Book Review: Banana: The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel

Book: The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel

Published December 2008 by Plume|304 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Food History

In the vein of the bestselling Salt and Cod, a gripping chronicle of the myth, mystery, and uncertain fate of the world’s most popular fruit

In this fascinating and surprising exploration of the banana’s history, cultural significance, and endangered future, award-winning journalist Dan Koeppel gives readers plenty of food for thought. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, Banana takes us from jungle to supermarket, from corporate boardrooms to kitchen tables around the world. We begin in the Garden of Eden—examining scholars’ belief that Eve’s “apple” was actually a banana— and travel to early-twentieth-century Central America, where aptly named “banana republics” rose and fell over the crop, while the companies now known as Chiquita and Dole conquered the marketplace. Koeppel then chronicles the banana’s path to the present, ultimately—and most alarmingly—taking us to banana plantations across the globe that are being destroyed by a fast-moving blight, with no cure in sight—and to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world’s most beloved fruit.

I thought this was an interesting read.  I didn’t love it, of course, and by the end, I started to lose interest, but there is a lot that I learned about one of my favorite foods.

Like, there’s over 1,000 types of bananas worldwide.  To me, all bananas are the same.  It’s not like, say…apples, where you know there’s a lot of different varieties.  But bananas are pretty consistent, apparently, because they all ripen at around the same the time, no matter what.

What I also didn’t know was that the bananas we eat are basically grown by cloning, and need a lot of human help.  And because bananas are the same, they’re equally susceptible to diseases and stuff.

I could go on and on about the different things I learned about bananas.  It’s something I never really thought about before, and there’s a lot I never realized.  The history and politics behind bananas and how they’re grown and shipped was something I never thought about.  We all know about Dole and Chiquita, but I never realized that they were two different brands of the same type of banana.  It’s something I never really paid attention to before.

Still, it was interesting to read what they did in order to outdo and compete with each other.  Particularly Chiquita (which used to be United Fruit).  What they did in Central America was absolutely horrible.  I won’t go into it, but it sounds like some pretty horrible conditions were there all because of, well, money.

One of the main things we see in the book is the book to save bananas from disease.  There’s a lot of different research going on to save the fruit we all know and love.  It sounds like it’s pretty hard, though, because bananas don’t have seeds, so banana scientists are trying to figure out what to do.

While the book was pretty informative, I did start to lose interest.  The book wasn’t told in a completely linear fashion, and it jumped around a lot.  One minute, you’re reading about banana plantations in the 1950’s, and the next minute, you’re reading about some researcher in the 1930’s.  It was hard to keep up with what was going on because the focus kept jumping around, both in time and with people.  I ended up skimming  some parts about halfway through the book.

I will say that if food history is your thing, this might be worth checking out.  Or if you just want to know more about bananas.

3 stars.  While I learned a lot, it also jumped around a lot, and that made it hard to keep all of the information straight.


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