Steve Chapman

As yet, these enemies have not gained a foothold in Central and South America, the blessed source of most of the bananas we eat. But plant pathologist Gert Kema of Wageningen University in the Netherlands told The Economist magazine that "it's not a question of whether it will occur there. It's a question of when."

We're at that stage of the horror movie when the teenagers in the remote house are partying, unaware of the killer ascending the basement stairs. You may want to cover your eyes.

Scientists are trying to find a version that is not only immune to these scourges, but durable and tasty like the Cavendish. Surely that can't be hard, since there are some 1,000 kinds cultivated around the globe.

Right -- and if the Taj Mahal collapses, India has other sights to see. "Consumers might turn their noses up at pungent varieties," notes The Economist. "Thin-skinned ones would not survive weeks in a ship's hold."

Some kinds have a tart flavor, some have a dry texture and some turn black when ripe. Anything different from perfection is imperfect.

Shaken by the possibilities, I contacted Wal-Mart, which is the world's biggest retailer and which sells more bananas than any other product, to find out whether it has a contingency plan for a banana famine. I was informed that the company has nothing to say on the topic.

Red alert: If this gigantic purveyor refuses to disclose how it will satisfy consumer demand for its most popular item, maybe it actually won't. And maybe no one else will either.

So the bananas we all know and love could someday vanish from stores. If you want to eat the last one, go right ahead. Right after you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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