Thursday, January 29, 2004

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

THE BANANA AND ITS PUBLIC: A century ago, the banana was still a relative novelty in the United States. In certain people's eyes, it even carried an aura of vulgarity. In the summer of 1904, Edith Wharton wrote to a friend about an unhappy stay at a new hotel: "Such dreariness, such whining callow women. ... What a horror it is for a whole nation to be developing without a sense of beauty and eating bananas for breakfast."

Wharton's aesthetic scruples notwithstanding, the banana was cheaper, higher in calories, and easier to store than most of its rival fruits. As international shipping expanded, bananas soon became popular among Americans of all classes. In 1940, more than 52 million bunches were imported. And as the industry grew, it disrupted and transformed the economies, cultures, and political structures of the banana-exporting countries of Latin America. The new anthology Banana Wars: Power, Production and History in the Americas (Duke University Press) sheds light on the complexities of the industry's social and economic history, deconstructing the already familiar images of the muscular United Fruit Company and its "banana republics" and moving beyond them.

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