Back To Where It All Began

MacKinnon, J.B., Smith, Alisa. 2007. The 100 Mile Diet: a year of local eating.  Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Ontario.

Local Eating: A Foreign Affair Part II

We had first begun to read James and Alisa’s one year of local eating adventure 3 months ago.  We followed along with the begining months of their endeavour.  It was an introduction to not only their story, but ours-or I guess who I can only speak for, mine.  There is a sense of closure going back to where it all began-back to the first story.  In between then and now, there have been many other writers, many other stories, many blog entires.  I have felt a greater appreciation for plants, our food and our world.  Of course, there has also been my own experience of local eating through our 100-mile diet class project pseudonamed “How Close Can You Stay.”  Between then and now, there has been a lot.  With all the new experience and perspective at hand, I turned the page to the rest of the October-March saga of James and Alisa’s 100 mile diet.

The 100 mile diet to me still stands as a very cool concept.  Did James and Alisa succeed it what seemed this highly questionably plausible feat? They did.  From my own experience of researching, foraging and creating just one local meal, I understand better the challenge itself and furthermore can appreciate their success.  A sincere kudos to them. Though I no longer find the feat unimaginable (a claim I had made 3 months prior), I strongly still believe the ultimate challenge that exists for it.  Even reading their story, their adventure was work.  Practically full time work.  It seems unrealistic to manage to complete strict local eating whislt maintaining any other sort of life or career.  However, from what I have learned, ultimately, this is priority.  As Alisa shared on her jam canning experiences, contrarily to my claim, she says “the last thing [she’d] call it was work.  It was living”(p.158).  I completely understand her appeal.  It has been made clear that finding enjoyment in what we do is really important for our happiness and involving ourselves to connect to our own lives is important for the enrichment of our human experiences.  Though as much as it can be romantisized that it was not work, it was.  However, this is not said to at all take away from their success.  I just feel as journalists they were fortunate to accomplish both their feat and their writing collectively, it was a hybrid of work and living.

After having read many other stories in between the split readings of 100 mile diet, it was very easy to contrast their story to the rest.  For instance, their story largely revolves around themselves, and this is something I both disliked and appreciated.  Why I disliked this was because I had really come to appreciate the story of plants.  I liked learning of a plant’s alchemy, nature and evolutionary triumph in our human history.  James and Alisa did not write their story from a plant perspective whatsoever.  However, who said they had to?  This is equivalently what I can appreciate about their story.  It is reality.  The reality of local eating and how it has stretched to such a foreign affair.  It is their personal experience, which even at times delves intimately into their relationship.  It is relatable.  They have so many moments of learning, something of which I can completely relate to even after only attempting a fraction of their 365 day trial.  For instance, Alisa on p.168 shared she’d “been unaware that chestnuts even grew in this part of the world, but these are the simple, wondrous things that [she] kept learning this year.  It is this genuine and naive nature of their writing that is also appealing.  It is the relationship of plants and people, and though I had come to appreciate the marvels of the plants, it is equally important to appreciate the people.  Furthermore, this relatibility is also what is so hopeful of their story.  Local eating is for anyone.  James and Alisa showed me that ultimately, it is a matter of priority and willingness to learn and adapt.

Of course, a large part of James and Alisa’s story was the food itself.  One of the greatest simple pleasures I thoroughly enjoyed throughout their story were the monthly recipes (and a few more if we include the post epilogue), all of which I want to try.  Largely what their story showed were the flavours of Vancouver and its 100 mile radius.  They showed the immense diversity that exists in such a familiar area to us.  Though Kamloops extends beyond this radius- it is a reminder that we are still very geographically fortunate in the Okanagan.  There is a lot to be grown, tasted and experienced within 100 miles of our own homes.  Plus, there are immense benefits to this which James and Alisa highlight including the actual nutritional value and the accompanying flavour of freshness.  Furthermore, you are supporting community, economy and sustainability.  It is not only a cool concept, but may prove itself a vital concept in the state of the world with its rising climate issues.  Local eating is a reduction of overall packaging wastes and mileage that translates to carbon emissions.

Three months after the beginning of their 100 mile diet adventure, I turned the page on the last of it.  Though there is a sense of closure with this, it is really far from the end of my own personal plant learning, appreciation or growth.  A lot has happened in between then and now, but this is all still a beginning.  Though this is likely going to be the last blog for awhile, it has been fun.  In January, prior to all of the stories since, I would not have expected myself to consider many of the things I have considered or done like eating locally this upcoming summer, or possibly giving up meat (Omnivore’s Dilemma) or to have cooked an 100% local meal or to be growing onions at my front door.  All of the stories shared this semester has been a gentle reminder to the fact that we have our own stories and relationship with the world around us.  Furthemore, documenting this as what has been expected of us, has been another gentle reminder of our own voices.  I look forward to other new beginnings and making a space for myself in my own life.

