Although I pay attention to the miles that much of my family’s food travels to get to our table and I buy a lot of local food, there are certain things that I can never get local. Bananas are one of them. I still buy them.

I have two growing boys who want to eat them. I also buy them grapes and apples out of season because quite frankly I’m afraid of having to take them to the doctors one day and finding out they have scurvy because it isn’t local fruit season.

Apples and imported grapes (most of the grapes I can get in winter are from Chile) are two fruits that should be bought organically because the conventional ones are heavily contaminated with pesticides. They are #2 and #9 respectively on the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen Foods.

Bananas fall way down at #37 on their list. Because they have a thick skin, the fruit inside is fairly protected from the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are sprayed on banana trees. Some get through, but compared to some other fruits, they are less contaminated.

I used to buy conventional bananas because I wasn’t too worried about the fruit and used my money to buy other foods organically. But then I read something that made me willing to spend the extra money on organic bananas. The fruit inside the bananas may be protected from many of the chemicals that are sprayed onto banana trees, but the workers who pick the bananas are not.

The workers on many conventional banana plantations are subject to harsh, unhealthy working conditions including being constantly exposed to the chemicals being sprayed on the plants. According to Banana Link many countries have laws on the books to prevent this, but those laws aren’t enforced. Some employers will

fine workers who fail to continue working during aerial spraying. In Ecuador flagmen (often clothed only in jeans and Tshirts) are employed to guide in the crop spraying planes in the knowledge that they face 'a slow death'. Workers risk cancer, sterility or other serious diseases from pesticide poisoning.
It’s not just adults who are in the fields being exposed to these toxic working conditions.
In 2002 a human rights group report reported widespread child labour in Ecuador. In its investigation, Human Rights Watch found that Ecuadorian children as young as eight work on banana plantations in hazardous conditions. Although it is against the law, there are under-age young people working on banana plantations instead of attending school; this is so that they can help increase the family income to a decent level.
I decided that I could not continue to buy conventional bananas for my family. If organic bananas are not available, I don’t buy them.

Not all of my food choices for my family are based on environmental decisions. Some of them are based on socially conscious decisions.

A few years ago, my grocery shopping decisions were made based on what store had the cheapest price on meat and where I could get the biggest bang for my coupons. Now my choices are more complicated, but I understand that paying more for some of the foods my family eats does good and it’s worth the complication. I like to do good.

Next time you are at the grocery store, compare the organic bananas with the conventional ones. Take two bunches that weigh relatively the same and see what the price difference is on the scale. Then ask yourself if the extra money is that much of a hardship. I understand that it just may be. Your budget may not allow you pay the extra. But, it may, and I wanted to give you the information you need to make an informed decision in your produce isle.    

Image credit: Aaron Escobar

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