Amazon's Bananas

How do you read that? “Amazon is bananas”? Or “Amazon’s gone bananas”? Or maybe just plain “the bananas of Amazon”?

If you picked the last one, you’d be correct. This afternoon I walked by an Amazon building (there are dozens in Seattle, stretching from Lake Union north to downtown—small two story buildings to forty story glass behemoths, not to mention three geodesic domes melded together like soap bubbles).

Amazon’s Bubbles in downtown Seattle

Walking by one of the smaller buildings was a small shed with a homemade sign “Community Banana Stand.” Two people were sitting on chairs behind a row of wooden packing boxes filled with bananas. People walked by and took a banana. I had to find out what was going on. Besides, I was a little peckish myself.

I went up to the banana boxes and subtly looked around for a cash register. None in sight.

“What’s going on here?”

“We’re giving away bananas.”

“Gosh, how long has this been going on?”

“About a year and a half. We’re here every day giving away bananas.”

By then I was hooked. A million questions sprung to mind. Turns out they give away around 10,000 bananas every day, five days a week. Who knew? Certainly not me. I talked to the man and woman (called “banistas” of course) behind the banana boxes for about 10 minutes—it was midday on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr Day, and during that time probably twenty bananas found new homes.

I asked about un-given away bananas. What did they do with them? Once a week, people from the Urban Rest Stop come by and pick them up to make banana bread or muffins to give to their clients. The Urban Rest Stop is a wonderful local organization that provides showers and laundry facilities for homeless people. Most homeless people have jobs, about 70% by their count, and so need showers and clean clothes on a regular basis. The Urban Rest Stop opens at 5:30 am and runs to capacity until 9:30 pm on weekdays with slightly shorter hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

The guy giving away bananas also said he’s made banana sorbet or granita from some of the leftover fruit. Totally delicious, he said and as easy as mushing up a few bananas, freezing them in a jar and then breaking them up with a fork.

Googling around a little, I see that free bananas are not universally loved. The Wall Street Journal thought maybe local fruit and veg sellers would lose banana sales. Maybe this is just one more of Jeff Bezos’ campaigns for world domination. All this press, though, was from mid 2017—nothing more recent. The criticism reminds me of the excellent documentary Poverty Inc. about how donating our used clothing to the developing world prevents indigenous small businesses from succeeding. Not sure that exactly applies to giving away bananas in booming Seattle, but interested to learn more.

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