I’m pretty sure there’s no produce grocery stores love throwing out more than bananas. And as I have spent a significant fraction of my life inside grocery store dumpsters, I can say without an ounce of hyperbole that I have made fourteen million loaves of banana bread in my life. (Okay, fine: maybe one ounce!)
This being the case, I have kind of unwittingly become a connoisseur of banana bread over the years. This recipe is one of my all-time favorites, but it’s taken me an enormous amount of hemming and hawing to share it with you. See, I didn’t buy bananas for years and years and years, because I’d read all sorts of horrific things about banana plantations and just couldn’t justify it to myself. And even though I personally consumed loads of bananas retrieved from dumpsters, I didn’t feel good about promoting sales of an unethically sourced product by sharing this recipe. So before I get to it, I want to share a little bit of what precipitated my aversion to publishing recipes that call for bananas.
As you may already know, Chiquita Brands International is the leading distributor of bananas in the United States. But prior to the 1980s, the corporation was known as the United Fruit Company. That might ring a bell if you’re a fan of Pablo Neruda or Gabriel García Márquez, both of whom lambasted the American corporation for trampling on the backs of Colombians to get their hands on some cheap bananas nearly a century ago. Flash forward to 1998, when the Cincinnati Enquirer brought to light Chiquita’s engagement in a variety of human rights abuses, from exposing its workers to pesticides, bulldozing a Honduran village, “[suppressing] unions, unwittingly [allowing] the use of Chiquita transport ships to move cocaine internationally, and [paying] a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy.” And between 1997 and 2004, Chiquita made regular payments to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, paramilitaries designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., which they continued to make after having been explicitly told of its illegality by the Justice Department. In 2014, a lawsuit brought against Chiquita by family members of those murdered by Colombian paramilitaries was rejected; Chiquita argued that historically, the Supreme Court has “[limited] the ability of people outside the United States to sue corporations for human rights abuses in U.S. courts.” To say that I don’t find that argument “comforting” would be sugar-coating it.*
Of course, Chiquita’s not the only company in the banana game; Dole Food Company is a big player, too. I should point out that Chiquita and Dole control 80% of the world’s bananas, which I find completely alarming. In 2009, a Swedish documentary team produced a film, Bananas!*, investigating Dole’s use of dangerous pesticides on their banana plantations which Nicaraguan workers claimed damaged their health, after workers won a lawsuit against Dole in 2007. In 2013, OxFam New Zealand called on Dole to remove stickers from their bananas that read “Ethical Choice” until their treatment of workers in the Philippines improved.
Finally, I should point out that, despite the fact that bananas don’t typically appear on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, conventional banana production involves huge amounts of pesticides. While it’s great that a banana’s thick peel protects you from ingesting a lot of these pesticides when you eat them, workers on banana plantations (and the humans and animals who live near them, as well as the local environment) are not so lucky.
It does appear that Chiquita and Dole have made efforts to clean up their act as far as human rights go, in response to their dirty laundry being aired in recent years. Fortunately, I now live near a couple of places where I can buy fair trade, organic bananas, and I’m hoping that if you like and purchase bananas, you are also so lucky, and will give some serious thought to the toll dirt-cheap fruit takes on real live humans.** Yes, they’re pricier than conventional bananas, but as with coffee and chocolate, I firmly believe buying fair trade in this case is worth the expense. And at least where I live, they’re still cheaper per pound than any other fruit you can buy.
Phew. If you’ve read this far, thank you! You deserve to be rewarded with this recipe for my favorite banana bread ever. It’s soft, tender, and dense, with an even crumb, and lightly but warmly spiced. It is, in my opinion, pretty close to perfection.
- ¼ c plain, unsweetened vegan milk
- ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ c vegan butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 3 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1½ c flour
- ½ c whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¾ c walnuts, toasted and chopped
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Grease and flour a 9" loaf pan.
- In a small bowl, stir together vegan milk and vinegar. Set aside for a few minutes.
- In a large bowl, cream together vegan butter and sugar.
- Add bananas, vanilla, and milk mixture and beat.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flours, powder and soda, nutmeg, and salt.
- Add dry mixture to wet and beat just until all of the flour is moistened.
- Fold in walnuts.
- Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf comes out mostly clean.
- Slide a knife around the outer edge of the loaf to ensure nothing is stuck.
- Cool 5-10 minutes in loaf pan, then flip loaf out onto a wire rack and cool fully.
Also, bear in mind that the riper (more flecked with brown spots) your bananas are, the stronger the banana flavor will be!
*J/K dudes! Chiquita was just trying to protect their overhead, like any good capitalist would. Don’t forget: the real terrorists are vegans!