Usually in our blogs, we like to write about a scientific topic related to bananas, or share experiences from filming our documentary. This blog is a little different. It is a personal reflection on what being involved in this project has meant for me over the last few years, and what I think it means for my future. This is a deep dive into the mind of Mollie!
I was that kid who kept tadpoles in a tupperware box on the windowsill. At the age of 10, I even borrowed a friend’s pet stick insect so that I could take it to show and tell at school. So it was no surprise when in 2013, I found myself beginning a Zoology degree in London.
The degree totally reinforced my admiration for life of earth and my connection to nature.As part of the course, I got the chance to write about everything from mysterious deep sea jellyfish-like beings, to geckos, to mosquitos. The course was also a gateway to some beautiful places, both in the UK and abroad, to see life in the field. But it always felt like there was something missing. We spoke so much about certain problems - habitat deterioration, over hunting, climate change - but always seemed to skirt around the most obvious ones - over consumption, expectation of convenience, disconnectedness of people and nature. And we learnt about so few of the solutions. To me, it was always so clear that there is an inevitable feedback between human behaviour and the condition of our planet and its wildlife, but so often my learning experiences framed these two things as independent.
I left my degree in 2016 sure that I was in the right field of work and wanting to continue,but this time in search of a path which would allow me explore those overlaps between human society and nature. So I began a research masters the same October, choosing first to do a desk based project on forest restoration in brazil, and then later a project which used genetic methods to explore how a non-native (but very beautiful) newt species was spreading through in the UK. These projects were both heavily rooted in ecology and conservation, the disciplines I felt I should explore. But it was in December that this trajectory I had imagined for myself swung in a different direction, sending me instead instead towards food.
This swing in my future path all began in a student common room on a quiet campus near Windsor, UK, with something called ‘the banana pitch’. A woman called Jackie Turnerwas looking for a team of scientist film makers to join her on an expedition to Costa Rica to film the realities of the bananas industry. The realities of bananas? I was confused, I'd eaten them, kind of liked them, thought they were cool. Never once thought about them in the context of ‘industry’. She explained that bananas were grown across entire regions, and that people growing them had shared with her that they were starting to suffer from the levels of poison they were exposed to as a result of their work. But she was optimistic that these problems could be addressed and that there were farmers out there proving it could be done. I'll admit that at this point, this entire topic was completely new to me and I was skeptical, but it was a story I wanted to know more about.
The Bananageddon Team was put together and we wrote a grant application. A few months later in the following February, we got the confirmation that we had the money to make the film happen. It was on! We were able to make that expedition to Costa Rica in 2018 which allowed us to get the footage we needed to tell our, and so many others', banana story.
We were lucky enough to meet inspiring community leaders, researchers and banana entrepreneurs. I learnt things I never could have done from the UK. But what being involved in this film project meant for me spanned far beyond our 1 month of filming. Up to that moment in the quiet common room hearing the banana pitch, I'd never bothered to think about where the fruit in my fruit bowl came from. The answer seemed simple. It came from Tesco. Or sometimes maybe Sainsburys. But did it? I'd never challenged myself to go a step further back, it had never seemed relevant or important. What does awhole banana plant look like? How does a pineapple grow? What does a mango tree look like? How much water does a cashew need?
It was with the Bananageddon Team and through being involved in this film that my eyes were firmly opened to how food connects nature, wildlife, people and behaviour. Most, if not all, food comes from a plant. Food plants came from and are grown in nature, sharingspace with wildlife and people. We then buy and eat food, it becomes part of our body. What we want to eat impacts what is grown, how space outside is used, and how wildlife is affected. To me it is all a giant loop. I’ve been confronted with the reality of our disconnectedness with the food we place inside our bodies and then ultimately becomes part of us.
This project connected me with the people putting individual stickers on every single banana packed into a shipping box. The farmer who can tell the story of finding forest mammals dead on his property because of poisoning from pesticide used on a near by pineapple plantation. The hectares and hectares of land, once covered in virgin forest, now paved with bananas. The Londonders throwing away whole bunches of bananas because of a single brown spot. The companies benefitting from the overproduction of food, which also drives wildlife loss and climate breakdown, and ultimately our ability to grow food and feed ourselves in the future. It didn't make sense then in 2018, and it still doesn't now.
Our food system - how and where we grow the food we use to feed our global population - is responsible for 60% of all biodiversity loss. It is also responsible for about 25% of the emissions contributing to climate breakdown. We waste 30% of all food produced, yet access to nutritional food is a huge challenge for hundreds and thousands of people. There’s also obesity crises in many developed nations, and more and more people are leaving farming and moving to other forms of employment. And somehow a banana shipped from a plantation in Costa Rica costs less than an apple grown in the UK.
It seems clear to me that food - how we eat it, where it comes from, how its grown, how we treat the people who grow it and impacts it has on nature - is one of our most pressing challenges. It is the challenge that I have chosen to put my energy towards since 2018. We can't avoid catastrophic climate breakdown without fixing food. I was very lucky to find my banana pals and gain so much exposure by the age of 22, fresh out of university and at a cross roads in my career. It meant that now, on the eve of my 25th birthday, I find myself working in a position and with an organisation absolutely committed to transforming our food system and restoring nature. I'm at the beginning of my journey, but I wouldn't be here without bananas.