There’s more to socialism than standard yellow bananas

An internet debate is currently raging about what we would eat after a revolution in a new workers’ society. A tweet from author Malcolm Harris said that if banana‑producing countries became socialist they would “almost certainly reduce American consumer access to bananas and that is FINE.” Others suggest socialism would mean far more of the goods produced by capitalism—such as bananas.

Neither unzips the question. As Arun Gupta comments in his piece Bananas for Socialism, “Both sides think shitty capitalist food is all there is. They view socialism solely as a labour process rather than a social one that would transform everything from gender and healthcare to cuisine and culture.

“This narrow approach leads them to focus on the pitfalls of socialism instead of the enormous potential it holds for agriculture and food. A more fruitful approach than asking what socialism can tell us about bananas is to ask what bananas can tell us about socialism.”

Putting the internet rage aside, some 400 million people eat bananas for up to a quarter of their daily calories. There are more than 1,000 sweet and savoury varieties of bananas. But the “classic” Cavendish banana—curbed and yellow—accounts for nearly half of all bananas grown worldwide. And up to 99 percent of those eaten in the United States.

The most variation we can get is “wonky” fruit and veg—produce that doesn’t look like the imposed standard. Currently, monoculture food systems mean farming based on growing only one type of a crop at one time on a specific field. This leads to little genetic diversity, making food susceptible to diseases and pests.

So it’s not just bananas. There are more than 600 types of strawberries and 10,000 varieties of tomatoes—but we are fed a limited and dull range. Gupta adds, “The lifeless fruits and vegetables we find in supermarkets are the result of capitalist farming that breeds for size, yield, hardiness, appearance, longevity, and resistance to diseases and pests—attributes that select against taste.

“Produce that bursts with flavour tends to be smaller, more fragile, more perishable, and harder to store and transport.” As one industrial tomato grower points out, “I don’t get paid a single cent for flavour, I get paid for weight.” There’s little incentive for farmers to grow in anything other than disease-prone plantations up to 30,000 acres.

Farming on this scale gives way to a dependence on human rights abuses, child labour, and toxic pesticides. In Ecuador, ten-year-olds work for no money so that their parents’ pay isn’t docked. Socialism would end this exploitation. If food was grown for eating rather than as cash crops, farmers could have new priorities other than the shop shelves’ demand.

And it wouldn’t just be in the farmers’ interests. They could farm to improve soil and biodiversity. It would also reduce carbon emissions, and the use of artificial fertilizer and industrial pesticides. Farming, food and agriculture would be driven by the needs of people, not profits.

Rather than no bananas under socialism, there would be wider choice. Red bananas could become common. A new socialist society shouldn’t mean sacrificing the things we enjoy. After the revolution we deserve a treat. But socialism would mean being realistic about production and distribution. How will we sustainably transport goods around the world? Very low-carbon, sea-borne and rail transport are crucial to keeping the planet healthy.

That’s why the “dream” of everyone having three cars and flying in private jets would have to stop. Yet the solution isn’t necessarily to eat only locally seasoned and organic food, which is a luxury for many now. Decades and centuries ago eating only what was near you was monotonous and dangerous thanks to bad harvests. We don’t have all the answers now.

But socialism doesn’t mean having fewer bananas, or gorging on as many bananas as we can eat. It means a total transformation of society. It means living beyond the constraints of capitalism, with the freedom to think and plan collectively for the benefit of everyone. If that means leaving bland bananas in the world of the bosses, so be it.

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