The domestication of plant

Michael Pollan, 2002,  page xiii – xx5 in The Botany of Desire. Random House Trade Paper Back Edition,US

Jared Diamond, 1997, Chapter 7: How To Make an Almond in Guns, Germ and Steel: the Fates of Human Society. W. W. Norton & Company, US.

These two chapters from different books, but illustrate the same content : plant domestication. Michael Pollan’s introduction is not just intentionally tell us about the  artificial selection of plant, it also redefine the meaning  of “nature”, what’s it  actually mean to be “in here” and “out there”. Meanwhile, Jared Diamond focuses  on different way that seed get transported to places, main characteristic that human favor in seed and what is the reason behind the variety in the domestication period of different seed and changes that farmers applied on the plants.

Even though the authors  portray the same topic, and Jared Diamond’s story seemed to be more detailed and provide more information,  I still prefer Micheal Pollan’s writing style, as it has the humorous in it. And if this is a way that Micheal attracts the reader to the story (after all, ít’s the introduction of his book), then I’m sure he succeeded in doing that.. For example, to describe the trait of the plant, Micheal wrote: in page xv.  “I can remember the exact moment that spud seduced me, showing off its knobby charms in the pages of seed catalog”, and the way he compares ourselves to the working bees  at the end of the chapter: “as one of the newer bees in Darwin’s garden = ingenious, sometimes reckless, and remarkably unself- conscious”.

To explain the meaning of domestication, Jared  have provided some significant information in page 116. “genetic modification of an ancestral plant in ways that make it more useful to consumers” (e.g strawberries are adapted to bird). Moreover, the guy also compares different places that we get to sow the seed to “research laboratory seeds”. And throughout centuries, we have some unconscious criteria on picking seed: size, bitterness, fleshy, seedless, oily seeds and long fiber. Among that, seedlessness is considered to be a good example of how human selection can complete reverse the original evolved function of a wild fruit, which in nature serves as a vehicle for dispersing seeds.

To describe the relationship between human and the plants, the authors have different way to describe it. In “The Botany of Desire”, Michael call the relationship as the partners in a coevolutionary relationship. He also praise the plant for its clever strategy, “get the human to move and think for them”. We develop and try out several way to help spread out the plants to various place, promote solution that help seed to germinate under any condition. For ” Guns, Germs, and Steel”, Jared potray it base on the human point of view, as he call the domestication as a growing plant process.

Micheal criticize people as we- the human leave nature, and see it as something out of our life and exist only in some place far away (e.g the wood). This is what i really agree with. People nowadays tend to create the large gap between us and the nature, and we conclude that the so-called nature object only appear in the wild when actually, it’s everywhere around us. And as the author state in the book that if we can understand this “we’ll have traveled a considerable distance toward understanding our place in the world in the fullness of its completxity and ambiguity”

the triumph of seeds

Thor Hanson, 2015,  page xix-18 and  55-80 in the The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. The Basic Book Edition, US

Thor Hanson appears in his book as the storyteller about the seed. And all of the stories in the book are simply to resolve one question “Why seed can transform the planet” by variety of their characters. The book illustrates five main traits of seed, which is also the main contents of the book “Seed Nourish”, “Seed Defend”, “Seed Endure”, “Seed Travel”, “Seed Unite”. Each of the chapter that includes in these content can be either his travel to find the origin of the seed, his imitation of the old experiment,…

The book begins with the author’s struggle to crack the seed open. It’s the great way of him to lead us to a fundamental fact of seed, or as he said “an important evolutionary lesson”. The thick husk that cover the seed, it’s what ensure the future of one plant species. And Hanson concluded that fact in one sentence “in the history of plants, no single event has ensured the protection, dispersal, and establishment of their progeny more than the invention of seeds”.

The humorous that Hanson puts in between make the book’s content become more fresh. For example in the introduction, the author describes the seed opening challenge as “that thick husk hadn’t evolved merely to thwart a hapless graduate student”. Moreover his comparison of special traits of plants to things in life helps us to imagine and understand easier about their roles and at the same time, makes them become the main characters in the book. For example in chapter 5, Thorson tell us about the spore plants “Because they don’t “pack a lunch” for their babies, spores have no nutritional value.” This sentence explains the reason why human can’t manipulate them, which help the plant species (e.g mosses and ferns) remained unchanged, comparing to their ancestor. Or the similarity between the transformation of clothes- from towel to pyjama of the human to the process of the seed cover adaptation.

