Diamond J. 1999. Guns, germs, and steel. New York (NY): W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 114-130 p.
Pollan M. 2001. The botany of desire. Toronto (ON): Random House of Canada Limited. xxiii – xxv p.
It has taken three weeks, but I have almost learned to stop reading books about plants around meal times.
After enjoying my plate of homemade crispy, fries from freshly cut potatoes (inspired by “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan), I started to wonder what a “wild” potato plant would have looked like before the advent of agriculture; before people entered a coevolutionary relationship with potatoes. I can come up with an image of the same flowering plant with reduced roots. I cannot, however, picture many of the other “wild” plants mentioned in “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond in the same way. I mean, how weird would it be to eat a banana with seeds?
These two books, “The Botany of Desire” by Pollan and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Diamond, have very similar and also opposing views on agriculture and the evolution of plants. Diamond explains the evolution of agricultural plants as being driven by humans. He outlines the sequence of events leading to today’s agriculture, from unconsciously picking the biggest, juiciest berry and leaving the seed in a latrine to complex conscious techniques. I now see bathrooms in a whole new light. Plants themselves, are given little credit in this process other than being favorable mutants for humans to exploit. Pollan, on the other hand, believes that plants and humans have entered a coevolutionary partnership since the birth of agriculture. Humans are driving the evolution of agricultural plants, just as plants are driving the evolution of humans. I tend to side with Pollan’s idea that we are not separate from nature and that plants can have the same effect on humans as we do on plants.
I must say that I enjoyed reading “The Botany of Desire” over “Guns, Germs, and Steal”. Unfortunately, I read the latter first and it took forever to read. The writing style in the “Botany of Desire” was more personal and captivating, enticing me to read on. Pollan, begins with the metaphor, “the seeds of this book were first planted in my garden” (p. iv), followed by an intriguing comparison between the human relationship with plants to a bumblebees. Do you think we have entered into the same type of coevolutionary relationship with plants as a bumblebee has? It only makes sense that something we rely on so heavily as a species would have an effect on our evolution.
I was happily reading the introduction to “The Botany of Desire”, when Pollan talks about edible grasses like corn that “incited humans to cut down vast forests to make more room for them” (p. xx). I feel this takes the blame away from human and their mass destruction of the natural world around us. Plants have not caused the greediness of the human population. The ever-increasing human population is disconnected from nature so much that we justify cutting down vast amounts of productive and biologically diverse land to plant a few agricultural crops or worse, to build infrastructure. This disconnect with the natural world and greediness for what it has to offer humans must stop if we are to continue as a species.
Pollan sums it up perfectly, saying that “seeing these plants as willing partners in an intimate and reciprocal relationship with us means looking at ourselves a little differently, too” (p. xxv). I encourage you to remind yourself that you are apart of nature. How else will you ever know if you chose to eat the apple or if the apple chose to be eaten by you?