Thank you Lyn for all the assigned readings and blogs, it had been both enlightening and a pleasure.  Thank you for also possibly being the only one to have read them other than maybe my mother.

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There are onions at my front door

Pollan, M. 2006. Omnivore’s Dilemma . England: Penguin Books Ltd. p.186-276.

It is March 18th and it feels like spring.   I was able to sit cozily in a sweater, midday on a bench at my university campus and begin to explore part 2 of Micheal Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” following a part one reading a few weeks back that I had thoroughly enjoyed.  I don’t know exactly what spring weather in March means for us environmentally- and I am also not about to try to delve into it.  I mention spring, or the spring like weather, only for its symbolic nature.  New beginnings.  Lately, I have been feeling a desire to change something.  To connect.

Yesterday, I had been sitting in the hot tub with some friends and we were planning for later in the week to go on hike during dusk to catch the sunset.  Naturally, the question came up: when does the sun go down?  Practically impulsively, someone had suggested “google it.”  I had an immediate repulsion.  We were hiking in 4 days.  This meant, as I suggested, that we had 4 days to figure out exactly when the sun goes down on our own.  With our own eyes.  As the sun brightly warmed my face more and more, with every page I turned of Pollan’s story, I was beginning to feel anew this desire for connection.  So what about Pollan’s story inspired this?

What I thoroughly enjoyed from Pollan’s story before, and what I enjoyed again are his bold themes.  Why is our food system the way our food system is?   In pursuit of these answers, Pollan tells his story chronologically through his first hand experiences.  He is not solely researching answers, nor just speaking with various people, he is physically there to live it.  On the farm.  Connected.  It is this perspective that really captures my attention  and likely in part why I feel I want to strive to do the same.  Furthermore, it is this perspective that works in favour of his themes.  In our current food world of smoke and mirrors, what could possibly be more clear than Pollan’s first hound account of the Salatin’s honest farm-or better so, their ecological safe haven.  Not only does his account work to explain why we should probably care a lot more about where our food is coming from, but his use of characters again makes the case for this.  Again, what could possibly be more clear than hearing exactly the knowledge from the farmers themselves.  Queue our introduction to Joel.

Pollan’s story is largely about the people.  Joel, the farmer, is a very likable character in the story.  He is a highly brilliant farmer, with both knowledge and dignity , along with a certain “revolutionary zeal”(p.251).  He is not just a character, but a real person-and who is remarkably inspirational at that.  Joel is like the Ghandi of farming.  He explains in great detail the up keep of his farm, or as I see it-an ecological safe haven as it is a farm based for sustainability relying on the maintenance of its entire ecosystem.  He takes full accountability and responsibility for the environment, for the animals and ultimately for his products.  It is quality.  The pitfall of this type of farming dignity: the consumer price.   This same quality is priced higher when compared to the price in stores for the industrial food commodities, where their focus is quantity.  Joel makes two very intriguing statements about this price comparison.  One being, we pay more for quality in all other consumer domains-why not with our food.  When you really reflect on this, it is actually rather insane.  Our food is the very substances we consume to keep us alive , yet we care so little about its quality.  It is so strange.  The second point Joel makes is that his quality is actually  “the cheapest food you can buy”(p.243).  As he further explains, it is largely unjust to compare quality and quantity-they are 2 separate entities.  What I gathered as most striking through Joel’s insightful farming knowledge was the amount of effort and thought put into every action on his farm.  He demonstrates a complete care for his work, and largely for our world.  This lead me to question that if Joel can put it this immense effort and work every day for his quality and morally ethical products, why can I not care enough to buy it?    Then, almost climatically  Pollan’s harrowing words hit: is our aversion to caring/ buying from farmers a matter of affordability or priority…

I have had some local Kamloops onions sitting in my pantry that I had obtained from school for maybe a month now.  I noticed a few weeks ago, I had still not used any and a couple were beginning to sprout greens.  I had never seen this of our onions purchased before, I figured it was the start of new onions growth and I wondered why our regular onions did not do this.  I left them.  However with Pollan’s thoughts already somewhere in my head, along with a feeling of wanting to connect and spring time’s arrival-I had the perfect storm.  Suddenly, when Pollan questioned the real reason we avert local eating, something changed.  It was decided.  I was going to plant those sprouting Kamloops onions.  My first horticulture endeavour.  I finished the reading and immediately grabbed the onions.  I cut them carefully, unveiling what I had expected: an enclosed fresh bulb within.  Then I searched for a couple of old pots.  I dug up some dirt from my backyard, and mixed in some mulch stored in our shed from last summer.  Combining it all together, I had my very first potted vegetable.  Two of them.  Now, although my feelings of spring may actually fail me, considering the future of possible looming cold weather could jeopardize my onions, today was nonetheless, the beginning of something bigger for me.  I am going to make that effort to connect.  As I set my new potted onions indoors by the window, they received their very first warmth of sunshine, the last of todays.  Not long after, the sun set at 7:25pm.

