When bananas ruled the world

Intrigue. Power. Corruption. Death. Sex. The history of oil has nothing on that of the yellow fruit.

On a trip to Honduras, journalist Dan Koeppel caught the banana bug. Researching an article for Popular Science about attempts to breed a disease-resistant banana, the American journalist wandered the grounds of the old Chiquita compound, amid the fading colonial mansions and golf course, where he stumbled upon the cheery yellow fruit’s unsavory past.

“I went out for drinks at the old country club, and this old-timer turns to me and goes, ‘In this room, governments were overthrown.’ It was like something out of a movie,” Koeppel says.

Flipping through an old Chiquita guest book, Koeppel saw the scrawled names of United States senators, scientists, CIA agents and Honduran presidents. “Everybody was in there,” he says. Browsing through the research facility’s library, the journalist paged through a chipper recipe book featuring the Chiquita banana girl, who was shown topless, as she always was, giving instructions on how to prepare such delicacies as “banana coconut rolls.”

“I found these strange Chiquita cookbooks a hundred yards away from where massacres were planned,” he says.

For generations, the banana has been embraced and celebrated in pop culture: “Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today!” But it took muscle and outright carnage to turn this fragile tropical treat into the most popular fruit in the United States.

The banana is “the yin and yang of American culture and blood,” Koeppel says. The fruit became his obsession and the subject of his book, “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.


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