Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States

Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States

Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States

Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States

Synopsis

Bananas, the most frequently consumed fresh fruit in the United States, have been linked to Miss Chiquita and Carmen Miranda, "banana republics," and Banana Republic clothing stores-everything from exotic kitsch, to Third World dictatorships, to middle-class fashion. But how did the rise in banana consumption in the United States affect the banana-growing regions of Central America? In this lively, interdisciplinary study, John Soluri integrates agro-ecology, anthropology, political economy, and history to trace the symbiotic growth of the export banana industry in Honduras and the consumer mass market in the United States. Beginning in the 1870s when bananas first appeared in the U. S. marketplace, Soluri examines the tensions between the small-scale growers, who dominated the trade in the early years, and the shippers. He then shows how rising demand led to changes in production that resulted in the formation of major agribusinesses, spawned international migrations, and transformed great swaths of the Honduran environment into monocultures susceptible to plant disease epidemics that in turn changed Central American livelihoods. Soluri also looks at labour practices and workers' lives, changing gender roles on the banana plantations, the effects of pesticides on the Honduran environment and people, and the mass marketing of bananas to consumers in the United States. His multifaceted account of a century of banana production and consumption adds an important chapter to the history of Honduras, as well as to the larger history of globalization and its effects on rural peoples, local economies, and biodiversity.

Excerpt

The first sweetened cup of hot tea to be drunk by an English
worker was a significant historical event, because it prefigured
the transformation of an entire society, a total remaking of its
economic and social basis. We must struggle to understand fully
the consequences ofthat and kindred events, for upon them was
erected an entirely different conception of the relationship between
producers and consumers, of the meaning of work, of the definition
of self, of the nature of things.

SIDNEY MINTZ, 1985

Once they fell into United Fruit hands, tropical swamps and
jungles soon blossomed into immense plots of luscious green
banana plants, set out in rows, on well-drained, properly fertilized,
and irrigated soil. Progressive agriculture practices never heard
of before, in connection with silting, flooding, and spraying in a
never-ending fight against plant disease, produced millions of
stems of the golden fruit for export.

STACY MAY AND GALO PLAZA, 1958

Chances are good that most U.S. readers who pick up this book will have eaten a banana in the recent past. Chances are equally good that they will not remember the experience because banana eating in the United States has become rather banal. But this was not always the case. Prior to the midnineteenth century, few residents of the United States had tasted a banana and fewer still ate them on a regular basis. However, the last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a sharp rise in banana consumption in the United States that transcended lines of gender, class, race, and region.

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