Some people are going bananas about bananas possibly going extinct.
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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

You may have heard that bananas are going extinct.

And it's sort of true: The banana as we know it is in danger. But that's also only part of the story.

To understand what’s happening with bananas today, we have to take a look at the bananas of years past ... because we’ve actually been in this situation before.


Years ago, the bananas found in grocery stores didn’t look or taste like the bananas we know now.

They looked like this:

The "original" banana: Gros Michel. Image via iStock.

By all accounts, those bananas apparently tasted better. Known as the Gros Michel strain, they were cloned and mass produced and shipped all around the world until their days as the reigning banana species were brought to an abrupt end. You know that deliciously sweet artificial banana flavoring that tastes nothing like a banana? Well, allegedly, that’s what the Gros Michel tasted like.

So, what happened? Why aren’t we still snacking on deliciously sweet candy-flavored bananas?

The Panama disease, a fungus that destroys any crop that’s susceptible to it, killed most of the supply, bringing the Gros Michel bananas to their knees more than a century ago.

With the Gros Michel banana near extinction, the banana industry went into a panic.

Farmers lost their crops and their livelihoods. The soil was tainted because of the Panama disease, so they couldn’t just start over.

But, luckily, there was a solution: One species of banana proved to be resistant to the Panama disease. It could be planted in the infected soil and would bear fruit — no problem. It was the Cavendish banana to the rescue.

The bananas we're used to seeing! The Cavendish. Image via iStock.  

The Cavendish banana is what most of us think of when we think of bananas.

While there are other varieties of bananas sold in local markets, many of which taste sweeter and are fun shades like pink and red, the Cavendish was the best bet for farmers because of its resistance to the disease. It’s not as delicious as the Gros Michel, but it would have to do.

The banana trade made a mistake though: They treated the Cavendish pretty much the same way they did the Gros Michel the century before. Instead of diversifying their banana production, they cloned just the Cavendish and ratcheted up production until the Cavendish became the most dominant banana in the market. Today, about 99% of the bananas consumed worldwide are of the Cavendish variety.  

But here’s the thing: Relying too heavily on one species of banana (or any other item, really) can be a mistake.

The red banana. Image via iStock.  

That’s called monoculture cropping — growing a genetically similar or identical crop without introducing any variants. And while it bodes well for production because it’s much easier to mass produce genetically identical crop, it also means that the slightest change can put the entire crop at risk. One disease can kill them all.

That’s what happened with the Gros Michel. And it’s on the verge of happening again today with our beloved Cavendish.

The adorably fuzzy pink bananas. Image via iStock.

A new version of the original Panama disease is back with a vengeance, and it’s targeting the Cavendish.

The situation is bad, but it’s not dire — not yet at least. While it feels a bit like a ticking banana time bomb, scientists and banana-breeders are on the case.

They’re trying to mate plants that are resistant to the new disease together, to create offspring that are more likely to make it if this situation repeats itself. They’re creating bananas that are built to survive.

And the farmers and economies that depend on the banana trade? They’re working to diversify their crop and to identify already-resistant banana species that can be grown in soil that’s been compromised by the disease. They’re not just waiting for a solution, they’re creating one.

The adorably tiny Lady Finger bananas. Image via iStock.

Our banana history may be repeating itself, but don't cry yourself to sleep just yet.

This time, we might be ready for it.

We’ve learned that doing the same thing over and over again will probably yield the same results, so we’ve got to change it up. Who knows, maybe in a few years, we’ll find a variety of delicious banana breeds in stores for all of us to enjoy snacking on.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."