 

 

Scoping in on an outlook

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.113-179.

As I worked through the beginning of Micheal Pollan’s chapter of marijuana, I attempted to wonder what the world would be like if psychoactive drugs, including marijauna, were all tolerable.  I was not entirely sure what to imagine.  Chaos? Maybe. Disorder? Maybe.  Tranquility?

This was essentially the chronological flow of ideas-to which I think speaks to an important theme of Pollan’s story.  My first impression of a world tolerating drugs was that of negatively skewed society.  This was likely derived from the existing drug taboo in modern society. Then, eventally, I approached my daydreaming with an open mind.  For, I too, have been sitting like Pollan in an Amsterdam cafe/bar, feeling the tranquility that existed.  A quaint atmosphere of conversations, music and laughter.  It was a tranquility that made me question as well whether the war on drugs was fought against the wrong culprit.  In this instance, even alcohol seemed a more fitting target than marijuana.  There have been few times-maybe never, in which I have been out in bars and I have not witnesssed fighting or anger, in close association to alcohol consumption.

One of the strangest occurrences to me while reading Pollan’s story was the irony of the age of discovery.  Now, I did not get this idea from Pollan’s words directly, but his reoccurring theme of taboo had me reflecting on history-a subject in which I pertain a very small degree of knowledge.  However, bare with me here as I venture, like the explorers, into something I know very little about.  The age of discovery must have been a really exciting time, explorers were sailing out into the world.  Driven by wonder.  Fearless of the unknown.  Yet, upon discovery-suddenly and swiftly, this fearlessness was overtaken by the general contempt of native ways-the ways of which involve, largely, the knowledge, appreciation and experience of plants and their alchemy.  This “unknown”, though known-natively, is repressed.  It is the birth of the New World, ultimately in congruence with the birth of taboo.  Therein, we see the transition from the Old World to the New World, to which I wonder to what degree today we are living the repercussions of.  This is not necessarily a fault, but is this why it is hard to imagine a world, for example, where psychoactive drugs are completely tolerable.

Pollan’s chapter all felt to a degree rather philosophical.  It was writing that provoked this type of daydreaming of the world and questioning why things are the way they are.  Of course, later in the chapter, we are reminded of the perils of the effects of drugs…The daydreaming is gathered back to a better sensibility and logic.  My thoughts return to the initial thoughts that a world with completely tolerable psychoactive drugs would be chaotic.  Though, curiosity still lingered about a hybrid world.  One with a hybridization between the native uses of psychoactive drugs, both medicinal and spiritual and the modern tabooed psychoactive drugs, but involving the proper cuplrits.

I think what inspired this type of thinking was Pollan’s writing itself.  I thoroughly admire his story telling, in which his persepctive and themes are deliberately, yet seemlessly integrated into his stories.  Furthermore, his stories are delivered with some of the most eloquent sentences I have seen thus far, in this genre of creative non fiction.  For example, on p.160 Pollan writes “to illustrate the point, let me try to capture here a few drops of this perceptual cataract, preserve one cross section of the routinely forgotten.”  This is an attractive sentence to which my attention is completely absorbed in.  This was a continually accomplished feat by Pollan throughout the entire chapter.  While Pollan awed at plants and their alchemy, I was simlarily absorbed in this same awe for plants whilst in awe of Pollan’s actual writing.

Although Pollan’s writing included many topics and themes like the human psyche, the war on drugs, taboo, tempation, desire-all of which were intriguing to read; one theme which Pollan has eluded to before is the existing egocentrism of humans.  Our perspective is obscured by our own being.  Pollan connects our egocentrism  with psychoactive plants, by wondering if  “such a sacrament may be on occasion worthwhile just the same, if only as a check on our hubris” (p.178).  Herein Pollan’s thoughts, exists a powerful anti-egocentric message and offers an interesting solution.  We are not the centre of this world-so, let us experience how a plant can completely alter our consciousness.  Let us be reminded that we are just another species inhabiting this earth, and a species that is an integral part of an ecosystem.  He further delves into this idea, again noting the potential importance and little accompanying harm of experiencing the alchemy of plants as a means “to bring our abstracted gaze back down to Earth for a time”(p.179).  Interestingly enough, this seems to quite closely parallel the native ways of life-the ceremonial usage of plant alchemy for a means of connection.  As I mentionned before, Pollan’s writing has a philosophical tone with eloquent delivery.  He addresses big ideas and provokes reflection whilst delivering his throughts in a near poetic mannor.  In the following excerpt, the small paragraph has more of an air of an embedded poem within his story. Again, it powerfully speaks to connect humans to nature and integrates a type of reflection-provoking writing:

