Archive for the ‘Grassroot Causes’ Category


Bananas in Costa Rica by RainyDays3

Bananas in Costa Rica by RainyDays3


Bananas are as popular in American kitchens as apples, grapes, or oranges. These oddly-shaped yellow herbacious plan origened fruits are common in kitchens, and we rarely think twice about eating them. I love bananas for their versatility in cooking–banana bread, banana smoothies, banana oatmeal, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, banana splits, bananas foster, and my recent favorite banana salsa atop seared tuna. Clearly, our nation has found endless ways to include this potassium-rich food into both sweet and savory dishes in our diet. In fact, we are the largest consumer of exported bananas, consuming more than 3.7 million tons a year, averaging out to 75 bananas eaten per individual every year. But is our Chiquita-crazy nation fully aware of the implications of our extreme banana intake?


I recently finished reading Barbara Kingslover’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingslover’s writing is witty, inspiring, and educational. Many of my future blog posts will probably be inspired by Kingslover’s teachings. In one of the chapters, she addresses that her family practices banana abstinence. My curiosity peeked…why in the world would you give up such a wonderful fruit? The answer is simple because they travel thousands of miles to reach our kitchen.

Where do organic bananas come from ?

  • Dole Organic- Honduras, Costa Rica, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador
  • Chiquita- Costa Rica, Columbia, Honduras, Jamaica
  • Del Monte- Costa Rica, Guatemala
  • Fair Trade- Ecuador
  • Just to note: Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita control 65% of world banana exports from Central America and the Caribbean Islands. It is also virtually impossible to find out where Chiquita and Del Monte bananas come from because they don’t list this information on their site. The Dole Organic bananas do and so does the fair trade banana site.

Bananas’ tropical origins make it an exotic food item.  In grocery stores, exotic food items are generally expensive (kalamata olives, mangos, olive oil, truffles, high cacoa chocolate, European cheeses), and these products are generally limited to more populous cities.  Bananas travel just as far to reach every single supermarket, gas station, and cafeteria in the good ole’ USA, yet they cost less than a dollar per pound.  Looking at the history of bananas will explain this paradox. 

Before 1880, bananas were unheard of in America. But, American-entrepreneur Minor C. Keith began working with the Costa Rican government to construct a transnational railroad to travel alongside the huge banana fields of his dreams and gather the fruit to be exported to the United States.  Keith’s business plan was accepted in Costa Rica, and he quickly convinced Honduras and Guatemala to join on board. He held nearly 85,000 hectars (212,500acres) of land to grow bananas. He merged his idea with the United Fruit company, and a monopoly that would control the industry until 1950 began. Bananas rapidly gained popularity, and by 1910 banana peels littered streets across America. After 1950, the monopoly was broken, and the big three (Dole, Chiquita- formerly United Fruit and Del Monte) have dominated the industry ever since.  The banana industry in Central America and the Caribbean are controlled by the United States. That is why we can afford to pay such a small amount for these exotic fruits. But at what economic, social and environmental consequences to the banana-producing countries?


Banana Plantation in workers in Colima, Mexico by Niclas Skold

Banana Plantation in workers in Colima, Mexico by Niclas Skold



Social, Economic, and Environmental Issues

  • Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals that have carcinogenic properties causing high rates of cervical cancer, testicular cancer, and leukemia in non-organic banana farms 
  • The pesticides used to grow on non-organic banana crops permeate the drainage ditches and rivers. At least 25% of pesticides sprayed on bananas miss their mark and land in farms, ponds, or streams. 
  • 90% of Costa Rica’s reefs have been killed by pesticides used to grow non-organic bananas. 
  • In Costa Rica, the banana industry is one of the largest job industries in the nation. However, the government allows companies to hire workers for no more than 3 months, meaning at least 70%  or workers don’t receive health, social security, and vacation benefits. With decreased job security comes the higher rates of alcoholism, sexual abuse, drug abuse, and prostitution in poor banana communities.
  • Costa Rican produced bananas generate 550-700 million dollars when exported to the United States. The corporations keep almost all of this money, generating nearly no money for the countries who grow them.
  • Bananas crops require Costa Rican marshlands to be drained, removing tropical plants and wildlife, etc. This depletes the land of nutrients to form a “homogenous chemical landscape.” 18 tree species are now extinct.
  • Increased rates of deforastation in Central America and the Carribbean because of the increased demand for bananas worldwide.

These are just a few problems that plague the banana industry. Although there are serveral lawsuits  prevent further problems in banana-producing countries, the damage to the people and the environment has been done, and many of the consequences are irreversible. After reading Kingslover’s book and researching the topic, I’ve decided to stop eating bananas, especially the non-organic, non-free trade variety.  I realize this action is extreme, but I cannot justify eating a fruit that has a controversial history and uncertain future. I know this isn’t for everyone, so I want to include some tips on how to make small changes that can really make a difference.

