“Yes! We Have No Bananas”: Cultural Imaginings of the Banana in America, 1880-1945
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My dissertation project explores the ways in which the banana exposes Americans’ interconnected imaginings of exotic food, gender, and race. Since the late nineteenth century, The United Fruit Company’s continuous supply of bananas to US retail markets has veiled the fruit’s production history, and the company’s marketing strategies and campaigns have turned the banana into an American staple food. By the time Josephine Baker and Carmen Miranda were using the banana as part of their stage and screen costumes between the 1920s and the 1940s, this imported fruit had come to represent foreignness, tropicality, and exoticism. Building upon foodways studies and affect studies, which trace how foodstuffs travel and embody memory and affect, I show how romantic imaginings of bananas have drawn attention away from the exploitative nature of a fruit trade that benefits from and reinforces the imbalanced power relationship between the US and Central America. In this project, I analyze the meaning interwoven into three forms of cultural production: banana cookbooks published by the United Fruit Company for middle-class American housewives; McKay’s dissent poetry; and the costumes and exotic transnational stage performances of Baker, Miranda, and also the United Fruit mascot, Miss Chiquita.