“Just what happens to this flattering self-portrait if we discover that transcendence itself owes to molecules that flow through our brains and at the same time through the plants in the garden?  If some of the biggest fruits of human culture are in fact rooted deeply in this black earth, with the plants and the fungi?  Is matter, then, still as mute as we’ve come to think?  Does it mean that spirit too is part of nature?” (p.178)

Alas,  I feel again as if there is more introspection to be done…

Buzzin like Bees

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p 113-175

I really enjoy the little things.  For instance, my parent’s house is that where the only dividing walls are those of the bedrooms and bathrooms.  So, in the early wake of the day, from my bedroom, I can hear the quiet mumbling of the brewing morning coffee.  Even before I drank coffee, it signaled the beginning of a new day.  Its peaceful noise and its distinct strong scent linger in the air every morning and gradually, every morning, the welcoming coffee familiarities are replaced with other sounds of life.

When I began to read Thor Hanson’s chapters of “Seeds Defend,” not a mere 3 pages in read “almendro”(p.116),  and suddenly memories of boredom flooded back to me from the previous Thor Hanson reading a few months ago.  The funny things is, I made a genuine attempt on my first Thor Hanson blog to be appreciative of the knowledge he had to share.  I commented on the educational aspect he successfully incorporated into his personal anecdotes- whilst this is all well and true, the trigger of that familiar almendro, made me realize that I was probably lying to myself.  To be completely honest, I really did not appreciate Thor Hanson’s writing that much the first time.  So,  I begrudgingly continued on from page 116, but to my pleasant surprise- I can honestly share that this time, I really did enjoy Thor Hanson’s writing. I was both amused and intrigued. So, what changed?

Each chapter of Hanson’s Seeds Defend, focuses on one plant and the relationships that exist for those plants.  Remarkably fluid in thought, his story encapsulates co-evolutionary relationships, Christopher Columbus, chili peppers, coffee, the KGB, James Bond and of course, the almendro tree.  Quite the range of topics.  Through the varying topics, I finally understood the lively story telling Hanson has been praised for.  With each plant story, Hanson successfully connects the audience.  In some instances, he introduces a character to attach us to the moment like when he paints a colourful scene of a coffee shop in Seattle with its java passionate workers.  In other instances, he will tie human experiences to connect us to his words like recalling the memory of putting orange slices in your mouth to make funny faces.  Through  Hanson’s anecdotal writing, I naturally began considering my own experiences, and my own connections to plants. I was reflecting on some of the same plants Hanson wrote about like the coffee plant and the emotional attachments in which coffee has integrated itself into my own life.  Those quiet morning brews.  He repeatedly  incorporates humans, our experiences or both to portray the seemingly unrelated triumph of seeds in history.  So, why does this prove so successful for Hanson?

Hanson notes “If Charles Lamb had truly wanted to say thanks for his morning cup, he should have penned an ode to various insects, slugs, snails, and fungi”(p.146). He follows up with “But poets don’t think about larvae and fungi when they make a pot of coffee-nobody does”(p.146).  In these harrowing words, lies the answer to Hanson’s success  story:  ego-centrism.  We are egocentric. We are narcissistic.  We will always listen more keenly when the story is about us.  Hanson’s writing is compelling because the story is about us and our human experiences. This, however, is not necessarily the worst thing for the plants.  I have sipped a cup of coffee in 18 different countries. A true global traveler.  Not me, but the coffee tree.  The tree requires no praise for its existence, it requires just its existence.  So our ego-centrism matters not to the tree.  Though, I was largely moved my Hanson’s thoughts on where we give our gratitude.  Although coffee plants are thriving, we are seeing other considerably drastic and alarming environmental changes.  I think Hanson’s words speak to a larger idea that it is crucial to change this egocentric mindset for Earth’s sustainability.  Though, it is also not simply our narcissism that is  Hanson’s writing.  We also simply have a desire to feel and to make connections-as a means of enriching our own existence.  Again, Hanson’s writing that naturally provoked my own reflection serve as evidence that he is succeeding in making us think about plants and the relationships we already have unknowingly established with them.

Hanson further delves into the coffee tree and its success.  He focuses on the root of its success which is not the root at all, but its seeds and their gift of caffeine.  Being a girl who has on numerous occasions researched (excessively googled) the benefits/health risks related to caffeine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the topic.  To be dramatic about it, I care about my health and I do not want to be blindly sipping morning poisons.  Of course, as expected from my own research, Hanson gives no clear answer on the matter. We do not definitely know if the alkaloid’s process in our brain is of concern.  Regardless, my enjoyment still derived from reading and more thoroughly learning about the actual process of caffeine-from soil to brain.

