Peeling back the history of bananas

May 19, 2016

Peeling back the history of bananas

Dr Lorna Piatti-Farnell has today launched her book all about the history of bananas. Photo: Ellen Mackenzie

An Auckland associate professor’s love of bananas and popular culture has led to an unusual new book topic.

After years of research, Dr Lorna Piatti-Farnell has today launched her book titled Banana: A Global History.

The popular culture scholar from AUT said the process of writing the book was an “enlightening” experience.

“If we eat them so much and like them so much there must be a reason for that. If we include them in so many songs and TV shows there must be a reason for that,” said Dr Piatti-Farnell.

However, bananas are not just fun and games, and the book addresses some deep history of the fruit trade and the unfortunate “gory” side to the usually appealing fruit.

Dr Piatti-Farnell said it is important for people to understand their responsibility and relationship to the banana.

“Unless we actually go deep and make people aware, we run the risk of not only forgetting, but maybe one day losing this species, and if we want to save it and if we want to continue seeing it on our tables . . . then it’s important to look into it.”

Duncan Galletly, a member of the New Zealand Food History Society, said writing books on single food items is a popular trend. with books published on anything from potatoes to pavlovas in recent years.

Mr Galletly said the books are written to entertain and show that the history of food “is actually really interesting”.

However, Mr Galletly agrees the history of where our food comes from is important as well as entertaining.

“Food is so critical to us and to society . . . so how it has arrived to us is [also] critically important,” said Mr Galletly.

In an emailed statement, president of the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology, Anna Scott, said studying food provides a perspective of how far the world has evolved.

“The safety and the quality of our food supply is constantly improving: the ability to trace fruit back to the tree it was picked from is close to reality,” wrote Ms Scott.

According to Statistics New Zealand, Kiwis on average spend more on bananas than any other fruit, and New Zealand imports 18kg of bananas for every person each year.

After tackling the history of bananas, Dr Piatti-Farnell has now started work on her next project looking at the relationship between food and horror movies, and plans to explore the cultural history of poison.

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