, Taiwan, or Malaysia.”
As I said, I was fascinated by this introduction but, while this book does contain other worthwhile facts, it’s a disorganized mess that smacks of an article expanded to become suitable for hard cover. Now, it may have never occurred to you to read a book about bananas, but I really did want to learn. Unfortunately, this book bounces from describing the many banana varieties that most of us will never taste because they are too hard to transport or grow on masse; to the horrible and exploitive deeds perpetuated by multinational fruit conglomerates and the U.S. government so that Americans can continue to have a supply of inexpensive fruit; to an exploration of GMOs as a solution to our banana problem; to a trip down memory lane with the “Chiquita banana” jingle. It’s all over the place.
This book frustrated me and I kind of wish I’d skipped from the introduction to the 20-page timeline at the end. It’s too bad, because, taken as bite-sized pieces, it contains some yummy morsels. But the author’s frequent parenthetical statements and lack of focus made it a chore for me to read. I recommend this book if you are very much into botany; otherwise, you can get the highlights from this 2011 Fresh Air interview with the author.