Bananas are the new roses

posted in: food 4

The carbon emissions from a single hot house-grown red rose are more than from 4 kilos of imported bananas, so I’m floating the idea of a dozen yellow bananas for next Valentine’s day.

I set off on this potentially romantically flawed/fatal tack thanks to a really good book by Mike Berners-Lee of the University of Lancaster.  The book is called, How bad are bananas? – the carbon footprint of everything and it is eye opening!

It sets out to put things in perspective, which is exactly what we wanted, so you can decide which environment-friendly changes are genuinely worthwhile and what, for you, is worth the carbon. There’s a nice story in his introduction about a friend who wanted to know whether it was greener to use paper towels or a hot air hand drier in the public toilets…. of the British Airways business class lounge at Heathrow.  Answer… compared with the flight, it doesn’t matter a fig.  Which brings us onto fruit.

Bananas, it turns out, spoiler alert, are a nutritionally excellent, very low carbon food despite having crossed the Atlantic, because they are grown in natural sunlight (no heated glass houses), are physically robust (can be densely packed), don’t require refrigeration on the journey and can take the slow boat not the fast plane, and they come in their own bright yellow, non-petrochemical, easily identifiable packaging.  Compare that to a dozen, long-stemmed red roses… in February!

Now, a red rose flowering in an English garden in June, fertilised with a good dose of manure or home fermented compost is a beautiful, fragrant, zero carbon, exquisitely romantic thing, but in February we have none.  So we get them flown from Kenya or from heated greenhouses in the Netherlands.  The Dutch flowers produce about 6 times as much greenhouse gas as the Kenyan ones because they are grown in artificially lighted and heated hot houses in winter.  It’s only commercial because the Dutch government subsidises the electricity!  The air freighting of the Kenyan ones is obviously bad and they are grown on land that could otherwise produce food and the demand for farm land is driving deforestation which is responsible overall for a huge proportion of man-made emissions.  The same problems apply to all out-of-season and imported  flowers.  Talking to our local florist about this he said he does have some British grown flowers when available, but when he labelled them with Union Jacks some of his clientele criticised him for being nationalistic!  Oh, come on now!

Anyway, it is definitely worth starting to ask florists and supermarkets for seasonal British flowers, or locally grown wherever you are in the world.  If we create a demand then we can keep romance and the planet alive.  In the meantime I’ll have a chat with Sue about the romance of the banana…. A banana by any other name would smell as sweet?


4 Responses

  1. Chris Baines
    | Reply

    A delightful piece of writing, and just the right kind of idea to catch attention.

    Of course bananas do have their own issues. Huge water consumption in production and grown in some inappropriately dry places. The banks of the Jordan would be one example. There is a need to diversify the genetic stock before the predominant single clone suffers a catastrophic failure, but in principle they beat glasshouse grown and air-freighted cut flowers hands down.
    The romance might be a bit harder to sell! Good luck.
    P.S. If you wonder what to do with a dozen bananas at once, chop and freeze them, and when you are ready, blend them into a brilliant dairy and sugar free icecream. No need to add anything at all. The texture and flavour are astonishingly good, and despite the freezing and the blending, this is still a much better environmental option than the mainstream icecream.

  2. Living Greener
    | Reply

    Thanks, Chris…especially for the dairy-free ice cream recipe. It might score more highly on the romance front round here than the original bunch of bananas. I shall add it to our greener food ideas.

  3. Suzy Williamson
    | Reply

    Ha, such a great read – loving the style and the content.

    • Living Greener
      | Reply

      Thanks, Suzy. Just putting the finishing touches to the sign up process and then we’re all ready to go!

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