An older woman gave me some advice the other week while I was working a wine sampling in the liquor store.  She had just recently seen her doctor and she proceeded to share as she sipped the Spanish Temprenillo that she had the best LDL/HDL  levels .  I am 21, and I have not visited the doctor all that much-especially not to assess my cholesterol levels, so the technical terms were mildly lost on me.  Nonetheless, her enthusiasm of the matter withdrew a bright smile from my face.  Keen with her health success, she shared her routine.  She spoke clearly and well-paced, transcending an air of genuine wisdom, as she said she drank a large strong cup of coffee in the morning, followed by a brisk morning walk with her dog, and later, she enjoyed a large glass of red wine in the evening.  Now perhaps, taking blind advice from strangers is not recommended (and perhaps I am biased because I love coffee, dogs and wine), but to me, her story is the soundest evidence  I have to believe the benefit of coffee.

I am now two cups of coffee into writing my blog and I cannot quite think of the way to properly conclude my thoughts…Basically, I have come to realize how involved coffee and other plants are in my own life and I have learned how powerful an anecdotal style can be.  A week ago, I read a quotation by Paul Nicklen, a biologist and photographer for National georgraphic, that resonated with me and it comes to mind here again:

“Good science is essential however, I find that photography and journalism are much more powerful tools when it comes to effecting change.”

The American Hero

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.3-58.

I used to go to Summer Camp as a kid.  It was a religious type camp, but nothing too overbearing.  I was not brought up in a religious family so my only real desire for attending was simply because all my elementary school friends went as well.  However, other than a morning chapel in the fresh dewy forest of the okanagan or the quick grace before meals, it would be hard to suspect it was a religious camp at all.  Nonetheless, these aspects were of course novel to me and I found enjoyment in them.  Grace was often a quick rhythmic melody and as with any good song, the grace told a story.  However in the hungry moments of grace, the story was sung with keen eyes at the promise of food, but largely unheard.  As the keen eyes aged, the youthful summer camp days lived only in memory and the lyrics of grace were largely forgotten.  Interwoven in my memories, but lost.  Today, I was reading in one of the high ceiling university buildings, next to a vast window overlooking my hometown.  I was a mere 80 km distance from my old summer camp, with a distance of 10 years in time since those days.  On page 4, it read: Johnny Appleseed.  Then there I sat, with an unexpected tune on my mind:

  “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord
For giving me, the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple-seed
Oh, the lord’s been good to me.

For every seed I sow,
will grow and grow and grow.
And someday, they’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share.
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.

*Clap* Johnny Appleseed *clap* Amen”

If there is one thing Michael Pollan succeeds at, it is the art of story telling.  Apples are one of the most prevalent fruits through human history and he accounts their story of North American settlement by reciting their colourful story-tale history whilst telling-it-slant to his perspective.  He writes a type of adventure/botany/history book, as he conquests to the apple’s North American beginnings on the rural frontier lands of Ohio.  Here is introduces the first character in his story and in apple history: Johnny Appleseed.  This stays the focus in his entire apple tale as he furthermore integrates human nature and desire, whilst continually shifting between actual history and current experience.

Micheal Pollan writes delightful sentences to appeal to all senses.  As he was describing the apple and its use in alcohol, I found myself craving the sweet and fresh taste apple cider.  His descriptions successfully set the scene and in another instance, I could clearly imagine myself walking among the apple orchard myself, with the fresh apple scent lingering in the fresh air.  Pollan emphasizes human desire.  In his writing about apples, he attributes their success in human history to the human desire for sweetness whilst his eloquent writing equivalently appeals to the human desire of story itself.

Having read Pollan’s writing before I was expecting bold metaphoric claims and big ideas.  He alludes to the distance we see in our modern world.  He writes of trying “to imagine”(p.11) what the apple forests must be like, including the look and the smell.  This reveals the distance in the world, as an apple forest is something to imagine and not a concrete thought.  I quickly realized that I had never thought about apple forests.  This was foreign.  When I think apples, I think apple orchards.  Of course, this is the domestication of the wild apples.  Another idea Pollan alludes to is how this domestication could reach a point of no return, similar to the potato famine in Ireland.  When domestication concentrates to an irreversible degree, this could result in a complete loss of diversity and ultimately a species is susceptible to extinction.  In a concluding compel, Pollan states  “in wildness is the preservation of the world”(p.57).

 

 

There is Steak at Stake

Pollan, M. 2006. Omnivore’s Dilemma . England: Penguin Books Ltd. p.15-119

Industrial Corn.

Glazing over the 2 worded opening title of part 1 of  Michael Pollan’s 3 parted story, I was not expected much of a riveting tail.  Corn is dominant in the seed world.  It is mass produced and consumed all around the world.  I did not feel any allure to what new facts Michael Pollan had to share.  However, the 100 pages that followed captured my interest more than anticipated.  I was arguably livid at times.  Pollan, through a 1st person narrative, shares his journey of following a complete life cycle of 1 meal.  A burger.  So in other words, he follows the industrial food chain from the early beginnings of an Iowa farm to purchasing his burger with his family on a visit to McDonald’s.   Along every step of the way from where this story begins to where this journey ends, there is one common denominator that is also the main focus of which this story branches out to expose the general conspiracy that is the North American food system.  The same denominator that caused my initial inadvertence to swiftly transition to complete enthrallment: industrial corn.

