Lots of folks emailed me news items on this. Japan has gone nuts for the "Morning Banana Diet," which promises to help you lose weight with this formula: you start in the morning with a breakfast of bananas and room-temperature water, then eat whatever you want - other than desert - the rest of the day. You can't eat later than six in the evening. you don't need to exercise, and people are going nuts. A half-dozen books on the diet have become best sellers, and the price of the fruit has shot up to over $3.00 per pound (more than quadruple what we pay in the U.S., and well over triple the average price in a Tokyo supermarket.)
The backstory? An opera singer told a talk show she'd lost over 30 pounds on the banana diet. The craze began from there.
Happy dieter, from a Reuters pic that accompanied a Time magazine story on the diet.
A spokesperson for Dole - the nation's largest banana importer (second largest in the world) - told Great Britain's Daily Mail that this was "the first time bananas have been so scarce. Right now, we are finding ourselves unable to meet demand."
There was an earlier banana diet craze, in 1995, that began with the U.S. release of a book called "The Amazingly Simple Banana Diet," by Clifford Thurlow (who also wrote a biography of Salvador Dali.) I couldn't find any details on the actual program, sadly, or whether Japan's morning banana regime was similar to it.
Does the diet work? Sure. If you eat fewer calories than you take in, then you'll lose weight. If you skip your normal breakfast, and substitute a banana; and cut out alcohol and desserts - both of which might reasonably be assumed to be part of the diet of a person who might want to drop a few kilos, you'll accomplish that goal. The books claim that the diet achieves weight loss through a lot of metabolic bunkum, which would be nice. In the 1920s, American banana companies hired armies of doctors to promote all kinds of health claims about the fruit, but even then, they pretty much stuck to the truth.
And even at three bucks a pound, you'll still save money, after you weigh the price of what you've foregone, versus the single banana you've slotted in per day.
To get a little serious: as I've said in the past, the price of bananas is key to the fruit's success - they are the cheap fruit. Things like disease and weather threaten to raise costs to point at which the fruit returns to its "genuine" state - an expensive, tropical rarity. I've advocated, as a solution to any future banana crisis, that importers look into providing a portfolio of banana varieties - as those same companies do with apples and citrus - that would diversify the crop and offer the fruit along a spectrum of tastes and prices. In its own ridiculous way, the Japan craze has proven that consumers will pay more for bananas if they that the fruit offers something more than just a partnership with corn flakes.