The world’s favorite fruit, the banana, is an herbaceous perennial that may boast as many as 1,000 varieties, of which a fraction is consumed. Commercial production favors monoculture, from Gros Michel to Cavendish. Like many of the foods consumed today, only a small part of the plant’s edible and non-edible offerings are utilized.
New Orleans, Louisiana was historically the entryway for bananas to be shipped to the United States from Latin America. It was also home to the first banana giant, United Fruit’s, headquarters. The mark of the banana trade is visible throughout the city’s landscape, from banana stands to lonely single plants, to the former home of “Sam the Banana Man” or Schmuel Zmurri, which Tulane University presidents now reside in. Given the climate is sub-tropical, there is tremendous potential to grow preserve heirloom banana varieties. Even a few of these could produce a substantial supply of bananas for sale in the regional market.
Unfortunately, most of the local banana plants are suited only for cooking, decorative or bitter. The diversity of bananas is astounding, and there are delicious varieties suitable for cultivation in the urban South. Under threat of widespread banana decline to Panama disease, we have an opportunity to revive heirloom banana varieties in the sub-tropical urban South and create meaningful green jobs in economically depressed areas. Furthermore, we can build banana circles (permaculture guilds) that produce yucca or manioc, taro, sweet potato, lemongrass and citronella to fully utilize the resources. This model of a micro food forest builds soil fertility, stores ground water and requires no chemicals. Oh, and in the center of the banana circle, food scraps are composted. The banana circle will eat your “trash”!
The banana is an exceptionally nutritious and delicious food that is a versatile as it is ubiquitous. Fibers from the leaves can be used as food wrappers, woven into baskets, trays, thread, rope, furniture, etc. The flower or blossom can be treated as an artichoke, pickled, steamed, sautéed and eaten raw. The fruit’s culinary uses are well documented, but do try your hand at featuring them in preserves or crumbles. It is time to approach the banana, and all its glorious parts, as we do the carrot or beet. Let us fully use its offerings and take the opportunity to make a dent in food waste by feeding bananas the scraps of our tables.
For today, let's start with a simple banana-oatmeal energy shake:
Banana-Oat Energy Shake
Time: 5 minutes
1 ripe banana
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
splash vanilla extract
sprinkle of ground cinnamon
honey or other sweetener to taste
milk or other non-dairy beverage
Put liquid in the blender first. Add other ingredients and blend until smooth. Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top and add a swirl of honey if you like. Enjoy!
Using ingredients fully yields the best results. I learned to cook this way out of economic necessity and found it to be the most rewarding and nourishing way to approach food. It happenst to be the best for the planet too. These recipes are a tribute to my Italian grandfather who inspired the zero-waste philosophy by teaching me how to turn leftover polenta into lasagna.