Oberlin Blogs

Snow Falling on Peters

February 23, 2010

Alice Ollstein ’10

I don't know what happened between freshman and senior year, but I suddenly love the snow. I stop under streetlights to watch it fall. I enjoy bundling up to face the cold, buttoning and strapping myself into my huge trenchcoat (a hand-me-down from my grandma). I like the way our off-campus house looks and feels like a cozy winter cottage. Sitting in my living room sipping tea and reading Nabokov (easily my favorite class), I love watching snow start to fall in fat flakes outside my window.

I admit, it was a harsh transition from my Winter Term in Nicaragua, where I was sweating in my shorts, and not just weather-wise. It's hard to mentally merge my work on the trip with my work here at Oberlin. Thus, I've instituted what I call Nica Tuesday. Meaning, every Tuesday, essentially all day, I will work on things for the Nicaragua Committee. This began today, when I spent the morning wrangling with the SFC trying to get reimbursed for our trip from the funds we raised. I then scooted over to Tank Co-op for lunch, where I helped convince them to elect not one but two wonderful candidates to the committee. I then spent the afternoon preparing documents to hand out tomorrow, when our committee will have a voice in an event on campus food issues. My co-delegates and I drafted the following statement concerning bananas in the dining halls. We hope that the fact that the dining halls recently banned tomatoes because of worker conditions in Florida means that they will take our concerns seriously. Please share your thoughts! Enjoy.

We are the Nicaragua Sister Partnership Committee of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA). Besides continuing our work with the organized women in San Juan de Limay, Nicaragua, we would like this year to increase awareness within the Oberlin community about the role we play as consumers and global citizens. We want to recognize how our actions affect the people of Nicaragua, so we do not end up inadvertently harming them at the same time we are trying to help.

We are asking you to consider the presence of bananas in Oberlin's dining halls. Our committee would like to raise several issues with banana production.

•The search for an ethical banana is nearly impossible. As of 2007, the top five banana companies controlled 86% of the market. On their plantations in Nicaragua and other countries, these multi-national corporations generally do not respect the human rights of their workers. Workers are not paid a living wage for their labor. Companies impede their employees' ability to unionize to fight for better conditions. Banana workers often do not receive childcare benefits, so often the children must come with their parents into the fields. In addition, companies use dangerous, illegal pesticides like DBCP on their crops, exposing farmers to chemicals proven to cause sterility, cancer or death.
•In addition, banana production has environmental repercussions. Only one variety of banana is grown for export. Since this banana lacks genetic diversity, companies must counteract its vulnerability to diseases by using large amounts of chemical pesticides. Also, in order to plant bananas, surrounding rainforest land must be cleared. Getting the bananas from the equatorial region up to Oberlin also creates an enormous carbon footprint.
•Finally, it's important to consider the political consequences of United States fruit companies having such control over Latin American land and resources. Banana corporations have played a huge role in political atrocities in Latin America, such as the overthrow of Nicaragua's president in 1909, the Colombian banana strike massacre of 1928, and the 1975 Honduran coup, among many others.
•In the United States now, bananas are seen as common-place and necessary foods, but this perceptions is a result of marketing and propaganda from the companies. Bananas are an exotic, tropical species--an ecologically expensive luxury rather than a necessity. The "potassium argument" is moot: other, more local foods have lots of potassium, including oat bran, cucumbers, lima beans, potatoes, and beets.

When considering whether bananas should be present in the dining halls, keep in mind the power we have to vote with our dollars. It is different to buy bananas with your own money than to have CDS buy bananas with the money of all students. CDS buying bananas is like having every student endorse the way bananas are produced. We urge you to consider carefully the influence of your seemingly small decisions. We look forward to working with all of you to promote more ethical food-buying decisions.

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