Beside Thor Hanson himself and the seed, there are also other characters in the story. Mendel can also be considered as one of them. In chapter 5, the author tries his hand on imitating the experiment of the scientist to confirm the result. Hanson shows his admiration to Mendel and illustrates how important and significant Mendel’s discover is to the world of science. The author uses many phrase to praise the scientist’work. “His meticulous methods and statistical approach to science were decades ahead of their time”; or at the beginning of the introduction “Scientist might still be waiting to understand genetics if that famed pea experiment ahead instead been “Mendel’s Spores”. And the fact that he spends the entire chapter to talk about the experiment and his admiration already tells everything. Bill Dimichelle also play one significant role in the story. Bill is the leader of the coal-expeditions, looking for traces of plants in ancient days.His “insatiable curiousity” and the philosphy of “Never argue with a fool- an onlooker can’t tell the difference” is what keeps him going strong on his discover process. Bill and his crew’s recent expeditions have changed many people (even Hanson himself)’ point of view about the time phase when seed plants domination started to take place, which is the Carboniferous.

Thor Hanson and his love for the seed is what lead us through out the stories,and we get to take a glimpse of the endless potential of this amazing part of the plant. However  I believe that there are many interesting things about the seeds that left for us to discover in the future, and we can get advantage of them to understand more about the history of earth and their natural resources.




The 100-Mile Diet review



Alisa Smith and J.B Mac Kinnon, 2007, pg. 01 – 149 in The 100-mile diet. Vintage Canada Editions, Canada

This book is about a couple who decide to make a compromise on having a year with the 100-mile diet – which can be interpreted as having their meals that only composed of local ingredients that would be found within  100 mile from their house. The first half of the books is basically about how the authors first came up with the decision, their struggles and things they manage to explore during the journey.

The authors provide the details about their diet journal, in which they describe what they have achieved every month during this journey,how they manage to find the substitute ingredients, the knowledge about history of the national agriculture . They’re all to increase the understanding of people about farming culture and encourage them to adapt the lifestyle, in order to protect and preserve the vital nature resources.

The fascinating thing that draws me in is that the authors put many effort into finding the ingredients source and paying extra attention on them, from the way they are grown and then the transfer methods. All of those efforts  are put in order to make sure that the couple are not going to break up  the within – 100 – mile rule. For example, in  pg.73, Alisa tell us about  James’ visits to the farm “James, especially make sure to check it on the chickens with every visit. .. James has learned they were Hy-Line Browns, and even knew – more or less- their birthdays…”.,  or in pg.67, where Alisa describe how she was “the irritating woman  who always asked, “ what do you have that’s local?”.

The chapters also mention something , which I’m really agree with,  that is the concern about the  natural abundance which may lead to the extinction of experience. In pg. 56, James  wrote “Just one admitted that although he have seen cows, he had never seen “the black and white spotted dairy cows” , or Alisa also wrote about it in pg. 143 “we forget. The effect has been described as a double disappearance. We lost a species, or the abundance of a species, and then forget what it is we have lost”. We manage to become modernization by developing the industry, but at the same time, losing our farming culture and natural resources.

Little pieces of recipes in between the chapters are some things that also catch my eyes. These  recipes let us – the readers experience what would it like to have a fresh and healthy diet, just like what the couple have been done for the whole year.They are all easy to follow, and just take a us a few minutes to complete.

One more little thing that I really like is that the way they write sometimes remind me of those traveling books which I really fond of. The chapters are not just solely about what the couple eat for their meals and recipes but also some details about beautiful places where the authors traveled to get the food, descriptions of interesting people with similar mind-set that they got to meet along their journey. It make me get easily engaged to their stories as I feel like i’m also the one who accompany them through out all the time.

Just as what James said as the end of the July chapter – pg. 105 “we felt like pioneers setting foot on a strange place called home”, I believe that what they did was extraordinary, especially with all innovation around the simplest source for the meals. And perharps,we may challenge ourselves with this diet, in order to rediscover the amazingness of these local ingredients around us.