Be a Better Banana Consumer

  • Rather than eating a banana everyday, try cutting down to one or two a week. 
  • Always buy organic bananas that aren’t grown using harmful chemicals. Although United States laws prevent some exposure to pesticides, the less-developed bananan producing countries do not.
  • Buying free trade bananas is better than buying organic because the workers have rights, and they receive their rightful profit from the banana plantations.
  • Try new fruits such as plums, pears, persimmons, blood oranges, and berries that are grown in the United States. You may not even miss bananas
  • And remember, it’s ok to eat bananas., but it is important to know where they come from and make the decision for yourself.





There are also numerous videos, books, online journals, and ethnographies that address the social issues of bananas.  If you have an interest in these, let me know. I’ll be glad to send you some links.


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Our grocery system is dominated by large corporate grocery stores. I’m sure if you live in small town USA, you’re grocery options include Wal-Mart, Kroger, and maybe Food City of Publix. Larger towns have more options including elite grocery stores that carry hard-to-get ingredients like Whole Foods, Earth Fare, or Fresh Market. These large grocery stores eliminate the glamour and excitement of grocery shopping. The products travel hundreds and thousands of miles to go from the farm to your shopping buggy. There are rarely local products on the shelves, and the ratio of fresh foods to processed foods is skewed to the later.

So, what is the answer? Many cities across the nation are part of the International Cooperative Alliance. They define themselves an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”  They value “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.”

It’s much easier to paint a picture of a co-op by telling you my personal story. So, here is the story of my love-affair with my local cooperative.


Three Rivers Market by Cruze Farm Girl

Three Rivers Market by Cruze Farm Girl




Stepping into the Three Rivers Market is like stepping back to yesteryear. The creaky, wooden floors are worn-down from 27 years of customers. The faint scent of apples greets incoming shoppers. And, the earthy, plaid-wearing staff isn’t sporting glossy nametags because they’d rather introduce themselves with a firm handshake and a neighborly smile.

The Three Rivers Market on Broadway Avenue is more than a grocery, it’s a community. Whether you’re on the hunt for local products or in dire need of gluten-free goods, the Three Rivers Market caters to shoppers’ demands because, it’s owned by them.

The prices at the market are comparable to chain grocery stores in Knoxville. A brochure filled with discounts on featured products including frozen foods, canned goods, bulk items, cleaning supplies and health and beauty products is emailed to customers and owners each month.

But shopping isn’t the only option for customers. For just $25 dollars, visitors can be a part of the bigger picture—a local cooperative with over 1500 members. Chris Buckner, education services director, believes, “The biggest benefit of becoming an owner of a place you actually shop is knowing you help support a community owned local business and have a voice in the store.”

            With the rising prices of packaging, shipping and gas, shoppers pay lower prices for dry goods like flour, couscous, coffee or dried fruit by using a bulk purchasing system. Buckner says, “Buying in bulk is more eco-friendly because it eliminates unnecessary packaging, and it’s cheaper because you buy the exact amount you want which eliminates waste.”

            Environmental sustainability is a principle owner concern. In 2006, the quantity of local products offered increased by 27%. Buckner says, “We’re always looking for new growers and producers. We try to look for our local folks as much as we can.” Local products range from cheeses, breads and produce to beauty products like lotion or soap.

            Food isn’t the market’s only priority. It serves the community by donating unsold food to Second Harvest Food Bank and Food Not Bombs, buying recycled and biodegradable products, purchasing green power monthly and offering bus-riding customers free vouchers for purchases over $10.

            The co-op strays away from a traditional grocery because the “money spent here is reinvested in the community. Profits don’t go to an investor that doesn’t live here,” Buckner says.

            The Co-op is open everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In addition to groceries the co-op also has baby food, dog food, books, shopping bags and a to-go deli featuring homemade sandwiches, salads and other vegan and vegetarian treats.  If they don’t have what you want, ask for it. The co-op has one priority and it’s the customer. 

Check out Cruze Farm Girl’s Blog to learn more about the Co-op and check out some awesome photos (Cruze Farm is a local dairy that supplies delicious chocolate, whole, skim, and buttermilk to the co-op)

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Clean Kitchen

Clean Kitchen



No, sadly I will not be giving away a free kitchen ( this only happens in my dreams of having thousands of readers.) However, sprucing up your kitchen doesn’t have to be a financial burden, it can be virtually free. A clean kitchen is a peaceful, spiritual place where meals are prepared with love and care. I use my kitchen as a time for relaxation after a busy day. So, I was really excited when I read the newsletter from my local food cooperative (I own a local grocery store), that gave simple tips for making over your kitchen, the sustainable way. Here’s the step-by-step guide:

Set Up a Sustainable Kitchen

Everyone congregates in the kitchen, the heart of the home.  A green approach to organizing your kitchen is a great spring cleaning exercise, and rewards and rejuvenates you, with a happy, healthy home.

  • Recycle cardboard, cans, paper, and glass and compost food waster.
  • Reuse cloth towels and napkins rather than paper towels and napkins.
  • Store food in ceramic and glass containers, minimizing packaging and reducing exposure to plastics.
  • Use natural cleaning products for kitchen cleaning tasks.

These times are tough and job security and financial funds are dwindling. Treat yourself to a kitchen makeover than will better the environment too! I hope this brings you health and hapiness in the days, years, and months to come.

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