Going bananas

This morning I had to face up to the fact that I had ignored my small bunch of bananas about three days too long. Yellow well on the way to brown! So I decided that today was the day to launch my Mindful Munching Campaign. Rule Number One: Do not throw out usable food.

As it happens, just last week I got the Grand Central Baking Book (check it out in What I’m reading).  Page 32:  Banana Nut Bread. Miraculously, I had all the ingredients on hand. (Even buttermilk!–which is going to happen maybe twice a year.)

What I didn’t have was any idea what I was doing. The recipe calls for “banana puree.” So, I’ve got four bad bananas in front of me–how do I convert them to “puree?” Easily, it turns out, once I remembered that I had an appliance with a “puree” setting. So into the blender with them.

Then, the recipe asks me to use a “standard mixer” to combine ingredients. Got one right here?–Actually, yes. I dragged out the KitchenAid mixer that I have used oh three times since I bought it. Great!–It appears to have done the job. At this point, every surface in my kitchen is dusted with flour and spackled with globs of errant batter, but I successfully manage to get two pans of banana nut bread dough into the oven. I was so sure that I would fail that I didn’t take any “process” photos, but the end result was beautiful! And GAAAA it tastes so good!
But will my next batch have to be plantain nut bread? Last January 10th, Mike Peed wrote a New Yorker piece (“We Have No Bananas”) with the discouraging subtitle “Can scientists defeat a devastating blight?” The species of banana that most of us eat is the Cavendish, a cheap, sturdy, nutritious variety that Americans consume at the rate of almost 8 billion pounds per year. Growers embraced the Cavendish, and over the years created a global monoculture–all Cavendishes, all the time.

Enter Tropical Race Four, a nasty fungus that lives in the soil and entirely rots out Cavendish banana plants. According to Peed, since the late 80’s It has spread across Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, and most recently, Australia. We live in a flat world; inevitably, Latin America will be next.

The problem is being attacked by traditional breeding as well as genetic engineering (with all of its attendant health and environmental concerns). But nobody appears to be seriously proposing to challenge the underlying problem: if you plant just one species everywhere, you are asking for it. As James Dale, a professor at Queensland University of Technology, says in Peed’s article, “when you see the narrowing of genetic culture, that’s when you know things are going to die.”

Can we change the complex business model underlying the production and marketing of our foods, so that we can diversify the monocultures that threaten the continuing health of our food sources? I have no idea. What do you think?

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