It's ideal to eat local, just not always possible for lots of reasons. Nevertheless, bananas become a staple for us at different points in the year. At the moment, we're living in Costa Rica and pretty much living on the local bananas that grow in surrounding yards. We've lived in the tropics quite a bit and are used to seeing the amazing abundance of wild fruit here. Coconut trees all over, with tons on a single tree. It just rains mangos at peak mango season. Literally forests of mango trees, with thousands on just one tree and they come back every year. So I'm always surprised when I hear someone say, "well, the world can't support the way you eat", as they consume an animal based diet. I honestly never knew much of the statistics, but being in Costa Rica this time around really sparked my interest. Seeing the sheer abundance of local banana plants just growing in people's back yards, some with 200+ on just a single plant was inspiring. We can easily live just on what is in this small back yard for part of the year and after doing research, there can be hundreds and hundreds of bananas on a single plant.
I've since seen Cowspiracy, such an amazing documentary, which examines the below in more detail. Nevertheless, I still found what I compiled to be quite interesting. It's a high level look at everything, so we were as conservative as possible. I'm not recommending planting solely bananas by any means, but the below tells a compelling story that speaks volumes of the abundance of the plant world and the ability for our planet to provide for us. I'm sure many of you out there know a lot of this already. Although for us, we tend to be more surrounded by people that proclaim ignorant things quite frequently, so I guess we were inspired to share this based on that.
The power of an acre:
In just 1 acre of banana plants, you can conservatively feed 9 people for an entire year. Assuming 1,000 banana plants, 80 bananas per plant, 105 calories each and 2,500 calories per day. Clearly some plants yield more than others and while its common for bananas to have hundreds on one plant, I wanted to be as conservative as possible. Additionally, plants per acre were based on the lowest averages I came across (see sources below).
In 1 acre of grass-fed cows, you can aggressively feed 1 person for 4 months. Assuming a 1,200 lb cow, 490 lbs of boneless beef (after removing hide, head, bones, fat etc.), 1,150 calories per pound and 2,500 calories per day. This is based on very, very aggressive assumptions of 1.75 acres per head of cattle, where some farms can be well north of 10 depending on the weather, land history, grass quality/quantity and herd rotation (see sources below).
In other words, with 1 acre of land, even in the most ideal of grazing circumstances, you could conservatively feed more than 27x the amount of people with bananas than grass fed cows.
Now let's apply this to our little earthly domain...
For bananas, looking at the World Bank's % of arable land (essentially land you can grow food on) for 32 of the largest banana producers (excluding top producer, China, to be conservative, due to sheer size and climate diversity as well as tons of other tropical countries), you could feed 8.9 billion people each year on their 968 million acres. India alone could provide for almost half of the world, and from India, Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, Mexico, Thailand and Ethiopia, you can feed the entire world. And this doesn't include backyard plants that many families can sometimes live on. We'd still have loads room left over for other fruits and plants.
For grass fed cattle, to feed our 7.6 billion population, you'd need 21.4 billion acres or essentially 1.8x the World Bank's estimate for total agricultural land available on the planet (essentially land available to grow food and raise animals).
In other words, we can easily feed the world with bananas and fall significantly short with grass fed cattle, even with aggressive assumptions of 1.75 acres per cow and even if we dedicated 100% of earth's available agricultural land to them. All else being equal, hunger certainly need not be an issue. Not to mention, if we did use 100% of the agricultural land, there is the likely possibility of desertification of many lands, death to significant numbers of wildlife and the inevitable huge rise in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from deforestation, cow waste, farts and burps. Which also contributes to overall smelly disgustingness around the world.
What about the practical elements?
A lb of bananas at Whole Foods for Fair Trade, conventional is $.49/lb and $.69 for organic. Assuming 3 medium bananas per lb, 105 calories per banana and 2,500 calories a day, you can live on $27/week or $38/week for conventional or organic respectively.
It seems like prices average around $6.50/lb for grass fed ground beef (though typically $7.99/lb at Whole Foods). Assuming 1,150 calories per lb and 2,500 calories a day, you can live on $99/week.
In other words its 2.5-3.5x more expensive to live on grass fed ground beef than bananas.
When you eat bananas, you can dance around a bit. I mean like go bananas. Its exciting. You think of the tropics, monkeys, "ooh ooh, ahh ah", all that jazz. The earth just gives them away. You eat them, replant it and never take away from the planet. Seeing your food grow is just amazing! You feel awesome, alive, aware, energized. Your imagination is drawn to the beautiful plants, vibrant colors and rich flavors. It just seems like a more natural extension of ourselves.
When you eat 'beef', well, you don't dance as much. You might not be able to move all that much any how. It's just plain gross. Who wants to see where their burger or steak came from? I mean maybe you do, if you're a bit of a sicko. I know the extent to which factory farming is insane, makes grass-fed, free range seem somehow humane, healthy etc. But the lessening of madness, while distracting in the very documentation of progress, doesn't change underlying realities. It's still a dead animal and they certainly ain't tickling this animal to death. Sure, they show simple farmer John giggling with the cow, tucking him in, dancing together in the fields, playing the guitar for him and reading him bedtime stories. They can show anything that sounds nice. But there's no need for the fabricated and glorified re-enactment. Quite simply, they make a living cost effectively raising and killing cows. Everything else is just marketing, to distract consumers and repaint reality. If most ever had to put a knife to a cow's throat, they'd know that. Nothing bright and happy about killing and certainly nothing worthy of self-righteousness. Cows are just $$ signs to them, an input in their business. A life a fraction of their natural expectancy (perhaps 2 years when can live past 20 naturally) and of course the defined expiration date in the slaughter room. No natural life and certainly no natural death. No getting around this glaring fate. Blood, guts and getting to kill one of the most peaceful, serene animals on the planet, doesn't quite make you all that jazzed up to eat.
A colorful possibility
This banana madness is based on arable land for just 32 tropical countries and doesn't include the plants/trees in so many people's backyards. Nevertheless, we can still theoretically feed 1.3 billion in excess of our population. What's that mean? Well, perhaps Mama Earth is letting us know we don't have to enslave and kill, delude ourselves, destroy our beautiful home and be so fat and sick. It's a rather extreme example, but is telling nonetheless. Clearly we don't have to plant solely bananas. There is a whole vast world within the plant kingdom of vibrant colors and amazing flavors. Beautiful diversity coming up from the ground and dangling from the trees. We can plant all over, from backyards to balconies. Imagine, filling up on real things with real flavors. Running around, feeling alive and basking in the surrounding beauty. Showing pictures to people of how their food grew met with fascination and interest verses disgust and horror. Healthy, happy people on a vibrant, colorful planet living in harmony with all its diverse and beautiful inhabitants. That don't sound too bad and its ultimately up to us!
We used the following countries to calculate arable land for bananas: India, Uganda, Philipines, Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, Angola, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Burundi, Colombia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cameroon, Kenya, Egypt, Papua New Guinea, Dominican Republic, Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela, Jamaica, Malaysia, Cote D'Ivoire and Ethiopia