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*****= An all-time favorite
***The Botany of Desire
A Plant's Eye View of the World
by Michael Pollan
Reviewed April 8, 2003.
Random House, New York, 2001. 271 pages.
The Botany of Desire was a New York Times best-seller when it first came out. It is an intriguing book about man’s relationship with plants.
We see ourselves as manipulating the world around us, growing plants that meet our needs. What if you look at the world from the view of a plant? Certain plants have become tremendously successful, spreading all over the world, simply by providing humans with something they want.
Michael Pollan focuses on four specific plants--Apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He looks at the history of each plant and its relationship with mankind and comes up with some surprising thoughts about who we are and how we manipulate the world around us.
The topic doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it ends up making absorbing, thought-provoking reading. With each plant discussed, man's control seemed to be greater. Apples, when grown from seed, produce plants drastically different from the parent plant. The sweet, juicy apples we enjoy from the supermarket are grown from grafted trees discovered to be especially tasty from some original cider orchard. Tulips were given more attention as fortunes were made and lost. It turned out that the most favored striped types were created by a virus that weakened the plant. Marijuana growing, because of the War on Drugs, was moved inside under carefully controlled conditions. The author went to a legal marijuana growers convention in Holland and learned that now American marijuana is by far the most potent, as growers learned to control and selectively breed their plants.
Finally, his discussion of the potato highlighted the New Leaf potato. This is a genetically engineered potato produced and patented by Monsanto. The potato shares genes with a naturally-occurring pesticide. It is toxic to potato beetles. The FDA considers this potato a pesticide and thus under the jurisdiction of the EPA. The EPA figures that the original pesticide is safe, so therefore the plant must be safe. No one has tested whether the resulting higher levels of pesticide are safe for humans. These potatoes are already being used in potato chips and the like, with no special labeling required. Definitely food for thought!
Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund. All