By Demelza Champagne
You may have noticed that the Bushwick Food Coop sells only Equal Exchange bananas. Equal Exchange bananas are special mostly because Equal Exchange has partnerships with worker-owned cooperatives in Ecuador and Peru, from where they ship their bananas. In addition, their bananas are organic and fairly traded.
Bananas have a rather sordid history, so it’s especially important that the Bushwick Food Coop orders bananas from a responsible source. Banana history is tied to a story of colonialism, massacres, bacterial plagues, and capitalism. Banana history encompasses the entire dark side of globalization. Chiquita, once called the United Fruit Company, has committed several offenses, from aiding in the overthrow of governments (Guatemala in 1954) to shooting down workers protesting a decent wage (Colombia in 1929). Some of these offenses were even aided by the U.S. government in order to keep banana prices low. Unfortunately, as Dan Koeppel writes, “Labor is still cheap in these countries, and growers still resort to heavy-handed tactics.”
The documentary film Bananas!* discussed a 2007 court case against the Dole company. Dole workers alleged that the pesticides they used caused sterility, and that the Dole company knew about this but kept the information undisclosed. In an attempt to block the screening of the film in the United States, the Dole company sued the filmmakers for slander and defamation. The Dole company lost the case, and in 2011 the movie was shown at various festivals and theaters. You can learn more about the movie and court case here.
Governments are tampered with unethically, people are killed and made sterile, so that people in the U.S. can eat cheap bananas. Thus the Bushwick Food Coop chooses to buy bananas from a responsible company such as Equal Exchange, whose bananas are organic (so there’s no worry about the workers becoming sterile from pesticides). Equal Exchange ensures that workers are fairly compensated for their work, and it has no interest in tampering with governments or protesters.
Bananas are a good fruit to freeze and their peels can make your compost extra nutritious. I’ve shared my favorite banana cake recipe below, for those times when the co-op has an abundance of ripe bananas. All the ingredients can be found at the Bushwick Food Coop.
Banana Walnut Cake from Gourmet magazine, February 2008
• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons, melted and cooled
• 1 cup sugar, divided
• 2 large eggs
• 1 1/4 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
• 2/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 (3 1/2- to 4-ounce) bar 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup walnuts (3 ounces), toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in eggs 1 at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt, and vanilla (mixture will look curdled). With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Toss together chocolate, nuts, cinnamon, melted butter, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Spread half of banana batter in cake pan and sprinkle with half of chocolate mixture. Spread remaining batter evenly over filling and sprinkle remaining chocolate mixture on top. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 30 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, right side up.
Cake can be made two days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
Koeppel, Dan. Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World. (book). “Yes, We Will Have No Bananas” (article)