[Image: A nearly empty banana truck; photo by the author].
I had the pleasure two weeks ago of tagging along on a field trip led by Nicola Twilley, of Edible Geography, for a seminar she’s teaching this fall at Columbia’s GSAPP. Called “The Artificial Cryosphere,” the class is an extended look at spaces and technologies of artificial refrigeration, from morgues to ice cream plants, from sperm banks to indoor hockey rinks, from spacecraft testing rooms to the transportation needs of organ-donation networks.
The field trip itself started off early at a banana-ripening and fruit distribution warehouse in Queens, extending from there to one of the largest refrigerated food warehouses in the country and ending with a series of visits to semi-automated modified-atmosphere packing lines and other meat-processing facilities, complete with fat-covered chainsaws attached to the ceiling and mandatory hairnets.
Nicola has written up the first part of that trip, describing in detail her class’s journey through the architecture of banana ripening. “Nearly two million bananas pass through these ripening rooms,” we read on Edible Geography, “on their journey to New York consumers each week—a vital link in the largely invisible, highly specialized architecture of artificial refrigeration that has enabled the banana to become and remain America’s favourite fruit.” Much of this is about dissimulation, artificially inducing the fruit-ripening process using “pressurized, temperature- and atmosphere-controlled rooms that fool the banana into thinking it is still back on the plant in tropical Ecuador.” It is architecture pretending toward a condition of ideal nature.
Further, we learned how boxes of bananas are first designed—with holes in their cardboard boxes—and then stacked—in orderly aisles, leading to wall-sized fans that suck air through the room—so as to maximize ventilation, and that it is more or less an entirely nocturnal operation, with the warehouse only opening at 10pm. In particular, though, it’s hard to forget walking into the ethylene-dosing chambers with their massive 20′-doors, like something out of a story by H.P. Lovecraft, promising some strange and vaguely sinister vegetative presence on the other side.
[Image: The Lovecraftian doors of the banana crypt; photo by the author].
In any case, Edible Geography has a much longer write-up, and it’s well worth checking out in full.