Massacres! Multiple suicides! Corporate conspiracies! Government corruption! Bribery! Who knew bananas could be so exciting? Read Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel, and you’ll peel open the layered political history of bananas — how the fruit has played a key role in the rise and fall of governments, a.k.a. banana republics, and why these totable snacks are so important to mitigating hunger and malnutrition in Africa — and perhaps childhood obesity in the U.S.

For those just curious about their favorite breakfast food, Banana’s a cornucopia of fun fruity facts. Did you know that the banana tree’s not actually a tree, but an herb? That banana peels were once a serious city safety hazard and sanitation issue? That the song “Yes, we have no bananas” has to do with the slow ruin of a previous popular banana variety called the Gros Michel — a variety that succumbed to Panama disease and got replaced by our current fave variety called the Cavendish — which is also slowly getting infected with disease?

The impending ruin facing these cheap yummy fruits — and the efforts to invent a new, more disease-resistant, marketable banana, is a big problem I wrote about earlier and which you can learn about in more depth via Dan’s article in Popular Science that spawned the book. Reading Banana after having read the PopSci article, I was most struck by the environmental and labor abuses that are required for our current love affair with bananas. Noting the odd cheapness of a perishable fruit imported over very long distances, Dan writes:

[Banana companies] brought consumers a highly perishable tropical product, intact and ready to eat, thousands of miles from the place it grew, at a price everyone could afford. They did it by developing a formula the banana conglomerates still employ today: Work on a large scale, control transportation and distribution, and aggressively dominate land and labor.
Today, we do have organic and fair trade bananas — though Dan points out that because both those eco-ethical models still rely on the Cavendish banana, they’re still vulnerable to the diseases threatening the world’s commercial banana crop. Read Banana to find out what has and hasn’t changed about the world’s first monoculture crop — and for some ideas about what needs to change to save bananas and ourselves.

Image: Courtesy