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The Artificial Cyrosphere of Bananas (and A Proposal for a Cooking Show)
Banana Distributors of New York

Nicola Twilley, of our Future Plural partner site Edible Geography, recently visited one of the few banana ripening facilities in New York City. She has a great write-up of her behind-the-scenes tour.

[I]n order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.

What this means is that ripening must then be artificially induced, in a specialized architecture of pressurized, temperature- and atmosphere-controlled rooms that fool the banana into thinking it is still back on the plant in tropical Ecuador. New York City’s supermarkets, grocers, coffee-shops, and food cart vendors are served by just a handful of banana ripening outfits — one in Brooklyn, one in Long Island, a small facility inside the main Hunt’s Point Terminal Market, and our field trip destination: Banana Distributors of New York, in the Bronx.

As always, it's fascinating to read about the oftentimes hidden landscapes where our foodstuffs are subjected to temporal and spatial displacements. So if you haven't read this one example of aberrant tropicality yet, go check it out.

Banana Distributors of New York

Which leads us to an idea we have for a cooking show. Every episode would be devoted to just a single dish, which a chef would prepare just like Martha Stewart would in her syndicated daytime program, from the washing and measuring of the ingredients to their elegant presentation on the plate.

However, in between the peeling and chiffonading or while waiting for the sauce to reduce, the chef, like a news anchor, would introduce one of the show's many intrepid edible geographers who have tracked down the journey one of the dish's ingredients had (most probably) taken. These segments will not be of the historical sort. The origin of the dish will not be traced, and there will be no biographical profiles of the famous person who popularized it. Instead, they will concentrate on its constituent parts and their (more or less) recent pasts.

Say it's a pork dish. Where was that pork sourced? From an organic farm cooperative on a former bramble patch in an inner-city neighborhood devastated by foreclosures, butchered by an architect who changed career after one too many nights spent at the office, in his pop-up abattoir? Or was it clandestinely imported from China's strategic pork reserve? All the ingredients will be covered, in short or long form, and that includes the salt, in whose segment the correspondent might be shown skiing down gigantic salt mountains or interviewing a salt farmer in Vietnam.

The dish doesn't have to be fancy. It could be something as prosaic as a salad — which, of course, won't be that ordinary in this cooking program, as the vegetables might have been grown at Thanet Earth or cultivated by the salad slaves of Spain or even flown in from the prime farmlands of Ethiopia land-grabbed by Saudi Arabia.

If there's a banana in there, then Nicola Twilley will be hired.

In other words, the show will be like Julia Child crossed with Frontline.
  • Dave Y
  • December 2, 2011 at 5:40:00 PM CST
  • Believe it or not there is a children's show in Britain that more or less does what you're describing. Big Cook, Little Cook ( always sends Little Cook away on his magic flying spoon for some missing ingredient and he has to discover where it comes from and how it is made.

  • Georgia (local ecologist)
  • December 2, 2011 at 8:29:00 PM CST
  • How about crowd sourcing the cooking show?

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