I go to the supermarket every day. Every single day. And, I always buy the same fruits and vegetables. Recently, while casually waiting in line to weigh my bananas, I wondered to myself – wow, these bananas must have gone through a wild adventure to end in someone’s stomach.
And thus begins the tale of Frank the banana.
Ever since Frank could remember, he looked just like anybody else. Green in a sphere-like shape. Born in a tropical area, he grew up surrounded by loved ones, in such a caring atmosphere he was quite literally stuck to its creator. Until the worst happened. Even worse, on his first birthday.
As he was about to celebrate 365 days of living, 365 days to become the banana he lived up to be, when he was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he was startled not recognizing his whereabouts. It was dark but he was not alone as he recognized some familiar faces.
With rumbling noises, he figured out where he was: in the factory next door. He had been transported to a processing plant by a pulley system (1). Always curious to see what was inside, he would not be disappointed. He was then inspected, washed and labelled, a sentiment he quite liked as he felt he was being prepped for something (2). After being separated from his pack, he was put in a box, ready to be shipped off according to the words he could decipher on the box.
Then, everything turned black. He couldn't see anything anymore but he recognized various sounds. That’s how he knew he was placed in a motor vehicle, taking them from the processing plant to the docks (3). According to the banana to his left, they had been placed in a large metallic container, where it was quite cool - what he didn't know was that it was refrigerated at exactly 56 degrees (4). Then, he heard the seagulls. They were on a boat.
But where? While managing to take a glimpse of his surroundings, he saw a total of 19 vessels. He thought he was probably in the largest refrigerated fleet of ships in the worlds – he was (5) . Each 40-feet- container can hold 1 000 boxes, which contain 100 bananas (6).
After what he thought was years (was in fact 6 days), the ship docked. In reality, most often imported from Central- and South America (and Southeast Asia), they usually travel an average of 5 424 miles, ie. 8 729 km to reach the US, the European Union, and Japan, which are the three main import zones (7).
Ripening and Distribution
Still plunged into darkness, he could feel he was being loaded onto - yet another - mode of transport. Maybe a truck again. It was in fact lorries transporting them to special warehouses (8). Then blank, no movement. Complete and utter silence.
When the lights turned on, he came to the conclusion that they were in a room. A ripening room to be precise, in which people came regularly to spray them with ethylene gas. The ripening process is therefore artificially induced, in a very specific pressurised and temperature controlled (9) way to fool Frank into thinking he is still on the plant, back home. This process usually lasts five days, then the bananas are ready for the distribution centre. Once Frank and his friends are ready to be eaten, they are dispatched via lorries to supermarkets, grocers, coffee shops – any place where we can buy them.
So to recap, 1 boat, 3 centres, 4 trucks. Being the world’s most popular fruit, 115.74 Million metric tons are produced yearly, making them the second most harvested fruits in the world (10). That is 115.74 metric tons of bananas which cross oceans and ride trucks to get to your supermarket. What if Frank didn't have to travel the world to end in your supermarket ? How to change our current practices and supply chain management to reduce logistics and transportation?
Food for thought. Quite literally.
About the author:
After having studied political science in rainy UK, I am currently pursuing my studies in sunny Madrid. I love dancing and painting (even it’s no Picasso) and aspiring to take part in positive societal change.
drawing by @sauyce