Are You Eating Real Food? : Exclusive Article by J. E. Williams

Friday Jul 27 | BY |
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Juicy, tasty, succulent tomatoes…not likely you’ll find these in your grocery store.

When large-scale commercial farming became the dominant form of agriculture for the developed nations, mono-cropping was king. Immense areas of land cultivated with one crop, aggressively farmed to exclude all other forms of plants including weeds and companion plants, and heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, created the landscape of lush foliage and the setup for wide scale plant disease.

It’s not that scientists didn’t believe that God created nature and plants, including vegetables and fruits. It was that they thought they could do better.

The Development of Non-Foods
To scientists, the key to finding a solution to pests and disease that plagued mono-cropped farms was to create hybrid plants. The world’s scientific community, corporations, universities, and governments rushed at the opportunity, and by the mid-1930s, the first generation of hybrid foods emerged.

Cross-breeding, the elementary form of hybridization, was a start. Next came breeding in selective traits like color and sweetness, and disease resistance. The Cavendish banana was the first experiment with selective breeding on a grand, global scale. That big yellow perfect long fruit that dominates the fresh food section of your local grocery store, in time, was transformed from a humble wild banana, into sterile, sexless commodity.

Humans had been breeding plants for millennia, but not until the modern era did they do it in spectacular ways. The success of the Cavendish created Latin American “banana republics”—nothing to do with the clothing store of the same name—and spawned a rush for other perfect foods that looked great, shipped well, had fantastic eye appeal, and sold millions. Enter the era of what I call “non-foods.”

Cloned Bananas
In 1944, Standard Fruit introduced the Chiquita banana jingle, that perky, sexy Latina cartoon character that was to become the identity of the hybrid Cavendish. Later, bananas were bought because they were touted as being packets of pure potassium. That’s only partially true, but made for another great marketing campaign. A medium banana has about 422 mg of potassium, just a pretty good source of potassium. Not that sensational. It has about the same potassium content per calorie as a potato, and a serving of coconut water has 650 mg.

The banana industry was the first commercial success, but other foods were to follow. Grains and potatoes, apples and oranges, and the common tomato were targets of intensive hybridization. This was all before the era of genetically modified foods. The fruits and vegetables you see and buy today are the results of science and specialization.

Real, native bananas are small, slow to ripen (asnd when they do they spoil fast), and are sour tasting and very starchy. In traditional cultures where bananas are native, they are mainly used for cooking. In tropical countries, cooked plantains—a large green non-sweet banana—is a staple food. The kinds of bananas that are eaten raw are firmer fleshed than their modern commercial cousins, have lots of small seeds, and are tart tasting with a hint of sweetness. The commercial Cavendish is seedless, and no seeds means no fertility. You can’t grow a banana plant from a store bought banana. So in commercial production, bananas have to be cloned.

Organically Grown Foods are Much Different
Cuba, from where I returned last week, is a lesson in organic, locally grown, non-genetically modified, heritage variety fruits and vegetables. Bananas are grown in small family plots all over the periphery of Havana, the capital city, and every one has different varieties hanging in their kitchens. Most are used to make tostadas, mashed fried banana cakes. When ripe, they slices are fried, the heat brings out the sugar, into maduros fritos. And, sometimes, little finger-sized bananas are eaten raw.

Despite all efforts to make a perfect fruit, bananas haven’t cooperated without a fight, and disease remains a major problem. However, as scientists continue to develop banana biotechnology including genetically modifying them to contain extra quantities of vitamin A and crossing them with radishes and azaleas to resist disease, more and more consumers have become unnerved. Increasing numbers of shoppers shun the Cavendish banana and other overly hybridized and GMO foods. Scary stuff, for sure.

Tomatoes have much the same story, as I wrote about in a previous blog: flavor was sacrificed for a uniform red color, firm flesh that holds up during shipping, and a long shelf life. In Cuba, tomatoes are reddish green, full of pith and seeds, and flavorful.

Seek Out the Real Food
It’s good to know your food. The mantra is organic, seasonal fresh, and locally grown. If you want real food, remember to look for heritage varieties. Get used to the difference in taste. A real banana is not going to be sugary sweet, for instance. And don’t get caught up in looks: a real tomato won’t be perfectly round, uniformly sized, and red all over.

The United States does not have well-defined regulation for the growing, distribution, and research of biotech crops and foods. Few countries even bother. Cuba, however, cares and has restricted the growing, importation, and sale of all GMO foods and plants.

The genie is not yet out of the bottle. But, we’re very close. With estimates in the United States of more than half of all processed foods we consume containing GMOs, it’s important to be a wise consumer. And when possible, grow your own or buy fresh, locally grown, non-GMO heritage varieties: real food.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Jim Purcell says:

    For those of us who prefer to eat our bananas raw rather than cooked, some USA available options, including cultivar names, would be helpful. I do consider Cavendish to be a real banana,as it is not a GMO, but that does not mean it is a nutritional powerhouse. What about apple bananas? Cuban reds? Ice cream (blue Java) bananas? In a world more concerned with nutrition, there would have already been many studies done comparing the nutritional benefits (including anti-oxidants and immune stimulants) of different banana cultivars. If these studies are out there, I am unaware of them.

  2. sue says:

    A Cuba Community? Coming Soon? Love it!


  3. sandra york says:

    in my country which is bermuda the bananas are small but very sweet. i have a few trees in my yard. the banana trees in my country grow wild.

  4. zyxomma says:

    J.E., love the article, but I have to correct you. Cavendish bananas have not been around for a LONG time, having been replaced by the Gros Michel or Big Mike, which is the plantation banana du jour. Now, food scientists are looking to replace Big Mike, because so much glyphosate has brought about a root fungus that’s spreading like banana plague.

