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Bananas - The Good The Bad And The Ugly

Updated: Apr 7

We are told that bananas are good for us, they are fruit and fruit is good, each banana is one of your five-a-day, they are a source of vitamin C and vitamin B6, they also have small amounts of iron, vitamin A, magnesium and protein. Also, we're told to eat bananas because they are high in potassium, a mineral that we all need in our bodies, this isn't really accurate as butter beans, avocados and potatoes contain more potassium then bananas, gram for gram. However, bananas are high in fibre, which is great, but they are also high in sugar, not so great.

a hand holding bananas
Did you know a bunch of bananas is called a hand

What's Good About Bananas?

For our health bananas are great, they contain vitamins and minerals and have a low water content, this means that they pack more calories in. Bananas also have pectin in them, this is a soluble fibre, in your stomach it gives you a feeling of fullness, which is why bananas can be the perfect snack when you're hungry, but it also sooths your gut and helps food to pass through smoothly. Bananas aren't just good for you either, the starch in bananas is food for your microbiome, the bacteria that lives in your gut and helps to break food down to release nutrients. One other good thing about bananas is that they can be used to ease the itchy, irritated, feeling of an insect bite. First of all, eat the banana, then take the skin and rub the inside of it against the bite. It will sooth the bite and reduce the itch.

What about the planet, are bananas environmentally friendly? Well, bananas need no extra packaging, they make their own, which is great for the environment, less plastic, right? This contributes to the low carbon footprint that the fruit has, just 80g of CO2 for each banana. They are grown in natural sunlight, not energy-intensive hot-housing and bananas are transported around the world by boats, which per kilo of freight transported, emit only 1% as much CO2 as planes do.

So, What's Bad About bananas?

Bananas don't need any extra packaging, they grow their own, but this doesn't stop shops and supermarkets from putting them in plastic bags, placing them in polystyrene trays covered in clingfilm. This can be avoided by only buying bananas that aren't wrapped. Bananas do bruise easily, but this isn't solved by plastic bags as they don't protect against impact or pressure, also, bruised bananas can be used in smoothies, milk shakes (made with plant milk, of course) cakes and cookies. Another issue around the natural packaging of a banana is that the skin is the heaviest component of the fruit and, considering that this is almost always considered waste, transporting bananas is very costly to the environment. The world’s leading countries for banana exports include Ecuador, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Guatemala, with a large number of exports going to Europe, where people expect to be able to eat their favourite fruits even when they’re out of season. In the UK more than £550,000,000 worth of bananas are imported each year, these bananas travel huge distances,5,106 miles on average and, at 80g of CO2 per banana that journey contributes to CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

graph showing the carbon footprint of food
Bananas have a lower carbon footprint than meat

Right, So What's the Ugly Side Of Bananas?

Farming, especially the farming of food for global export, is not great for the environment in many different ways. The countries that supply bananas to the world rely on the fruit for most of their income, they don't have another way to make that money. This can lead to the exploitation of the workers as they have no choice but to work growing bananas, there are few other jobs, and this leads to the jobs being low paid. The owners of the banana companies don't have to pay their workers fairly as they are desperate for the job. The workers can also suffer from the use of pesticides, these chemicals are toxic and can lead to long term health problems for the humans that have to use them, health problems that include cancer.

The land is also exploited, there are still parts of the world in which forests are being cleared for banana plantations. This land is better used for growing bananas than for producing beef, but the clearing of forests is wholly negative. Like the workers, the land also suffers when pesticides are used. The ground becomes barren, poisoned and toxic, the lack of insects mean that animals that would eat those insects move elsewhere or die off. Not only this, the pesticides will dissolve in water when it rains, leading to runoff that poisons waterways. The entire ecosystem is changed. Another way that the ecosystems is badly affected is by the growing of a monoculture. Most areas of wild land will grow many different types of plants, but farming will reduce this down to one, there is no variety which depletes the soil of the nutrients that this one plant needs, this causes imbalances, damages soil structure and can cause desertification as the ground can no longer hold water and dries out. With the growing of bananas this problem is made worse by the lack in varieties of bananas grown to be eaten. There are hundreds of varieties of banana, however, almost all of the bananas we get to eat are of the 'Cavendish' variety, this is a monoculture in the extreme. The other varieties are not grown and suitable growing areas are used only for the Cavendish are becoming endangered.

These problems have no easy fix, if we don't buy bananas the banana growers get no money. We can attempt to buy different varieties but they are hard to find and it would take a global demand shift to make a difference. What we can do is buy more "wonky" fruit, the weirdly shaped, lumpy, bumpy fruit where the colour isn't what we're used to. These fruits taste just fine, sometimes even better than the regular fruit and it saves waste. Buying these fruits will also show growers that we do want them and teach them to not waste them, reducing the demand for more perfect fruit while the wonky fruit is left to rot. One more thing that we can do is look for fair trade and organic fruit, these are grown in a more ethical way with both the land and workers being better looked after and respected.

There are a lot of problems in the food system that, individually, to fix it, but if we all do our bit we can make the world a more fare place for everyone and help to heal some of the damage that humans have caused. Best of all, we can do this while eating healthy, nutritious and tasty foods that do not exploit people or the planet.


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