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The Botany of Desire

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Back before Michael Pollan got interested in the ways we produce and consume our food (see 2006's bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma), he was interested in the ways we produce and consume our plants. He was a gardener, in other words, whose witty, thoughtful essays about the chlorophyll world have been collected in the book Second Nature. The Botany of Desire is the book he wrote in between, the book that bridges the garden and the dinner table.

Pollan starts out with a deceptively simple thesis: Have we really "domesticated" plants, or have they domesticated us? He picks four plants — the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato — that have meant much to many humans over the eons, and, one by one, he dissects their history, lore, and cultural significance.

In his perennially lucid style, Pollan combines historical recreation (the life of the very eccentric Johnny Appleseed), science writing (how does a wild plant become domesticated, anyways?), shoe-leather reporting (visits to potato and marijuana farms stand out), and thoughtful analysis (his son's first taste of refined sugar and what the idea of "sweet" means). By the end, it's hard not to see the world the way Pollan does: from the plant's perspective.

p(bio). [ "Caroline Cummins"] is the managing editor of Culinate.

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