Feeding Nova Scotia One Banana Box at a Time
By Jeff May
Made from thick corrugated fibre board, banana boxes are exceptionally sturdy, durable and well-travelled shipping containers that have been thoughtfully standardized by the global banana industry to come in one basic size, whereby six banana boxes make one perfect layer on a standard shipping pallet. Stackable up to six or eight layers to make a full palleted load, these tough cartons travel vast distances around the globe and hence must remain very stable during transport, as any damaged fruit will quickly start turning to waste. Although very basic in design, banana boxes have been aptly modernized over the years with various add-ons, such as the placement of holes into the panels for increased air-flow to make bananas ripen more evenly, while also allowing shippers to use less energy for colling the bananas. With bananas being one of the bestselling fruit varieties at most grocery stores, there are always plenty of banana boxes around to be reused to great effect. Here in Nova Scotia, and around the world, many grocery stores donate their boxes for use by charities mandated with helping economically disadvantaged communities deal with food insecurity. As a volunteer at the main Feed Nova Scotia warehouse in Dartmouth, N.S., I see all kinds of non-perishable food donations—coming in from multiple donors and covering the full range of foods and packaging styles—sorted into appropriate categories (soup, cereal, pet food, baking, etc.) and shipped out to the food banks and other agencies in need in stacked banana boxes, which are then returned to the warehouse and used again for next shipment—continuing the whole virtuous packaging reuse cycle. It would not surprise me if many of these boxes in fact log more mileage traveling around Nova Scotia than the distance to get here from Central America in the first place.
One of the interesting things about spending time in a place like this is constantly encountering some odd and offbeat packaging styles and formats that in some cases seem to belong to another age. Produced in Denmark, the canned Mario’s Cooked Ham brand is a throwback to the era when metal cans ruled the packaging universe. The process for canning food can be traced more than 200 years ago as a response to widespread food spoilages causing hunger among the masses, and bacteria from the rotting food spreading extremely nasty disease outbreaks. Although metal cans have become fairly standardized over the last few decades, prior to that there was no such thing as a standard can opener able to self-adjust to all the can surfaces and curvatures, which is why many of those cans came with their own opening metal twistkeys—spot-welded to the package for opening the contents along the designated metal tear-off strips etched into the side paneling. For the Mario’s brand of canned cooked ham, the opening twist-key is discreetly located on the backside of the 340-gram pear-shaped tin, with the front and sides used for displaying branding graphics and the required product information. While this is definitely Old School packaging to say the least, there is something oddly nostalgic and reassuring about this once prevalent opening device that, despite all the marvels of modern packaging, still has a place in contemporary food packaging design. With the recent steep increases in food prices, especially for fresh meat, canned food is now in some instances more affordable than the fresh variety, with the added advantage of remaining good to eat even after years of storage.
Single-serve ready-to-eat packages are also a common sight at the warehouse, with the 48-gram Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cups offering an especially inspired example of easy-made breakfast nourishment. One of the great features of this product is that is it can be prepared in two ways: using boiling water from a kettle or heating it up with cold water inside a microwave. This versatility makes it a natural one-the-go companion for either camping or an overnight stay at a no-frills hotel with no on-site food service. Each cup is securely enclosed with a high-graphics layer of peel-off plastic lidding for optimal food safety, and there is also a measuring line inside the cup marking exactly how much water to add. Ready in minutes regardless of the cooking method, Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cups come in a variety of flavors, each one boasting its own labeling color scheme to best match the contents. For its part, the iconic Quaker brand logo is clearly displayed in full glory both on the top and the front of the cup, with highly legible nutritional information and instructions displayed on the backside.
Oatmeal is a nutritious food that can be used in a variety of ways, with steel cut oats in particular offering a hearty combination of whole grains with plenty of fiber and carbohydrates for lasting energy throughout the day. In addition to standard breakfast oatmeal, steel cut oats are also a great for making bread, pies, meatless burgers, salads, you name it. Imported from Ireland by B&G Foods Canada, the McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal is a great product packaged in a round 793-gram canister topped with a snug press-in lid one would find on a tin of cocoa powder. The handsome aluminum tin has an attractive bronze hue to catch the eye, with the full-body wraparound white label—English one on side and French on the other—tastefully accented with same shade of bronze in the brand name lettering. With such elegant label design, the product looks nice enough on the kitchen counter that it doesn’t really need to be stored out of sight after use, and the high-quality tins could also be reused in multiple ways around the household for storing coins, nuts-and-bolts, and all sorts of other small trinkets best kept in one place.