"The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan

10 February 2011 12:07 AM CST


"The Botany of Desire"

I just finished Michael Pollan’s book, “The Botany of Desire.” The book covers the botanical evolution of four plants: apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes. This was my first Michael Pollan book and I think it was a great introduction to his writing. I don’t intend to discuss the book much. The premise is quite simple, Pollan investigates the relationships that have developed between humans and plants. More specifically, he discusses how these plants have evolved to meet our tastes and desires. The relationship is of course two-fold, as we have bred, engineered, and selected that which we prefer.

For me, the most interesting discussion centered on genetically engineered potatoes. Pollan plants, investigates, and discusses a breed of potato called the “NewLeaf.” NewLeaf potatoes are the result of engineering mastery from the Monsanto corporation. They have been bred to resist the most vicious of potato killers, the Colorado potato beetle. If a Colorado potato beetle starts eating a NewLeaf the beetle will quickly perish. Pollan discusses how after he harvested his personal crop of NewLeaf’s something in him didn’t want to eat them. He left them in a sack on his porch for weeks. Finally, he decided to get in touch with a friend of his at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). He wanted to check with an authority figure and learn their perspective on genetically modified foods. He was quickly told that the FDA knows nothing of NewLeaf potatoes because, quite simply, the United States goverment doesn’t recognize them as a food. The US government recognizes them as a pesticide and therefore places them under the jurisdiction of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). So, there you have it, a pesticide disguised as a food. Sounds delicious, no?

Here’s a link to "The Botany of Desire" at Amazon.