Monday, June 29, 2015

The Botany of Desire: a book club review

I thought I wrote this months ago. In fact, I remember writing key turns of phrase months ago. Maybe I wrote them on scrap pieces of paper, or on the notepad of a now dead 'smart' phone. Wherever they are, they are gone. And while my memory of writing them lingers, the actual phrases are now obscured by the dust of an unreliable brain. 

Michael Pollan, famous sibling and bally-hoed food writer, has a keen and interesting interest in the intersection of botany and culture as it shows up in our eating habits. For this exploration Pollan dedicates each of the four chapters in his book to four crucial plants in the development of western culture: the tulip, the potato, the apple and marijuana. They are an interesting lot, chosen for their appeal to riches, beauty, nourishment, and escape. 

I find Pollan's writing style engaging; his blend of science, social study and gastronomy really works for me. My only strong resistance to this book came from his rah rah Americanism in the section regarding apples. I hate jingo-ism at the best of times, and the supposed claim America has on apples strikes me as false as a starlet's buxom breasts or a Texas dame's big blonde 'do.

That said, the history of the apple in America, being grown first and foremost for cider until prohibition caused the apple lobby to invent that whole "an apple a day" thing, was interesting. I do love my cider. And it tied the apple and prohibition nicely to the intriguing chapter on marijuana, the big oil lobby that destroyed hemp as an industrial crop. and the underground growing that has resulted in marijuana plants that deliver more high in smaller plants. 

From the money-grubbing Dutch Rennaissance tulip bulb hoarders to Monsanto potato farmers, Pollan's research weaves a clear narrative of how humans have influenced plant evolution and vice versa. 

If only Johnny Appleseed wasn't so wrapped up in Old Glory.
Something weird happened this book club - which I'm really having to stretch to remember. Some of us were going to go on our annual retreat, but that didn't happen. Some met anyway but I was protesting the lack of retreat (a.k.a. chopping off my nose to spite my face), didn't go, and don't remember hearing how it went. I guess this is still a 'book club review' even though I wasn't at the meeting. I will say that of all the lofty goals we started book club with, retreat was one of my favourites and it's disappointing that we've only managed to retreat once. With the constant stream of new babies (8 in 3.5 years) it's hard for members to get away. It's totally understandable but still disappointing.

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