Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Banana

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Banana

The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

by Dan Koeppel

Banana by Dan Koeppel
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Paul Hughes

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All About Bananas

Bananas may look like they grow on trees but in fact they grow on plants that are related to the lily and orchid family.

The term 'banana republic' was coined by American humorist and short story writer O. Henry, in reference to Honduras - "republic" in his day being a common euphemism for a dictatorship.

On a number of occasions the term 'banana republic' has been quite literal with the banana companies owning massive percentages of entire countries and their own private armies. For example, in Honduras in the early 20th century, the United Fruit Company was nicknamed "The Octopus" for its extensive involvement in, sometimes violent, politics; and in the 1950s, the directors of United Fruit played a role in convincing the Truman and Eisenhower administrations that the Guatemalan government was secretly pro-Soviet, thus contributing to the CIA's decision to assist in the overthrow of the government in 1954.

Over 4 million tons of bananas are imported into the USA each year from Central and South America so that the average American can eat his annual 33 lbs of bananas.

Although there are hundreds of types of banana plants, it is only the Cavendish that is commercially grown and sold on any significant scale. It is also the Cavendish that is in danger of extermination from disease. 50 years ago, the Gros Michel, the predecessor to the Cavendish, was wiped out by Panama disease (caused by a soil inhabiting fungus which invades the roots) so the Cavendish was introduced from Sumatra and Malaysia. However, the same disease now threatens the Cavendish which, because the plants are genetically identical, has had no opportunity to evolve disease resistance.


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Article by Paul Hughes

This article was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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