Saturday, January 12, 2008

Greener Pastures

The Garden Rant blog has a post about a recent article on Michael Pollan, and his desire to move beyond writing about food. The Omnivore's Dilemma has been a runaway success and articles in the New York Times Magazine, House and Garden and other publications have made him into something of a guru of the "real food" movement.

But Pollan wants to move on. His next project is a feature on orchid sex for National Geographic.

I first discovered him by reading his wonderful, erudite and sumptuous prose in his book The Botany of Desire, which takes four different plants (the apple, the tulip, the potato, and cannabis) and examines what the plants have done in their evolution to get humans to do their bidding. In other words, these plants, according to Pollan, have developed qualities appealing or useful to humans in order to persuade humans to do things to further the plants' ability to evolve and survive and flourish. A fascinating conceit which occurred to Pollan when he was laboring over the panting of Russian fingerling potatoes (and in that event one can surmise the real food obsession that would be Pollan's road to best seller status). This delightful book is well worth seeking out.

I love Pollan's writing and am happy he will be writing about something besides food. Maybe other journalists will now raise the standard (which I believe originally meant carrying a flag into battle). The article mentioned above (from the San Francisco Chronicle) says that Rachel Carson was not trying to create the Clean Air Act when she wrote Silent Spring. But her writings on the dangers of pesticides and other pollutants did lead to just that, and to an entire environmental movement based upon the centrality of agriculture. People who have been counting on Pollan's research and engaging writing to carry the passion for real, healthy food forward into the 21st century need to find ways to maintain interest in this crucial subject. If we can't learn (or, perhaps, re-learn) to feed ourselves properly, we won't survive to do anything else.

The image is the painter Arcimboldo's Vertumnus

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