How Eating Bananas Impacts Our Environment, Plus A Delicious Banana-Less Recipe

I’ve been reading a lot about sustainability lately. I thought I’ve been doing OK with eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and eliminating most of junk foods and fast foods from my family’s diet and – although it’s still far from perfection – I’ve been pretty happy with the relatively low impact on the environment that such a diet has.

However, if I was really interested in going green and wanted to be super environment conscious with what I eat, ideally, I should be consuming locally grown produce that is also organic or grown without pesticides/herbicides.

So, what about bananas in my smoothies?

How bad are bananas for our environment?

You see, bananas are the main ingredient in most of my green smoothies.

Since I live in northern New Jersey, you will not find a banana tree in my neighborhood, even in a 100 mile radius. They have to be transported thousands of miles across the globe, producing carbon waste, so I can feed my family’s appetite for green banana smoothies.


Of course, it’s not just about bananas. Avocados, mangoes, pineapples, kiwis, etc. – I love those too, but bananas have become my staple food. Thanks to bananas, I stopped eating most of bread, cookies, and other processed carbs. They are very filling and satisfy my hunger and cravings for comfort foods.

Besides, I have to admit – I really love those banana smoothies and cannot imagine my life without them. I use loads of bananas and even if I could figure out a way to make green smoothies without them, it would be a lot more difficult to make them deliciously sweet and creamy.

So, I had this whole issue how our food choices impact the environment in the back of my mind for a couple of months now, when browsing my online library catalog I noticed a book entitled “How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything” – and my heart sank.

“Oh NO” I thought in panic “Am I going to have to give up bananas in my smoothies?”

I couldn’t wait to loan or buy the book, I had to know RIGHT NOW exactly how bad bananas really are for the environment – if they are not consumed straight from the tree, but shipped miles and miles from where they were grown to northern New Jersey.

Thank God for Amazon’s “LOOK INSIDE” feature. I quickly found the page that interested me, and here is what I learned.

Turns out the author – after doing some carbon emissions calculations (don’t ask me how) – concluded that “Bananas are a great food for anyone who cares about their carbon footprint” (that’s me, I thought, relieved). One banana produces just 80 g of carbon emissions – when imported from the other side of the world – you get a whole lot of nutrition: 140 calories as well as vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and lots of dietary fiber. Compare that to a 4 ounce beefsteak that produces 2 kg of CO2e.

Overall, while not ideal, they may be an acceptable addition to the low-carbon diet – and here is why:

1. They are grown in natural sunlight – no hot-housing required.

2. They keep well, so they can be shipped by boats, which is only about 1 percent as bad as flying.

3. There is no processing involved and hardly any packaging (although they do come in the plastic wrapping – I haven’t found a place so far that would sell them without, but maybe I should look harder – I really want to eliminate plastic from my waste).

4. Fair trade version is available (note to myself – find fair trade bananas in my area).

banana photos

All this is good news. On the other hand, the fact remains that of the 1000 varieties of bananas in existence, almost all those we eat are of the single, cloned “Cavendish” variety. In their natural form, bananas have large seeds and can be yellow, green, purple or even red. “The adoption of the Cavendish monoculture in pursuit of maximum, cheapest yields has been criticized for degrading the land and requiring the liberal use of pesticide and fungicide.”

And they are in danger of disappearing due to spreading of disease. The danger of monoculture is that once one plant gets sick, all plants get sick pretty quickly!

Check out this book with lots of interesting banana facts.

All this is means that I’ll keep using bananas in my smoothies for now (especially for my son), although I will start to prepare more recipes that are based on locally grown ingredients and use less of them in my smoothies than up till now.

Banana-Less Blended Salad Recipe

Here is a recipe that I prepared last night. This is not a smoothie recipe, but rather a coarsely blended soup, that used locally grown ingredients only – without any bananas.

1 large tomato (ripe and fragrant)
1 pear (also very ripe)
1/3 of red pepper
2-3 leaves of lettuce
10 leaves of fresh basil (from my balcony!)

I blended this in my Vitamix on low speed without any water added, just pushing down the content with the plunger, so it had a coarse consistency of a stew. It was really delicious and looked good too (I wanted to take a picture, but I had no battery in my camera, so maybe next time). In fact it was so good that I prepared a second batch, replacing pear with a peach and basil with cilantro. It was still good, but not as delicious as the first one, so I only ate a little, and left the rest in the fridge for the next day. So today, I added 2 more very ripe pears and more lettuce, and blended the everything to a very smooth consistency – and it was amazing.

Unfortunately, my son still did not like it. Perhaps I could try adding some sweetener, like maple syrup or agave? But for now, I’m going to buy some bananas tomorrow for sweet banana smoothies (with greens, of course).

In conclusion

Of course, everything we eat has some impact on the environment, so at least I was relieved to learn about the boat transportation that is relatively Earth friendly – so much more than planes and trucks.

But what about other aspects of eating bananas (or other fruits for that matter)?

The question on many people’s minds is: Are bananas good for our health? Read about it in the upcoming Part II.

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