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How GMOs Offer Unexpected Salvation from a Potential Banana Apocalypse

There’s more at stake than just fruit in the fight to stop a devastating agricultural disease.

Illustration by Tom Eichacker

In case you hadn’t heard the news, bananas as we know them are swiftly dying. As it turns out, those big, curvy yellow fruit we see every day at grocery stores are all cloned descendants of the Cavendish banana, a cultivar deemed hearty and productive enough to evade disease, travel the globe, and still net farmers a profit. Composing 99 percent of commercially exported bananas, these bananas are the archetype of agricultural monoculture. After their ascendance in the 1950s, the Cavendish held out well for decades, until back in the ‘80s disease finally caught up with the ubiquitous breed. Now an especially brutal sickness called Fusarium Oxysporum Tropical Race Four (or, colloquially, Banana HIV thanks to its incurable potency), a soil-borne fungus, is ripping through the genetically identical plants of the global Cavendish supply.

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Why Dr. Bronner's is on a Soapbox for GMO Labeling

Why Dr. Bronner's is on a Soapbox for GMO Labeling

[youtube]http://youtu.be/nm95vooWxx0

On November 5, citizens in Washington State will vote on whether to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Win or lose, The Washington Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act is driving the national push on GMO labeling in states around the country as well as at the federal level—just as the narrowly defeated Prop 37 in California did last year.

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When his grandmother died from diabetes, Ashel Eldridge, a 32-year-old Oakland-based educator with the Alliance for Climate Education, set out to educate himself about healthy eating. A Green For All fellow, Eldridge has combined his food knowledge with community organizing skills picked up from working with Alli Starr and Van Jones. "I started realizing that juicing was a way to get the Earth to the people," he says.

To reach the community, Eldridge takes his message directly to the streets by teaming up with Phat Beets Produce. "We're on 35th and San Pablo and we're serving juice," he says. "Some people are spitting it out and they're like, 'this is garbage, you need to put more sugar in it,' and so we have a conversation with them." Eldridge says they "tell them what's in it and why we didn’t put sugar in it, and really have an educational moment with the people." Eldridge—who's also the cofounder and health and sustainability coordinator of United Roots, a green-focused youth community center—isn't just giving boring nutritional lectures. "We do it with hip hop, we do it with culture," he says.

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