Pollan’s story could be organized into a web diagram.  At the epicenter of the web, there is corn.  Then there are all the separate branches extending out from this center including: farmers, cattle, environment, humans and capitalism.  Then there exist the interconnecting webs between many of these ideas as well, which add further complexity to Pollan’s story.  His fluidity and interconnection of writing is a remarkable feat on its own.

One of the branches of Pollan’s story focuses on traceability and consumerism.  He relates the traceability of our food- or lack there of, by noting the need to be an “ecological detective”(p.17).  His statement acknowledges the notion that tracing food to the industrial scale is rather challenging.  Pollan centers on consumerism as well, noting in a bold metaphor that humans are “processed corn, walking”(p.23).  We are what we eat and in our world, corn completely dominates.  It exists and is consumed in an alarming number of variations, most of which sound nothing like corn.  Furthermore, Pollan alludes to “the great edifice of variety”(p.18) in reference to our supermarkets, which emphasizes largely the lack of knowledge that exists for the general public.  Variety is simply an illusion, though we do not trace our food to see this.  Combining all these ideas together and you get the blissfully ignorant consumer.

Pollan’s journey largely takes place on the farm itself.  The wholehearted farm where the corn is grown and harvested, the cattle are raised and butchered peacefully and the farming family is well sustained.  Not quite.  This is the image we want to see.  Contrarily, we know the falsehood of our daydream and as Pollan shares, the industrial farm is far from our moral desires.  Pollan notes “the only thing missing from this man-made landscape is…man”(p.38).  He further delves into the realistic picture of the farm.  The farmers are overworked and underpaid, the animals are ethically mistreated, the surrounding community is vanquished and vanished, the environment is gradually turning toxic, the corporations are thriving and we are all willing to turn a blind eye.  In lies, the omnivore’s dilemma.

In a disturbingly eloquent claim, Pollan remarks “the plague of cheap corn” (p.54).  There again is the epicenter of the web.  Not just corn, but cheap corn.  Yes, there was a time where it was beyond rational to utilize corn to all of its capabilities.  There was need.  However, the need no longer exists.  Unfortunately prior to this realization, corn had already fallen victim to capitalism.  So cheap corn will stay cheap corn and the plague will continue.  The disturbing reality is simply in the North American food system, money is the priority.  Is there really any end in sight to this?

Lastly, I want to talk specifically about the cattle.  The cattle are what struck me as most off putting in Pollan’s story.  As a general disclaimer, it’s fair to say I was largely uneducated in the whole subject matter of a cow’s digestive system prior to Pollan’s insight.  Nonetheless, the image of ingested grain causing a cow’s rumen to bloat enough to suffocate the cow from the inside out is heartbreaking.  Not to mention, the silver lining of this is that they are batch fed preventative antibiotics or better, slaughtered before this is too much of an issue.  Finally, this is all reasoned simply because there are marbled steaks at stake?  Maybe I am the irrational one, but I have seriously begun to reconsider my omnivore eating habits.

 

 

 

Diamond is Not This Girl’s Best Friend

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.-85-113; 131-156

Where did our agricultural roots begin?

Author Jared Diamond explains in part 2 of his book, the rise and spread of food production.  In these 4 chapters, he scientifically analyzes the historical relationship between humans and seeds.

So where did our agricultural roots begin?  Diamond often utilizes questions to capture the reader’s interest.  This writing technique proves imperative as the detailed history of people and seeds can feel overloading.  Though the information is plentiful, Diamond succeeds in explaining with a lack of jargon-which stretches his story to attend a general audience.  The book is factual in nature-similar to a textbook, but manages to share history more intriguingly than a textbook itself.   He emphasizes interesting points about divide.  A divide he focuses on is the shift from the hunting and gatherer lifestyle to domestication and production.  Furthermore, he often attempts cliffhanging endings to his chapters-an appeal to further delve into this historical tail.  However, despite Diamond’s best efforts, an overall compelling nature is lacking-the efforts of which I will explain in then next paragraph.

So where did the story of our agricultural roots go wrong?  First, Diamond’s interesting points are lost in a sea of long detailed sentences.  His precision of research in his writing is apparent.  There are numbers, figures, dates and people.  Yet, the overload of knowledge is overwhelming and often I found myself having forgot the initial argument he was explaining.  Though there was intention for a general audience, the lack of character and the lack of voice, create a lack of story.  I really made the attempt to read Diamond’s work with an open mind, grasping the thickly bound story and opening midway ready to learn.

