allen wells
Conclusions: Dialectical Bananas
Lscholarly
atin America’s integration into the European and North American econo-
mies has been a recurring theme in the historical literature. Typically,
studies have gauged the evolution of a nation’s economy, a
particular region’s economic development, or the growth and / or decline of
a specific sector of a national economy. Recently, however, historians have
found that the cross-cultural study of commodities has helped them test—in
ways that more traditional approaches elide—fundamental assumptions about
Latin America’s ties to Europe and the United States (Roseberry, Gudmund-
son, and Kutschbach et al. 1995; Topik and Wells 1998; Mintz 1985). Commodi-
ties were distinctive in respect to their capital, labor, and technology require-
ments, and that had significant implications foran export sector’s vulnerability
to price fluctuations, whether ownership would be foreign-owned or domes-
tic, if ownership was highly concentrated or diffuse, and whether the product’s
cultivation and processing was labor-intensive or not. And, as studies like this
one signal, each commodity charted a distinctive path in different settings.
At first glance, bananas appear to fit the classic pattern of food staples that
first found their way from tropical plantations to European and North Ameri-
can dining rooms during the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century ex-
port boom. High in carbohydrates, vitamins, and calories, the inexpensive ba-
nana, along with sugar, coffee, and cacao, helped satiate the industrial world’s
appetite and thirst forexotic foods. Like its sweet and stimulating counterparts,
this seasonless fresh fruit initially sparked vigorous competition among an ar-
rayofforeigncompetitorswhomarshaledtheirassetsandinvestedconsiderable
capital,technology,andknow-howintheregiontofirstobtainandthenprotect
market share. These ambitious foreign entrepreneurs built ports, roads, and
railways to get their products to market, cleared wide swaths of virgin lands in
frontier regions, helped transform land and labor into monetized commodities
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