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Botany of Desire

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  • November 21, 2013
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The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (Pages: 271)
Publisher: Random House (2001)

In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan counters the idea that humans fully control the crops they plant for their own use. Instead, Pollan uses a “plant’s-eye view of the world” to argue that plants have manipulated humans for evolutionary advantage as much as humans have manipulated plants. The book centers around four main plants that exploit our desires: The tulip gratifies our desire for beauty, the potato for control, the apple for sweetness, and cannabis for intoxication. Pollan shows how these plants evolved to satisfy humans’ desires; for example, the sweetness of the apple induced Americans to spread the species, allowing for the cultivation of apples in a whole new continent. Pollan explores the question: Who is really domesticating whom? The Botany of Desire relates to the topic of photosynthesis. Pollan states that while humans were “learning to walk on two feet”, plants were “inventing photosynthesis and perfecting organic chemistry…” (xx). According to Pollan, a reason for the need for photosynthesis was immobility. Pollan explains that due to “perfecting” photosynthesis, plants were able to design chemicals for defense against predators, which then solved the problem of immobility. The practice of monoculture is also discussed in the book. Monoculture may be economically beneficial, but it can bring serious environmental risks. The growing of multiple varieties of a single crop increases the chance that if one fails, another will have the genetic traits that allow it to thrive. Monoculture also forces the identical plants to be vulnerable to pests and disease. The use of pesticides can be reduced by maintaining pest resistance through biodiversity. Pollan acknowledges those who argue for protecting crops by giving them genes from other organisms; this is known as genetic engineering. Today, many crops like corn and soybeans are genetically engineered....