The Politics of Fruit

I have been editing the fruit chapter of my book. It looks at the politics of fruit through the banana lens. The banana is perhaps the most political fruit of all with a long line of corporate imperialists peeling off the profits. But the banana industry cannot lay claim to all the rotten apples. There is plenty of politics in the rest of the fruit world. In pineapple regions like the Philippines and Costa Rica, more and more land is being taken up to grow pineapples. Workers and the environment suffer from the chemical exposure. With less land to grow other crops, the communities have to buy expensive imported food. Labour abuses are common too. Dole, one of the world’s largest exporters of fresh and processed pineapple, has used intimidation to weaken unions. From the 1990s, the company replaced over two thirds of its workforce in Costa Rica with contract labour to evade any responsibilities for basic employee benefits. In recent months Dole has finally agreed to stop its union-busting.

And then there’s the forbidden fruit. In his book, The Fruit Hunters, A story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession. (Scribner, 2008) Adam Leith Gollner tells the secret history of the Miracle Berry, a cranberry like fruit and natural sweetener from West Africa. Chew on this fruit and then for the next hour, anything sour you put into your mouth will taste sweet, even limes! The fruit was banned by the FDA in the 1970’s. In the 60’s an entrepreneur named Robert Harvey created a natural sweetener with the berries. The tablets were perfect for diabetics because they didn’t metabolize as glucose, cancer patients had their taste buds reactivated and kids loved miracle fruit popsicles more than regular ones. All that consumer attention got corporations interested. Harvey turned down many lucrative offers. But the artificial sweetener sector felt threatened. And lo and behold, just before Harvey was to officially launch his product, his offices were raided by industrial spies. His files were stolen, he was followed, there were late night car chases. The FDA then declared that the sweetening ingredient in the berry, called – ˜miraculins’ could no longer be used as a food additive. Oh and a by the by, Donald Rumsfeld (former Secretary of Defense during the Bush Administration ) was CEO and President of G.D. Searle at the time, the pharmaceutical company that made aspartame.

In an interview with Democracy Now, Gollner also speaks of the deal that went down between India and the U.S. It was basically a trade of mangoes and nuclear technology. Indian mangoes hadn’t been available for years due to concerns over importing pests. But the U.S. wanted to sell India its nuclear technology as badly as the Indians wanted to sell their mangoes, so the deal was made.

And in the great corporate hutzpah department – “ a French company attempted to trademark the smell of strawberries in 2005 and fortunately failed.

For more info on the political shenanigans in the tropical fruit world, check out Banana Link.

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