Tally Me Fair Trade Banana

Harvard students should demand that HUDS add progressive agriculture to its menu

Since their arrival in the first American food stores this January, Fair Trade bananas have carved out a niche among consumers in the United States who are dedicated to buying socially responsible fruit. Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), the certifier behind all Fair Trade products, ensures that all the small farms and plantations from which it buys bananas give their workers a fair, living wage and grow bananas without pesticides, using safe environmental practices. It passes the extra costs on to consumers.

In short, FLO is able to pay a premium to promote progressive environmental, agricultural and labor regulations in Third World countries by capitalizing on consumer demand for socially-conscious food. As socially-conscious consumers, Harvard students should embrace the principles behind Fair Trade bananas, just as they have already embraced Fair Trade coffee, and demand to make these bananas a permanent fixture in the dining halls.

Thanks to a joint project between Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) and the Harvard Fair Trade Initiative, students gave Fair Trade bananas a try last Friday. Though their peels were often less-than-pristine, the moist bananas inside were tastier than their chemically-enlarged rivals. Social consciousness never tasted so good. With good flavor and impeccable credentials, Fair Trade bananas would seem to be a lock for all HUDS facilities.

But as with all certified products, Fair Trade bananas cost significantly more. Though HUDS officials will not reveal exactly how much, at the grocery store bunches of Fair Trade bananas cost up to 50 percent more than normal bananas. With over 105 tons of bananas flowing into Harvard stomachs a year, this cost increase will not be minor. Detractors say that Harvard could do more by donating this cost difference outright to an non-governmental organization or other charity organization.

What Harvard should do, however, is address student demand. FLO exists because there are consumers in the world who are willing to pay more for the peace of mind caused by the knowledge that the products they buy are produced responsibly. Harvard students should make a stand for sustainable development, a living wage and workers’ rights in banana-growing Third World countries by demanding Fair Trade bananas. Just as Harvard’s adoption of Fair Trade coffee spurred other colleges to do the same, our adoption of Fair Trade bananas could have a huge effect on widening Fair Trade’s niche.

At a time when new diseases menace the very survival of the Cavendish variety of banana we eat every day, responsible production is the only sure way of guaranteeing that the next species of consumer banana doesn’t meet the same fate. Harvard students should do their part in the global fight for progressive, sustainable and responsible agriculture by insisting that Fair Trade bananas join their Mountain-grown, caffeinated coffee bean cohorts in all Harvard dining halls.