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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: How Big Ag is killing the banana, 15K is the new 10K steps, and what’s missing in the Western diet

by | Mar 24, 2017

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup. 

Next week’s Mindful Meal Challenge will start again on Monday. Sign up now to join us!

This week how Big Ag is killing the banana, 15K is the new 10K steps, and what’s missing in the Western diet. 

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

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Top 10 Most Overrated Health Foods

by | Mar 3, 2014

Photo by Paul Holloway

Like it or not, we tend to believe whatever we are exposed to in the media and in advertisements. In nutrition this usually means that as a society we all follow the same diet fads, glorifying some foods over others in the quest for better health. (It’s okay, I love salmon and coconut water as much as you do).

Problem is though, more often than not the news or the health claims made by food manufacturers vastly overstate any potential health benefits, because it makes a more compelling story and sells more products. Our own confirmation biases tend to make us believe what we’re told, we confidently share our insight with our friends, and suddenly our grocery stores are filled with health foods that really aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

Here are my 10 picks for the most overrated health foods.
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Gone Bananas? Why I Don’t Eat America’s Favorite Fruit

by | Aug 15, 2012

Photo by Crystl

No, I don’t eat bananas. Not really anyway.

It’s not that I don’t like the taste, I actually really enjoy them (particularly with ice cream). Nor do I actively avoid bananas—I’d eat homemade banana cream pie any day of the week, and in Thailand I noshed on the small red finger bananas sold at the local markets. But I don’t buy bananas in the US, and given a choice I’d almost always opt for something else.

While this probably sounds strange to some of you, if you stop and think about the way I live and shop it’s easy to see how this idiosyncratic habit evolved.

I do the majority of my grocery shopping (~80%) at the farmers market, and as you might expect bananas aren’t common in San Francisco. The one or two brick and mortar stores I shop at for the rest of my food here in the city are nothing like your typical supermarkets. Like the farmers market these stores carry local, seasonal food almost exclusively (did I mention I love San Francisco?), and if they carry bananas I’ve never noticed them.

So the main reason I don’t buy bananas is logistical: they don’t exist here.

Honestly for me that’s enough of a reason to focus on the rest of the produce the season has to offer—there’s always more beautiful fruit than I could possibly eat (even in the winter), why do I need bananas too? But when you pause and reflect on why this makes me strange, you start to realize that there are deeper issues with our most popular fruit that make them less than an ideal snack.

The vast majority of bananas sold in the US are grown in Latin Amercia by a handful of countries including Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica. In these places bananas are grown year round, are harvested while unripe, then shipped in special refrigerated compartments until they reach their destination weeks later. The fruit is then exposed to ethylene gas which causes it to ripen and turn their characteristic bright yellow (a different shade than their natural dull yellow when tree-ripened).

Though not genetically modified (yet), all commercial bananas are genetically identical clones grown in monocultures. While this makes the product extremely consistent, it also leaves it vulnerable to disease since cross-breeding cannot confer any protective benefit. Before 1960, the most prevalent commercial banana variety was ‘Gros Michel.’ However, these bananas were wiped out by the fungal Panama disease, forcing farmers to adopt a new variety.

Now all commercial bananas are the Cavendish variety, which was chosen for shelf life and shipping rather than flavor. Cavendish bananas are not immune to infection, however. An extremely virulent strain of Panama disease known as TR4 has threatened Cavendish bananas in Southeast Asia and Australia, and scientists believe TR4 will likely reach Latin American banana plantations soon. There is no variety currently considered a viable replacement for Cavendish, and bananas may be gone from supermarket shelves in our lifetimes. As I hinted above, companies are working to genetically modify the bananas to be resistant to TR4.

Even worse than monoculture ag destroying a commodity that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods, the large banana companies in Latin America (Dole and Chiquita) have a history of mind-boggling corruption. The term “banana republic” describes corrupt countries where the political system favors large agriculture corporations over public welfare. I had trouble finding information on the current state of the banana business and its politics, but there is little indication that things have improved.

But what about nutrition? Am I missing out? Bananas are famously high in potassium, but so are all the green leafy vegetables that make up a huge portion of my diet. Commercial bananas are indeed a good source of several nutrients, however they are also one of the most calorie dense fruits due to their high sugar content. There’s nothing in bananas that you can’t get from other foods, and lower calorie fruits may be a better choice if you eat them often or are watching your weight.

Despite these concerns, there are plenty of valid reasons to continue eating bananas. Just don’t let anyone call you crazy if you choose to skip them.

What are your thoughts on bananas? B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Originally published August 1, 2011.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 18, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Lots of important food reading this week (and some from last week, since I skipped it). Learn why we should all be afraid of industrial meat production, how bananas are evil and why your dog may be your best friend and workout buddy. There are also a few lessons about how to read science in the news.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete list of my favorite stories check out my links on Digg. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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