This shit is bananas.
While most reporters aspire to focus on hard-hitting stories that strike a deep nerve with their readers, sometimes, especially early in their careers, they wind up with the fluffy stuff. Some days, you cover crime and corruption, and some days, as National Post employees found yesterday, you discover how many processed cheese slices will slide down your esophagus.
And sometimes, as veteran columnist Christie Blatchford discovered in the late 1970s, you’ll have a lengthy assignment which drives you bananas with bananas.
Blatchford began her career as a part-time copy editor at the Globe and Mail while attending Ryerson. After winning the Joe Perlove Scholarship for leading her class in 1973, the paper hired her as a full-time sports reporter. “When I worked at the Globe,” she recalled in her collection Spectator Sports, “I was perfect for it—young, earnest, and horrifically self-important.” Within a few years she gained national attention for being a female sports columnist.
Then she jumped ship.
“After three years, I went into a snit when a copy editor dared to mess with my pearls of wisdom, and quit in a huff,” she observed. “I was also, I think now, a little lonely; being one of a handful of women writers was interesting, but after a few years it was also isolating and unnerving.”
Moving over to the Star in October 1977, she became one of the paper’s busiest reporters. “For the next four years I was the Princess of Death, everywhere people were dying in numbers greater than three, there I was, ghoul with a pen.”
But sometimes a reporter needs a change of pace. In mid-July 1978, Star fitness columnist Allan Scott discussed a diet employed by French women’s gymnastics and ski teams. Three weeks prior to a major competition, the athletes undertook a week-long dietary regimen composed primarily of bananas, with low consumption of fluids. Over seven days, they lost between seven and 15 pounds each. Scott ran a test group of 16 people divided evenly between males and females. Similar results prevailed. Having undertaken the diet several times, Scott recommended a week-long regimen for those already in good health, accompanied by nightly half-hour strolls.
We imagine that, in an era of fad diets ranging from gorging on grapefruits to restricting calories, somebody at 1 Yonge decided to have a reporter try the banana method.
On the front page of the July 25, 1978 family section, a puffy-cheeked Blatchford posed with two bananas. She had quit smoking three weeks earlier, replacing cigarettes with a weight-gaining toffee habit. For the next week, Blatchford provided daily progress reports.
Day One: Blatchford devised several recipes to break the monotony of eating so many bananas, such as microwaving them with a dash of paprika. She suggested that, psychologically, they were the ideal fruit to diet with because they were as slender as fashion models.
There’s only one problem with the Banana Diet. Banana breath. I’ve been on the diet for a mere day, have eaten just six of the 24 yellow devils I’ll consume this week, and already I reek of banana. The inside of my mouth is dry, chalk-like, and, well, banana-y. Even friends who don’t know about the diet recoil when I get too close to them. They leave, urging me to start smoking again so at least they’ll be able to identify the source of the foulness.
Day Two: While shopping at a Bloor Street fruit market, Blatchford was nearly overcome by temptation.
Immediately, I sought out the day’s supply of bananas. I found them, right beside some of the wettest green grapes I have ever seen…I felt an overwhelming urge to seize the grapes and run—or at least mash them so no one else could taste them. Later, in the privacy of my own home, I cried. I also drank both tears.
Two important tips regarding the evening walk: do it in the country (to avoid the temptations of bakeries and pubs); and don’t do it in the rain (“The urge to lie down on the sidewalk with your mouth wide open to catch the drops as they fall is irresistible”).
Day Three: At her first weigh-in, Blatchford discovered she had lost seven and a half pounds. She lamented how the diet wrecked her social life, from skipping parties to receiving glares for chomping an apple at a movie theatre.
Worst of all was her sense of self-pity.
I felt so sorry for myself, so deprived, that I took up the weed again. I also sneaked two extra glasses of water into my parched body. I felt so guilty about all that I went on a punishing two-hour walk in my highest-heeled shoes. I was so weary I felt even sorrier for myself. You cannot win. You will, it’s true, be able to fit into dresses you could not do up last week. You will, however, have nowhere to wear it. No one will invite you anywhere.
Day Four: The series prompted more than 100 calls a day to the Star’s switchboard. One reader wrote a song about the Banana Diet, while others offered more facts about the fruit than anyone in the pre-internet age cared to know. “In four short days of writing about the Banana Diet,” she observed, “I have learned one thing—no Banana-face is an island unto herself. There are hundreds of you out there, Banana-faces all.”
Grocers across the city reported a spike in banana sales.
Day Five: “I cannot look another banana in the face.”
While she was supposed to down six bananas that day, Blatchford ate only three. The rest lurked in her fridge. “Bananas do not make graceful or magnanimous winners. In truth, bananas gloat.” As much as she wanted to quit, she had to respect the promise made to readers. While grocery shopping with her husband, the cashier recognized her and, looking at the pile of non-diet items, snarled, “None of that’s for you, I hope.”
Due to this and other public admonishing, she warned readers, “if you embark on the Banana Diet, keep it to yourself.”
Day Six: The headline read, “At last, I have a waist.” This proved the major revelation of the diet for Blatchford, who claimed she had “no personal experience with waistlines.” She spent most of the day posing in front of the full-length mirror in her front hallway. She vowed to buy more mirrors to perpetually glimpse her new figure, embracing her new self-appreciation. “I suspect that by tomorrow, when the Banana Diet ends, and I weigh myself for the final time, I will be completely unbearable,” she noted. “Smug. Vain. Self-righteous. And gloriously gaunt.”
Day Seven: Through the diet, Blatchford shed a total of nine and a half pounds. She hoped this would reduce her natural clumsiness. “Now, at a svelte 149.5 pounds, if I trip while crossing the street I am no longer in serious danger of rolling into traffic.” Despite the banana breath, she was pleased with the results and vowed to continue staying in better shape by following the advice of a nutritionist on how to maintain her new shape.
She imagined her new wardrobe, ditching black in favour of bright colours and tasteless patterns: “I fully expect I will be a horrible dresser. I will wear all the wrong colours all the wrong ways. I may even dig out my old white go-go boots and wear them, the better to show off my lean calves.”
And so ended the Banana Diet saga, which combined her talents of catchy writing and revealing personal vulnerabilities. If Blatchford ever writes a final column or reflection on her career, perhaps she’ll be prodded to discuss any long-term impact that week had on her, via health or personal vanity.
Additional material from Spectator Sports by Christie Blatchford (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1986); the April 23, 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the July 19, 1978 and July 25, 1978 through July 31, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.