    Apart from that, great article, and I wish you health and peace.

  5. Lourdes says:

    Just in case (for anyone reading this who may be less familiar with this subject): please don´t make the mistake of thinking that what happens in Cuba is in any way “progressive.” It’s natural to grow food wherever you can if you don’t know where your next meal will come from. The reason the agriculture is pre-industrial is because Cuba has been at a standstill for decades (think of all those Havana photos with the old cars…it’s not because they are “vintage,” it’s because they were never replaced).

    Forgive me if this clarification was not needed, but in my experience, it usually is.

    (My parents were Cuban and I know hundreds of Cubans who live in the U.S., Europe, and still in Cuba today)

  6. Goodie says:

    I for one am very disappointed for what passes as fruits and veggies for sale in grocery stores today. I’m not THAT old but remember really great tasting strawberries, apples, plums, peaches, tomatoes, etc. I don’t even bother with the peaches and plums because they are always hard as a rock and have never ripened for me no matter what I try. If they are more ripe in the store they don’t have any flavor. I have been shopping more at a Whole Foods store and farmer’s market but I don’t have access to a lot close by or with a lot of variety. I’m planning on starting a garden next year…hope to be successful. The info on bananas was very interesting cuz I had no idea. Thanks Kevin!

  7. Mango says:

    I am indeed fortunate to be living in S.E. Asia for the most part, where a banana tastes like a banana did when I was a child, as do tomatoes, pineapples,eggs,and the rest.

    It is of course a 3rd world economy and the farmers that produce these foods are very poor and cannot afford fertilizers etc.

    The fact is that if there was more money here then there would be more chemicals, and that would be the end of real foods. Sad but true.

  8. carvacrol says:

    Mango – I also live in Thailand and I know for a fact that they use lots of pesticides. In fact there was an article in one of the national newspapers a week or two ago about how most of the major supermarkets had been selling food with pesticide levels way over the limits allowed. And they also use pesticides that are banned in the US and Europe. Thai people are always telling me to wash all my fruit and vegetables because they are covered in chemicals.

  9. LynnCS says:

    Good article and discussion. I love, love, love bananas, however, I tried eating a majority fruit/bananas for awhile and got some really bad sugar spikes and hypoglycemic reactions. I am older and may not be a person who can be that extreme. I am leveling out now by backing off the fruit. No bananas for now. My A1c test is ok, so no diabetes. I want to keep it that way so low fat, as well as low sugar for now. I also am learning about the triglycerides that are formed by eating fructose, (any sugar too) which if used, is stored. I suspect it is a problem in developing a lot of belly fat in spite of losing weight. I need to do whatever it takes to eliminate this dangerous/unhealthy type of fat from my body. No matter how much exercise is done, it won’t help if I’m continuing the habits that create it. There is so much support for the raw, mostly fruit, plan, that it is hard for me to feel I am getting the best information. I did some extensive research and, for now am backing off the fruit.

    I wouldn’t be surprised that the hybridizing has a lot to do with the excess sugar in the fruit to make it more appealing to us unsuspecting consumers. What they don’t understand is we are getting smarter. Thanks so much for the great blog. I really needed this right now.

  10. LynnCS says:

    line 7 should say which if not used.

  11. R F says:

    I also have pretty much given up on peaches; they seem to be for the most part just a waste of money, even though I shop at large well known & smaller local natural foods stores. The peaches are hard as rocks & never really seem to ripen properly but rather they just rot. On a more cheerful note though, I’ve been wanting to taste watermelon again for years now but absolutely refuse to buy the yucky pale seedless varities that had been the only kind available here in Southern California. Last week Co-Opportunity in Santa Monica had for sale real watermelons with black seeds & drippingly succulent & flavorful deep red color inside (they sold quickly). YUM!!! I ate some & also blended some up with some good water in the Blendtec, including some of the seeds & rind (think I also added some romaine. It was super refreshing. Hooray for real food! Thank you for this article.

  12. Kira says:

    About tomatoes… Friend of my family came back from US when I was a child (more than 20 years ago) and he was shocked when he saw Americans eat tomatoes that doesn’t smell and that don’t have a taste of tomatoes (of anything) at all. We called those plastic American tomatoes. (As “we” I mean south-east Europe).
    Now, for 10 years “we” are eating plastic tomatoes. And this is our national shame, and all other Mediteranean countries.

  13. Wendi says:

    Great artical and an important point. So much of our food has been altered in ways that is designed to sell it not for your health. I think that it’s important to remember when people are looking for a lower sugar option of what exactly is a fruit. Cucumbers are a fruit and contain a good amount of vitamin C so are peppers, (just get ripe ones, most peppers when ripe are not green). If your trying to keep your sugars down these are by far a better option on daily basis than bananas.

  14. Sazzu Hope says:

    I grew up in Cuba until I was 12 and loved the food that I grew up eating. These days the variety is much more limited over there but it´s true that a lot of people tend to grow their own food. They also grow their own animals to eat (mostly pigs and chickens because red meat is banned). Tomatoes in Cuba taste 10x better than here. Also the fruits that you get are juicier and sweeter. Maybe I´m biased because that´s the fruit of my infancy and have the best memories about it but you can´t clone taste! Especially mangos, guayabas and cherimoyas…yum!

  15. Em says:

    Thanks so much. Reading this makes me want the manzana bananas I got in Honduras and I think in Costa Rica too. They are delicioussssss 🙂 🙂

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