Ever here of the Gros Michel Banana? As known colloquially as the Big Mike, it was primarily grown in South East Asia, become a common export to Europe and America during the 1800’s, and was probably the most commonly sold breed of banana in the west up until the 1950s. Then the Panama disease descended upon the plantations, and the monocrop industry was basically shut down permanently. They’re still grown in some tropical areas, just no longer on a global industrial scale.
The banana most people around the world get as an export is the Cavendish. This banana is similar in appearance to the Gros Michel, but is noticeably thinner and having a different ripening pattern. It also has less flavor; the average Gros Michel is reported to be much sweeter, more consistently creamy, and to have a less noticeable seed area. It was also more robust and physically suited for long distance travel.
Of course, the Gros Michel could not withstand the fungal infection known as Panama disease, which rendered it all but extinct. The blander and less hardy Cavendish was more resistant to the disease, so it rose in prominence.
However, it’s possible that we will have to soon find a substitute for our current variety of banana as well. According to reports from within the next two decades, a new viral form of Panama disease has manifested that is deadly to the Cavendish variety. The problem with bananas is that they are breed and reproduced via monocultural cloning, so there’s not a lot of genetic diversity, and anything that can kill one plant will likely kill every other.
In 2008, Dan Koeppel suggested that we “say goodbye” to the banana, recognize that it is an exotic food product that always had the potential of “slipping” out of our grasp.
I heard somewhere that there are plans to genetically engineer both Cavendish and surviving strands of Gros Michel to be more disease resistant. I guess we’ll see how that turns out. Perhaps I should do as Koeppel suggests and learn to live without bananas and focus more on products that can be grown or made close to home.
When Captain America got frozen during the Second World War, the “Big Mike” was still the most commonly eaten banana in America. I wonder how his first exposure to the Cavendish went? From his point of view, it probably seemed that this new future world is so strange that even the bananas were wrong.
Anyway, speaking of Marvel characters, the Black Panther movie is coming out this upcoming Thursday (well, the Thursday after this was posted at any rate.