It is the most abundant fruit in the world, available all year round at every grocery store regardless of ethnicity. Whether it is a mom and pop operation or it is a large chain store in Beverly Hills, you’ll find it occupying multiple shelves and if you look closely at the UI tags, you will never see a price more than 99¢/lb.
It is also perhaps the most consumer-friendly fruit known to mankind, with no worries about whether it has been washed before you sink your teeth in. Just peel and chomp. It leaves no aftertaste and I guarantee your breath won’t smell from it. You can walk while you chomp and when you are done, just flick the peel into a garbage bin without missing a step.
And don’t worry about sticky juices squirting from it and messing up your fingers or shirt front. It is firm but not hard, sweet but not chocolaty and as you chew, it melts inside your mouth with ease, without sticking to your gums or between your teeth.
It is packed with nourishment. Rich in manganese and potassium, vitamins B and C and dietary fibre, it is the perfect little snack to gobble if you are ravenously hungry but have to watch your weight at the same time. If you have ulcers and cannot remain on an empty stomach for too long, one is enough to keep the gastric juices at bay. And I have never heard of anyone who has an allergy to it.
You can gobble down as many in one sitting as you like. There’s no downside in eating too many of them. Just be sure to gargle afterward, as the little bit of sugar that is in them may cause tooth decay, long term.
Horny middle-aged women too have a unique use for it but I am too straight-laced to tell you about that.
Meet everyone’s favorite snack – the banana, the world’s fourth largest food item after rice, wheat and milk. If you live anywhere on earth, bananas are sure to be a permanent item in your grocery list. Transported raw, they get just ripe enough by the time they are displayed on the grocery shelves.
There was a time when the banana was a virtually unknown fruit in the developed west. That is, until an American named Henry Meiggs (1811-77) inadvertently started the banana boom.
Meiggs was one of the early robber barons of American business, an enormously powerful and ruthless individual who stopped at nothing to build a vast empire and lord over it. He was the torch bearer for the Kennedys, the Du Ponts, the Rockefellers and the De Beers.
Born in Catskill, NY, Henry Meiggs made his mark building railroads for Chile and Peru. Endowed with great entrepreneurial talents and a complete lack of scruples, Meiggs battered and bludgeoned his way through entire Latin American governments to make his millions.
In 1860, while Meiggs was in Peru, he was approached by President Tomás Guardia of Costa Rica, who wanted a railroad built to connect the Caribbean Sea port of Limón to the national capital, San José. Here is where the great banana story began.
At that time, Costa Rica’s economy was based mainly on coffee exports. Coffee was grown in the central plains around the capital city of San José and transported by mules to the nearest port at Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain to the east, the mules could not go the other way, to Limón on the Caribbean coast, from where the lucrative European market would have been easily accessible, across the Atlantic.
There was no Panama Canal in those days and so the coffee would travel by ship eastward from Puntarenas. Creating a railroad to carry the coffee east, direct to Limón on the Atlantic seaboard and thereby gaining easy access to Europe’s coffee drinkers became top priority.
Meiggs took the mega-contract but before he could begin building the railroad however, he died. Eventually, 14 years after his death, the construction was restarted by one of his nephews, Minor Cooper Keith, 14 years after his death.
Minor Keith eclipsed his illustrious uncle in ruthlessness and ambition. He saw opportunities that his uncle hadn’t. He and his partners got the Costa Rican government to donate free of cost 800,000 acres of prime land along the railroad he had built and he promptly turned the land into an enormous banana plantation. The new venture was called Tropical Trading and Transport Company.
While the passenger load density on the new railroad proved disappointingly low, Keith found that transporting the bananas he grew was enormously profitable. The railroad carried the bananas from his plantations to Limón and from there on to the US and Europe by ships that he and his partners owned and operated.
What is capitalism without mergers? And so it was with Minor Keith’s business. In time he merged his company with an equally gi-normous rival banana grower, Boston Fruit Company and the newly formed behemoth was named United Fruit Company (UFC).
It was a synergy made in heaven – Minor Keith’s railroads and ships and Boston Fruit’s pet Central American dictators and tax-free land that was ideal for banana plantations. At it’s height, 1930s to 50s, United Fruit Company directly controlled and distributed 90% of all bananas grown in Central America, the Caribbean and Northern South America.
In the movie Godfather-II, the rep of ‘General Fruit Company’ is shown at the conference table with the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who was later overthrown by Fidel Castro. It is a thinly disguised reference to United Fruit Company which in it’s heyday, backed up by a garrison of US Marines, behaved like it owned Cuba.
The dictators, whom United Fruit (and the US government) went to bed with, were essentially nothing but powerful thugs inside a backward, desperately poor agrarian region, their main crop – bananas, a tasty novelty that America and Europe were just beginning to relish. These thugs maintained a highly unequal feudal structure that terrorized and subjugated the common folk.
The term Banana Republic was first coined by the writer, O’Henry, in his 1904 novel, “Cabbages and Kings”, to describe a fictitious Caribbean country called Anchuria, his narrative inspired by what he saw during a visit to Honduras. O’Henry meant Banana Republic to be a derisive term used for poor, backward nations that are riddled with corruption and whose despotic rulers were beholden to the United States for their personal survival. Nowadays the term is used more broadly, to refer to any autocratic regime ruled by a demagogue who thinks he is the law. Russia – and in some ways, even Trump’s America – can fall into the category of a banana republic today.
Interestingly, partnerships with the US were invariably unstable. Whenever the tin pots could not deliver the free and safe environment necessary for American companies to operate in, or if suddenly the ruler of the republic started feeling that the Americans weren’t paying him enough, disputes broke out and an invasion force of US Marines came in, to facilitate a coup and install a more pliable tin pot dictator.
Direct American military invasions into sovereign Caribbean and Central American countries were rampant in the first half of the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1945, the US invaded Honduras five times, the Dominican Republic three times, Haiti twice, Nicaragua thrice, Cuba thrice, Panama thrice, Guatemala twice and El Salvador once. This, in spite of the fact that none of these nations had ever meant the US or any of it’s citizens any harm.
Wherever the marines went, CIA black ops agents were not far behind. They followed the GIs, torturing and murdering opponents of the regime they wished to install, training counter-insurgent death squads for those puppet regimes and terrorizing the general population. They were like the scum known as SS Einsatzgruppen who followed the regular Wehrmacht troops into the Soviet Union as a part of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, in 1941.
In order to justify America’s strong-arm tactics in Central America and the Caribbean in front of the world, the US began a PR blitz that made America the civil liberties champion of the world and the Soviet Union the fall guy, even though declassified CIA documents show that it was all spin and that there had never been any commie threat at that point in time (The Cuban Missile Crisis came decades later).
The man chosen to be America’s spin master for the PR barrage was a very able guy whom the Americans proudly tout today as the ‘father of public relations’, a man named Edward Bernays. He achieved unparalleled success in projecting America as a benevolent, pain-filled and saddened nation which had no choice but to invade and save democracy and the rule of law. His successes led PR to ultimately become a regular course taught in American universities. It remains the only stream of study in the world that adds no value to your skill set but only shows you how to get a PhD in creating “alternative facts”.
By the late 1920s, United Fruit Company was huge, wielding power that would be comparable to the political clout that Google, GM, Microsoft or Goldman Sachs have today. UFC became the de-facto face of the US Government, bribing, threatening, cajoling, coercing and extorting it’s way into the governments of those tiny Central American nations.
Only one man was responsible for making United Fruit Company the largest business entity in America in the 1940s and everybody knew him as “Banana Sam”. I’ll tell you all about him after I have traveled to the fridge for amother beer.
Till then, toodle-oo.