I failed.
I failed multiple times.
I was falling asleep in a coffee shop failing.
I was rereading the same line multiple times failing.
I was counting the number of pages left in the chapter failing.

I think why I failed derived from an overall lack of interest for the subject itself.  I hate to admit it but I just do not think I care when or where the shift away from hunting and gathering began.  Things had to progress and I would be satisfied knowing in short what happened.  Against all my morals, I could flip to the last chapter and read the ending.  I am truly sorry I feel that way.  I lack the same passion for the historical significance Diamond spews.

Whether one can appreciate the subject or not, Diamond’s ‘big idea’ style is still impressive.  He grasps, organizes and shares an array of knowledge all interconnected to the agricultural evolution.  I respect his well rounded perspective that by nature is enlightening even if I find the subject a bit boring.

So maybe Diamond is not this girl’s best friend, but I can appreciate his brilliance nonetheless.

 

Perspective

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.114-130

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.xiii-xxv

In these 2 separates books, authors, Diamond and Pollan, exhibit 2 distinct styles of writing whilst sharing striking theme similarities.  Pollan conveys in a story-like, 1st person manner, the relationship with humans and seeds.  He explains in his introduction his intention to focus on human desire and what effect this beholds for both humans and plants.  Diamond, writes a 3rd person narrative, emphasizing similarly on the human relationship with seeds but through a scientific and historic perspective.  A reoccurring relationship in both passages is that of domestication and selection.

Plant domestication. When my eyes first glazed over the concept, I hardly thought anything of it. As Pollan furthermore continued on with the domestication subject comparing dogs and wolves, I stopped anew. Plant domestication. I had never considered plants to be a domesticated species such as our beloved cats, dogs and other little creatures are. Yet, this was a blatantly true statement.  I had definitely never considered this from the plants perspective as both authors allude to.  Though us humans are reaping many benefits of this coexistence with plants, the plants ability to survive and reproduce is undoubtedly thriving.  As Pollan titles, we are “the human bumblebee” (p.xiii).  So nor is it really adequate, nor accurate to consider our relationship as one-species-dominant-over-another.  This is plant and human mutualism.  This concept highlights a main theme occurring in both exerts:  perspective.  Pollan explains “we divide the world into subjects and objects” (p.xiv), and we consider ourselves the subjects having a “relationship to nature”(p.xxv).  To.  There is an explicit distinction that we as humans do not consider ourselves as part of nature; we “stand outside”(p.xxv).  This significant distinction is perhaps why we see many various environmental issues that range from a simple disregard, or under appreciation for seeds, to mass habitat destruction and fragmentation, air pollution or other greater issues.

Pollan claims “plants are nature’s alchemists” (p.xix).  This claim and its entire proceeding paragraph  explains the diverse toolbox that plant’s possess; this complex nature is truly astounding.  It transitions smoothly into a second thematic aspect both authors succeed in emphasizing: selection.  Plants have been selecting and gradually evolving their toolbox to suit their best environment.  This is a concept interconnecting to domestication.  If it was to a plant’s advantage to entice human desires, then this is how the plant would select its traits.  Furthermore, Diamond comments upon human’s close involvement with selection as “modern botany”(p.130).  This modern botany accounting for the mega-size juicy supermarket strawberries in contrast to the small, sweet wild strawberries.  Modern botany established a new world of agriculture.  Human selection of traits began to cross an organisms set bounds and deviate to greater alterations incomparable in nature.  Modern botany established an agricultural branch often under harsh skepticism: genetically modified organism(s) (GMOs).  GMOs may possess DNA crossovers between organism.

One of the most interesting concepts brought about by Diamond and Pollan (and Lyn) is the interconnection between domestication and selection.  Such an important aspect to consider for this relationship is perspective.  Humans struggle to see themselves or even consider themselves object to another species.  So how do we alter perspective?  When can we begin to reciprocate our own thought value onto plants?

What Did You Eat for Breakfast

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p xiii-18; p55-80.

Author, Thor Hanson, strives to convey the physical triumph of seeds in earth’s history, and furthermore, why this triumph is of such importance to our world.  He is inspired by his toddler, who displays an innate enthusiasm for seeds, to share both a scientific and a personal story of seeds.

What you can appreciate most about this book is Hanson’s style of writing.  He is strategically able to seep his botany knowledge in such a way that interests a general audience.  He writes a story.  He accomplishes this by making apparent the connection between humans and seeds. For example, he relies on the selfish nature of humans to capture the reader’s attention indicating on p.xxii, “Homo sapiens might never have evolved in a world that lacked seeds.”  Furthermore, Hanson often utilizes questions in his writing.  “What did you eat for breakfast” (p.18) is one of his most simple means to again establish the “intimate relationship” (p.73) between humans and seeds by forcing the reflection of the reader.  With this established interest, he then utilizes other questions to introduce curiosity towards the nature of seeds and their “dramatic triumph”(p.xxiii) in history.   “Why are they so successful?”(p.xxiii) is an example of how Hanson maintains the reader’s curiosity, through question, yet he has transitioned his intention to begin to seep in his botany knowledge.  Hanson’s style makes for an interesting way to learn the ecology and evolution of seeds far better than any textbook could intrigue.

