Saturday, April 3, 2010

Who is really domesticating whom?

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

I read this book when it was first released during my freshman year of college. I had never heard of Michael Pollan and I was a closet scientist who still had aspirations of actually making money at a future career and was therefore an accounting major. I loved this book then - at least I remember loving it but I can't exactly remember why. Perhaps because I devoured anything science related to feed my secret lust, a lust which evolved into love and resulted in me leaving the business-suit world of accounting for the awe-inspiring world of science. However, my scientific knowledge was limited at the time of my first reading and many of the ethical issues we face today were not even on my radar. It was definitely interesting to re-read this book many years later, with a perspective fine-tuned from experience and education....

The catch line in the book synopsis asks the question of humans and plants, "who is really domesticating whom?" Pollan tackles this probing question by diving into the history of four important domesticated plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He follows each plant from their first discovery by humans as a desirable plant to the realization that the plant is highly conducive to hybridization, cross-breeding, and cultivation to the status of each plant in today's society. To some, Pollan's descriptions may seem to wander down unexplained paths only to eventually loop back to the main topic but I find his Dionysian explorations to not only be interesting, but to fit with with the overall theme of the book that nature is hard to tame.

The apples and tulip sections are interesting but I find the last two chapters to be un-put-down-able. The chapter on marijuana branches into the regulations by the government that actually caused a growing boom in the US which has lead to it being one of the largest cash crops in the country. I personally don't partake of marijuana (mainly because, at 27, my father still instills the fear of god in me when it comes to getting high) but I have often wondered why this drug has illicited the wrath of the DEA. The chapter on potatoes touches on GMO's, specifically Monsanto's products and patents, which, at the time of the writing of this book, was extremely cutting-edge but still has many ethical and biological debates raging between big farming business, organic farmers, and environmentalist. Did you know that GMO's with herbivore-resistance spliced into their genomes are not even regulated by the FDA because they are not considered food? They are regulated by the EPA as a pesticides....mind blowing.

I couldn't resist picking this up again...and am glad that I reread it. I can now recommend it for substantiated reasons!

No comments:

Post a Comment