My father’s favorite pie was banana cream. I loved my father and there were very few sweets he liked, so I made banana cream pie whenever the occasion warranted. I made it with a macadamia-coconut crust, covered in a layer of fresh banana, filled with vanilla custard and freshly whipped cream and topped with more bananas.
This is not a guilt free pie. I’m not talking about calories; I’m talking about compassionate and gentle living.
The banana trade is problematic with its complex and dark history of social, political, economic and environmental challenges. It is is a prime example of corrupt multi-national corporations sacrificing human decency for profit and has its roots in western imperialism.
The cost of the average banana has barely increased in the last 20 years, but it remains the highest profit-bearing product in the American supermarket, solely responsible for nearly 2% of their annual income. It has remained so profitable because the five corporations that own 90% of the banana trade have been entrenched in Central and South America since before the turn of the last century. (Chiquita and Dole are the two American based companies.) They have been instrumental in the creation of land ownership, import/export, environmental protection and labor laws, designed entirely to their benefit. As a result, only 5 cents from every dollar spent on bananas in the US goes to the plantation where it is grown. The consequence is that workers earn wages keeping them in desperate poverty and this cycle begins legally when children are as young as 8 years old.
In addition, conventional bananas are grown using 400 different agrichemicals, most of which have been banned in the US. After being picked, they are then washed in yet more chemicals by workers with bare hands and arms who are often later diagnosed with aggressive cancers for which they have no medical insurance. Those same agrichemicals are also responsible for massive deaths of insects and mammals, leaving behind very little biodiversity. And because banana plants only bloom once, and because they deplete the land on which they are grown, every few years each plantation is abandoned and more land is deforested to start anew. And all that abandoned land erodes and is responsible for as much as 60% of the damage done to the coral reefs off the coasts of many of these countries. A coral reef, in case you don’t know, is a full eco-system not unlike a rainforest and equally necessary. The loss of a coral reef has considerable environmental ramifications.
I don’t want to depress you too much, but I will tell you that the banana isn’t the only worry associated with my dad’s favorite pie. Macadamia nuts are linked to child labor and currently there is only one fair trade farm. It’s located in Kenya and has recently harvested it’s third crop. Many of us are familiar with the agony of chickens on the American chicken farm from whom we get the eggs that make the base of a custard or the distress of the average dairy cow from whom we get our milk and cream, also necessary for any good custard pie. Sometimes I paint the crust with chocolate, but chocolate has a history of being grown and harvested using both child and slave labor. And all those ingredients tax Earth by being shipped hundreds of miles in diesel burning trucks before arriving in our kitchens. Diesel has direct implications for child asthma. Since 2001, new asthma cases among African American children have risen by 50%. Over 3 million Latino children have asthma. The asthma death rate is almost four times higher in African American communities than in white communities and children of color are more likely to have asthma because neighborhoods where people have less power, usually poor and black or Latino neighborhoods, are often designated truck routes.
It makes you want to stop eating pie.
Not too long ago, I made a banana cream pie for my congregation. I used fair trade bananas, vanilla and nuts. The eggs came from the chicken co-op I helped found at John Jay Homestead. The milk comes from another local co-op. The animals in both locations live naturally in open space. The wheat for the flour used in the crusts was grown by a small farmer in Pennsylvania who is a friend of a friend. It was an expensive and wonderful pie.
I allow myself the luxury of foods sourced from outside our region from January to May. I also preserve, freeze, dry and can food during the most bountiful months and use that during the winter and early spring. By June, I’m growing it myself or buying at farmers markets or local farms. It’s not the simplest way to live. One stop at A+P is much quicker. But, it’s the simplest way for me to live a values-based life. It’s the simplest way for me to model my principles for my son and it’s the simplest way for me to live gently on a planet taxed by over population and industry.
I do what I can. I bake pie using the most wholesome ingredients I can get. I do it so I can provide some fun and some comfort to my family or community without aggravating our fragile environmental position. I believe we can live gently, compassionately and joyfully if we chose. And we can still eat pie.