One foot on a banana peel

By Ron Scopelliti

I’ve been reading recently about the “gig economy” – the trend towards people working freelance and contract jobs either as a primary or supplemental source of income. It was a trend that was already being driven by employers when technological options like Uber strengthened the movement. Though the gig economy offers a great deal of freedom, it also offers a great deal of anxiety over where your next dollar will come from.

As a part of the freelance trend, I felt I should write something thoughtful on the subject that would add a new perspective on the conversation. But then I got distracted by bananas.

That’s right – bananas. Let me explain. It all has to do with uncertainty. If there’s one word that summarizes my feelings about the current state of the world, it’s uncertainty. Though insecurity or tenuousness may be equally accurate. Unfortunately, I’m also uncertain about my terminology.

I’m uncertain about how the economy is going to survive another round of de-regulation and a new take on the “trickle-down” theory. I’m uncertain about the potential for all-out war with Syria, Russia, North Korea, or all of the above. I’m uncertain if Mike Pence stole his hair style from Race Bannon, and, whether Hanna-Barbera can sue for copyright infringement.

The uncertainty works its way down from big issues like the economy and world affairs down to the smaller issues of everyday life. For instance, the new car I bought two years ago came without a spare tire, and I’ve spent two years feeling insecure about riding around without a spare, and feeling unsure about whether I should buy one. But at least that’s a practical concern. When my uncertainty gets ridiculous is at the end of the month when I start to worry which TV series will get removed from Netflix before I’ve finished watching.

And that’s where bananas come in. I’m uncertain about the future of bananas as we know them. And I’m not alone. For the past few years I’ve been hearing rumblings about the possibility of a banana apocalypse. I’m not making this up. The bananas that most of us have grown up eating may be facing extinction, at least as far as commercial cultivation goes.

In fact, the bananas we eat today are the result of a previous banana apocalypse that started in the early twentieth century. Panama disease devastated crops of the then-dominant Gros Michel banana to the point where exporters replaced it with a different variety – the Cavendish banana – which was resistant to the disease. For many people my age, it’s likely that every banana we’ve ever eaten has been a Cavendish.

In an era when many rail against genetically-engineered food, the bananas we eat are all practically clones of one another, seriously lacking any genetic diversity. Almost every banana exported to North America, Europe, and the United Kingdom is a member of the Cavendish variety and is descended from plants grown in a hothouse on a Downton-Abbey-style estate in the 1830s.

One effect of the previous banana apocalypse was to significantly change the taste of bananas. The Gros Michel apparently had a sweeter, creamier taste that was less complex than that of the Cavendish. Many sources say that the Cavendish was chosen more for its visual similarity to the Gros Michel than its flavor. It was a triumph of looks over taste that remained unmatched until the Kardashians got their own TV show.

There’s an ongoing claim that banana flavors in candy and snacks taste fake because they were made to mimic the taste of the Gros Michel, rather than the Cavendish. Though many experts deny this, the difference does seem to show a disparity between the way current bananas taste, and the way we want them to taste.

Anyway, those who are dissatisfied with the taste of the Cavendish may have a fungal ally, because a there’s a new strain of Panama disease that the Cavendish isn’t immune to. While scientists are looking at ways to fight the disease, I’m sure there are many people working behind the scenes to find an even more disease-resistant replacement for the Cavendish. So we may be facing a major adjustment in what we expect a banana to taste like.

Maybe the bananas of the future will taste like banana-flavored jelly beans or Snack Pack banana pudding. Maybe the change will be even more extreme, and they’ll taste like marshmallow Fluff, or Nutella. Neither of those are offensive to me, but they’re just not what I want to taste when I bite into a banana.

Personally, I don’t eat that many bananas. But with so much uncertainty in the world, I wish I could think of the banana as a constant. I can’t count on steady employment or world peace, and I can’t count on having a spare tire or watching Firefly on Netflix. I at least want to know that when I bite into a banana, it will taste like what I’ve come to know as a banana.

Maybe it’s time to add a new dimension to my gig-economy lifestyle. Instead of moonlighting with Lyft or selling stuff on Etsy, I’ll start growing my own Cavendish bananas to sell after the major players like Dole and Chiquita have bailed on them. I’ll even create an app for home delivery. Gig economy, say hello to the Uber-nana.