Although Hanson shares the story of seeds intriguingly, there are other aspects of his writing I appreciated less.  Perhaps this is simply because this review remarks 2 separate passages of the novel; however, nonetheless, the novel seems to lack fluidity.  The story’s chapters vary between his home life, specific seed studies, Mendel’s experiments and his field experiences.  Although all chapters have the same general intentions, the chronological flow was lacking.  Furthermore, his story lacks appeal.  Although he establishes and connects the fundamental relationship with humans and seeds, there’s no impression of an intention to express a greater message for future generations, other than to appreciate seeds and their historical significance.  With this argument, it is important to note that appeal is not to be confused with interest.  Hanson’s seed saga is an educationally driven story that succeeds in reaching the interest of a general audience, which is an impressive botany feat. Again, perhaps reading the novel in its entirety may affect this argument.  In a lovely quotation he also enlightens “it’s not unusual for tiny things to look beautiful” (p.65).  Although contradictory to my desire for a greater, deeper meaning-his quotation is a simple, yet valuable reminder that there is importance in beauty. In seeds.  In appreciating things for how they are.

Overall, Hanson’s story is both endearing and educational.  Its large focus on the relationship between humans and seeds is imperative for recognizing, as Hanson portrays, “the gift of a seed” (p.6).  A gift not only fundamental to nature, but fundamental to our entire food industry.  A gift of creation, a gift of beauty and a gift that is often overlooked and taken for granted in our society.

 

 

Local Eating: a Foreign Affair

MacKinnon, J.B., Smith, Alisa. 2007. The 100 Mile Diet: a year of local eating.  Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Ontario.

A young Vancouver couple inspired by one fully authentic gathered-from-the-land meal during a stay in their isolated Northern BC cottage quest to complete one year of eating solely from products produced within an 100 mile radius of their Vancouver apartment.  The two writers, James and Alisa, collaboratively each share their insight through first person in a genuine month by month chronicle of their adventure.

Is it even possible?  A question that is almost immediately instinctive to not only both the writers but also to the readers.  This reflection is what instantly captured my interest in their journey.  Strictly local eating is a concept which at a precedent time in history not so long ago was a complete necessity to life, and now is something which forces one to question its actual plausibility.  This itself is a main theme highlighted by the authors: traceability.  How far have we unknowingly distanced ourselves from the food industry in such a short period of time?

I appreciated the writers use of humour in small remarks which cleverly draw attention to the experiments level of ridiculousness in todays’ society.  Finishing off one of the many recipes remarking “serve in the center of a large plate alone and a little heartbreaking” (pg.20).  Alisa expresses towards one of their main staples in April, borscht as belonging to “…nineteeth-century Russian steppes, flavoured by bone-chilling wind, a steel sky, and oppression”(p.24).  Lastly in one of my favourite remarks, James explains during their hope for wheat, “And there I sat, separating mouse shit from wheat berries with a credit card” (p.63).  The ultimate challenge of local eating is not only comedic in its revelation, but beholds a greater serious undertone.  There is a complete visual contrast of the two opposing “societies” they are attempting to co exist; the wheat berries are symbolic of agriculture and the credit card is a symbol of consumerism.

The concept of the book, which had immediately captured my interest is equally something I dislike about the book.  The reality is, it is sad.  It is very sad that we have disconnected ourselves from our food that we do not know if eating local for 1 year is possible.  It’s somewhat shameful to think I am not completely sure what is even capable of growing locally, nor do I know the extent to during what season any particular plant thrives.  It is even more sad to think that society does not really care.  Often this theme is echoed in the book reversely as now, the authors do care.  In one instance, “the rain mattered-there were beautiful red berries at stake”(p.63).  Furthermore, the authors delve into the dominant shift towards consumerism.  This shift favouring the mass production of food is ultimately damaging nature directly, through habitat fragmentation, and indirectly, through the fuels burned for distribution.   First it explores the gradual depletion of nature, claiming it is “a shadow” (p.143) of its previous generation, yet the essence of “what keeps us alive” (p.146).  Despite nature’s importance, the authors note “the notion that everything can be valued in terms of money rather than the fundamental natural processes” (p.144).  In this sad reality, it is optimistically appealed that this is just an idea, not an irreversible process.

In a paradoxical truth, local eating has stretched to a completely foreign affair.  This is somewhat slightly comedic and largely sad, but furthermore, what makes James and Alisa’s chronicle endearing and inspirational.  Through the April to October journey, with months still to continue, we are reminded that it is always still possible to bridge the distance back towards our agricultural roots.