Tag Archives: michael pollan

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

You’d honestly think that reading a book about plants would be as about as exciting as, well, watching the grass grow. Fortunately, I long ago learned to expect better things from Michael Pollan. In his book, The Botany of Desire, he categorizes four plants and how human desire shaped their evolution, genetic sprawl, and guaranteed their success in the modern world. bod-3

There are apples for sweetness, tulips for beauty, marijuana for intoxication, and potatoes for control

Basically, because each of these plants provided something that we wanted and/or needed, they ensured their own survival based on the roles they filled in human life. Pollan definitely taught me something along the way:

  • Folk hero Johnny Appleseed really guaranteed the spread of alcohol (hard cider) across the US.
  • A rare color strain of tulip, worth thousands of dollars to the medieval Dutch, was actually caused by a flower-killing virus/mutation.
  • Potatoes are one of the first (and most successful) genetically modified crops–Monsanto having produced a type that emits its own insecticide.

Crazy stuff.

I really enjoyed TBOD, and Pollan has yet again managed to be informative without being boring. He’s almost like that cool teacher you had in high school that somehow snuck learning into your curriculum without you realizing it.

4 pot leafs of 5

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Food Rules was a very brief, but very interesting read. More of a really long pamphlet on dietary advice than a stand-alone book. It’s main premise is to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Each mini-chapter had an illustration and words of wisdom for eating mindfully and healthfully. 

Some examples are:

“Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs, and other mammals].”

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

“Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.”

“Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.”

Pollan points out that nutritional science is one of the newest forms of science, therefore many nutritional claims must be taken with a grain of salt. He reminds us that although the “edible foodlike substance” (AKA, junk food) says “low fat”  or “1/3 the sugar” on its package, it still comes in a package. Good point.

It seems intimidating to sift through all the dietary information out there to learn what the real deal is. But luckily, Pollan helps us with the adage, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” I’ve been applying that to my shopping list lately. That means no Cheetos or Oreos or GoGurt or any other weird stuff. If you look at the ingredients and see something that the average person wouldn’t have in their kitchen, don’t eat it.

I don’t know about you but I have neither Red #4 or hydrogenated vegetable oil in my pantry…

This is a great guide for those without enough time (or enthusiasm) to read Pollan’s other, more in depth books about food.

4 peas in a pod of 5