Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Banana Republic

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Banana Republic

Article excerpt

Drawn in, perhaps, by the bitter banana trade war between the United States and the European Union, Virginia Scott Jenkins, a scholar at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, peels back the fruit's yellow veneer in her new book, Bananas: An American History. This nutritious fruit, she shows, did more than improve the American diet. A luxury upon its arrival in the late 19th century, it quickly became America's favorite year-round fruit-and a source of political intrigue, economic upheaval, and social passion.

The U.S.-EU tariff spat is not the first time that Musa sapientum has sown controversy. In 1913, the U.S. Senate aroused an indignant public when it included bananas in the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act. The tax, cried groups as diverse as the Reform Club and the Housewives' League, "would bring hardship upon the poorer classes," and put the much-loved banana out of the reach of many working-class Americans. Pressured by incendiary speeches and protests, the Senate eventually dropped the "poor man's luxury" from the Underwood-Simmons list.

The victory inspired a number of popular banana odes, including E. …

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