intro to Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire”

Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire was the centerpiece of our class this semester. The intro follows (sorry the formatting is wonky). Here’s a link to a pdf:…/botany_of_desire_excerpt.pdf

THE BOTANY OF DESIRE: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World
2002 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
Copyright © 2001 by Michael Pollan
The seeds of this book were first planted in my garden—while I
was planting seeds, as a matter of fact. Sowing seed is pleasant,
desultory, not terribly challenging work; there’s plenty of space
left over for thinking about other things while you’re doing it.On
this particular May afternoon, I happened to be sowing rows in
the neighborhood ofa flowering apple tree that was fairly vibrat-
ing with bees.And what I found myself thinking about was this:
What existential difference is there between the human being’s
role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee’s?

If this sounds like a laughable comparison,consider what it was
I was doing in the garden that afternoon:disseminating the genes
ofone species and not another,in this case a fingerling potato in-
stead of, let’s say, a leek. Gardeners like me tend to think such
choices are our sovereign prerogative: in the space ofthis garden,
I tell myself,I alone determine which species will thrive and which
will disappear.I’m in charge here,in other words,and behind me
stand other humans still more in charge: the long chain of gar-
deners and botanists,plant breeders,and,these days,genetic engi-
neers who “selected,”“developed,”or “bred”the particular potato
that I decided to plant.Even our grammar makes the terms ofthis
relationship perfectly clear: I choose the plants, I pull the weeds, I
harvest the crops. We divide the world into subjects and objects,
and here in the garden,as in nature generally,we humans are the

But that afternoon in the garden I found myself wondering:
What if that grammar is all wrong? What if it’s really nothing
more than a self-serving conceit? A bumblebee would probably
also regard himself as a subject in the garden and the bloom he’s
plundering for its drop of nectar as an object. But we know that
this is just a failure ofhis imagination.The truth ofthe matter is
that the flower has cleverly manipulated the bee into hauling its
pollen from blossom to blossom.

The ancient relationship between bees and flowers is a classic
example of what is known as “coevolution.”In a coevolutionary
bargain like the one struck by the bee and the apple tree,the two
parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but
wind up trading favors: food for the bee, transportation for the
apple genes. Consciousness needn’t enter into it on either side,
and the traditional distinction between subject and object is

Matters between me and the spud I was planting, I realized,
really aren’t much different;we,too,are partners Continue reading

Dottie, Vlat, Me, You & More at Artists Union Gallery 12/7

Poet Dottie Grossman will read her work in a call and response performance with Michael Vlatkovich (and possibly other musicians) 730pm Tuesday, December 7 at the Artists Union Gallery, 330 S. California Street, at the Ventura Beach Promenade near the big hotel, the parking garage and Aloha Steakhouse. You can learn more about what Dottie does in the video above and get a sample of the process.

The poetry reading is free but a hat is usually passed and donations are accepted for refreshments of coffee and cookies. CDs will also be available for purchase.

An open mic will follow. If you want to read your own poetry at the open mic, arrive 10-15 minutes early to sign up. Since there will likely be a big crowd, poets should keep their readings short: one poem of less than 3 minutes. If there’s time, poets will read in a second round.

I’ll be bringing my students; we will be reading from our end of the semester class publications. I’ll be reading a poem or two as well from my new collection Middle of the Night Poems from Daughter to Mother :: Mother to Son (en theos press 2010).

Below is one more video of poetry by Dottie Grossman–this one’s short and gives you a good idea of what’s in store tomorrow night!

For more poetry, take a ride on the Monday Poetry Train!

Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk: A Food Revolution

This semester, my college students and I discussed the Triple Bottom Line, a bottom line for businesses that goes beyond PROFIT to include people and the planet.

During the first third of the semester, we focused on the “people” part of the equation. Next, we looked at “food” as a way of seeing what we’re doing to the planet. Finally, for profit, we did some problem-posing and most of the students drew on their service learning experiences for their research papers to name, reflect and act on a problem.

Service learning goes beyond community service or volunteering. Students who engage in service learning maintain a reflective journal about what they do and what they’ve learned and to do research related to their service learning site.

As the semester comes to a close, I thought I’d post this TED Talk from Jamie Oliver–someone who has certainly made a name for himself when it comes to solving the problems related to diet related diseases in the US.

Here are some of my notes that I took while watching the above video:

Diet related disease is the biggest killer in the United States today, says Jamie Oliver, and we need a revolution. People are dying needlessly from obsesity and food related diseases.

Obesity costs 10% of health care bills and in less than 10 years this cost will double.

How to eat to save your life?

1) Avoid Fast food

2) Avoid Processed foods, eat instead fresh foods

3) Watch Portion size

4) Watch labeling

Home is not where food culture is created any more. So where will kids learn about food? asks Jamie Oliver. School? Where kids have flavored milk 2x a week? Chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar in it as a soda. What can we do? he asks.

Here are some of Jamie Oliver’s suggestions on how to decrease diet related diseases:

1) Have a “food ambassador” in every grocery store where someone will teach people how to cook

2) Fast food has to be part of the solution. We needed to be weaned off all the fat and sugar.

3) Kids at school need fresh food cooked on site, and that children know how to cook.

4) Corporations need to feed their employees responsibly.

Revolutionary if you ask me. Even more revolutionary if people get on board!

25 Ways to Build A Better Blog

While content is both King (and Queen!) when it comes to producing a well-received blog, how do you improve the writing? How do you find content? How do you increase your readership?

The following blog post from The Write Alley Coaching and Writing Strategies gives you 25 ideas about how to build a better blog. While the post targets business bloggers, the tips apply to just about any blogging that someone wants to do–and many of the suggestions apply to writing in general.

I found a great blog post today full of useful tips to build a brilliant business blog and I encourage you to check it out. It also got me thinking about a few of my own tips about writing and blogging, so to get you started, here are four of my tips, and a few of their 21 Tips to total 25 ways to better your blog, whether it be for business or pleasure. Tip 1: Write regularly. Writers become better writers by writing. There’s no shortcut. Invest … Read More

via The Write Alley

Jonathan Bloom Says “To Save The Earth, If You Buy It, Eat It”

In  a recent LA Times essay, Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It).” argues that wasting less food is among one of the best ways we can reduce our impact on the earth–

Let me guess: You’re concerned about the environment. You recycle, buy the right light bulbs, drink from a reusable water bottle (preferably one made of metal) and wish you could afford a hybrid. You try to remember your reusable shopping bags when you go to the market and feel guilty when you don’t.

But there’s something you could be doing that would make a much bigger difference, and it’s not one of those really hard things like carpooling to work or installing solar panels on your roof.

All you need to do is minimize your food waste. If you buy it and bring it home, eat it. That alone is one of the easiest ways to aid the environment.

Bloom says we need to follow these four guidelines:

1. Buy smarter.

2. Rethink portion size.

3. Love your leftovers.

4. Compost.

For more details on why and how, read on.

Do you agree with Jonathan Bloom? How does he convince you or not?

(Hmmnn…I think this just might make a good essay to use for an in-class final exam!)