Bananas

As the weekend approaches, my thoughts turn towards food. During this crisis the supply chain seemed to have broken down and reformed in different ways, so we are getting different varieties of vegetables. I keep hoping that green jackfruit and plantain appear one day. These staples of old times have disappeared from our plates. I was surprised to find, a few years back, a lady on a busy street in Chennai selling banana flowers (the red pods in the right hand corner) and stem (the white cylinders sticking out of the blue tray).

After rediscovering this photo, I tried to look up the history of banana cultivation. When we think of bananas, we believe that they are a benign product of nature. Not so. Bananas, like rice, wheat, and maize, are technology so ancient that we have forgotten the thousands of years of work that went into refining their ancient ancestors to the point that we can eat them. Bananas (mainly Musa acuminata) began to be domesticated more than 11,000 years ago. For a long time, it was cultivated and shaped in the islands of Southern Asia and Melanesia. A different species, Musa balbisiana may have been used in north-east India, Burma, and south China. Their mixing can be followed by matching genetics with linguistics. The words for this fruit differ in southern and northern India, indicating cultural exchanges with different parts of south-eastern Asia in prehistoric times. It is hard to imagine the wealth of deep history hidden in widely eaten foods. It is amazing how full of details the world is!

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