The Digest

The Secret Life of Bananas & Other News

19th August 2017

Words: James Hansen


In this week’s food media round-up: taking a knife to clean eating, the hidden depths of mole, and the lost art of dismembering a chicken

Annie Correal delves into the secret life of bananas for The New York Times. Of the 20 million bananas distributed around New York each week, the vast majority make their moves under cover of darkness – ripening in the shadows of the city before being brought into the light. Michael Stamatis of the Red Hook Container Terminal remembers when crates were much less placid than today – “I can tell you, we had spiders, snakes, crickets, cockroaches,” he said. “We’d open the hatches and just hear the crickets chirping.” From here to temperature-controlled ripening rooms – yoga retreats for the yellow fruit – via the inevitable mention of tripping over peels, the life of the banana is a colourful one, which appropriately finishes back in the darkness: “By nightfall, a pile of empty boxes lay on the curb, and on the table just a few lonely bananas remained, flecked with brown and with a golden hue. The supply would be replenished, in just a few hours.”

Bee Wilson investigates the reality behind the #cleaneating hashtag for The Guardian. Exploring what happens when questionable – or at times, broadly bad – science goes mainstream on the food scene, Wilson shows that the negative impacts of clean eating harm its proponents, as much as those who buy into their beliefs. As nutritional scientist – with real degrees – Dr Giles Yeo points out, “all of these diets have a kernel of truth that is spun out into some bigger fantasy”. The kernel here is that much food broadly on offer in supermarkets is nutritionally questionable; the bigger fantasy is that eating well is the preserve of an exclusive, Instaready club.

Christine Dell’Amore reports on a 100-year-old fruitcake for National Geographic1. In a ringing endorsement from the Antarctic Heritage Trust that found it, the cake “looks and smells almost edible”. Likely to date back to Robert Scott’s fateful Terra Nova Polar Expedition, the cake is an example of his chosen diet doing good work – in reality, his defeat by Roald Amundsen and eventual demise was directly linked to a comparatively poor expedition diet. For now, the fruitcake enjoys its time in the sun, which historian Stephanie Barczewski acknowledges is all too short: “Fruitcake is not something that people usually get excited about, but this discovery shows what a spectacular environment for historic preservation the Antarctic is”.

Nneka M. Okona dives into mole at Chefsfeed. The artist at work is Hugo Ortega, winner of a James Beard Award as Best Chef (Southwest) for 2017. Among the various iterations of mole is mole chicatana, named after an entomological delicacy: “The chicatana is an ant, a flying one, with small, transparent wings, that takes to the skies of Oaxaca after the first rain falls in the spring.” Between the ants and chillies, there is the base – a perfectly plain chicken broth, to avoid flavour distractions, allowing the spice, herbs and insects to take flavour priority. Ortega focuses on the connection to history that mole signifies for him; and in making such a personal connection, he nods to its infinite range of significance, according to who is simmering it.

Bonnie S. Benwick carves up the benefits of nose-to-tail meat at The Washington Post. Her subject is the humble chicken; her mantra, carve from whole: “learning how to do so is a smack-your-forehead, no-brainer endeavor. It’s even a little empowering.” Such is the predilection for pre-packaged portions that Tom Super of the National Chicken Council laments that America is a “white meat, boneless-skinless country2.” Benwick moves forward to break down the benefits of breaking down the bird – knowledge of what is being eaten, culinary dexterity, and a sense of learning together. Pick up some poultry this weekend, sharpen your knives, and cut in.

  1. Please forward any jokes to the editor.
  2. All political analogies, again to the editor

Posted 19th August 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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