Pollan, M. The Botany of Desire: A plant’s-eye view of the world. 2002. Toronto (ON). Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.3-58.
As they say, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” but if the doctor is cute, screw the fruit! (I think I may have been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy..)
Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, is divided into four main sections which focus on the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. This blog post is going to be centralized around the apple in all its glory. The chapter about the apple covers a wide variety of topics that are each sectioned into mini chapters beginning with John Chapman’s journey to America with his apple seeds and all the way back to Michael Pollen’s garden where he sowed his very own unique seeds from the Geneva orchard.
Throughout Michael Pollan’s investigation of the apple, he brings about some very interesting concepts that I would never had thought to consider. First and foremost, he mentions the slight gap in my historical memory of Jonny Appleseed farming orchards along a merry ol’ path. That gap is that apple trees are made by grafting, not often seeds. Pollen goes into great detail into how and why John Chapman was able to start his nurseries from simple apple seeds. Part of that reason involves cider. The people loved the ‘sweetness’ of apples, but during the prohibition cider was one of the only sources of alcohol, and that sweetness that was found in every juicy bite of apple was accentuated in the tangy sip of cider they would enjoy. The chapter also covers the variety of places that Johnny Appleseed commenced and nurtured his apple nurseries. Furthermore and quite interesting, the chapter describes many of the different types of apples and the various appearances that have emerged from this fruit plant. Finally, Michael Pollan does a great job of introducing many intriguing characters into this chapter such as John Chapman (the old barefoot apple tree planter), Jesse Hiatt (who won an apple tasting competition), William Jones (the number one fan of Mr. Appleseed), among many others.
I have to admit that although I did find the topics of this chapter interesting and although I do enjoy Michael Pollan’s writing, I did find myself getting kind of bored and slightly distracted. However, while distracted, I found some really punny apple related jokes that are just too good not to share.
As I mentioned above, there was nothing in particular about this chapter that drove me to researching silly apple puns, in fact, I quite like Michael Pollan’s descriptive and entertaining writing. He generally finds a way to either captivate you with a good description or entice you with a funny line. “Could it be that sweetness is the prototype of all desire?” (page 18). “I decided to wait a bit before bringing up the child bride or the applejack” (page 24). “The man looks completely insane” (page 30). “Yet it was even more ambiguous than that, since the slight figure with he goat’s beard also seems to be melting into, or out of, the shadowy trees all around” (page 36).
Perhaps it’s my fault for attempting to read 50 pages of a book on the Friday that reading break starts. However, I think what drove me to boredom was the lack of a compound topic. Yes, Michael Pollan did write about the apple, but this chapter was more of a personal story of his search to experience the apple. I believe I would have been able to better maintain my focus if the writing was more directly focused on either the facts of the apple or the adventure the author had discovering Johnny Appleseed’s roots. Don’t get me wrong, I like when the authors of these botany related books add a certain personal feel to their writing, I just feel that Michael Pollan might have gotten a little too caught up in his own story.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the way Michael pollan conveyed the mutualistic relationship between apples and humans. Neither the apple nor the humans could have been so successful without the other. The apple seed required the transport the humans were able to provide, while the apple trees provided the sweet, tangy taste and nutrients that our bodies crave and need. “The scene, for me, has the resonance of a myth-a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving the common lot” (page 4).
I also liked how Pollan mentioned the benefit of cider and how it was able to last through the prohibition. “Cider became so indispensable to rural life that even those who railed against the evil of alcohol made an exceptionfor cider…” (page 22). I found it pretty interesting that the population was so committed to the fresh tang of cider that they would even replace everyday drinks with it. “Indeed, in many places cider was consumed more freely than water, even by children, since it was arguably the healthier – because more sanitary – beverage” (page 22) Unfortunately, after reading about so much sweet cider, I was left with a strong craving for the local Red Roof cider that is sold at The Noble Pig downtown where I used to work.
Throughout Michael Pollan’s apple adventure, I found myself agreeing with the concepts he was bringing to light. Yes, the apple and the human both depended on each other for certain needs. Yes, there was definitely a lack of information in the whole Johnny Appleseed story which drove some people, like William Jones, to invent the mythical man they look up to. Yes, I find the diversification of the apple fruit and trees found in the Geneva orchard to be intriguing and a-peel-ing. Yes, it made sense why people became such huge fans of the apple and of cider, sweetness was a privilege that we have taken for granted today. Although I was bored at points throughout this chapter, I am still very surprised and entertained by the history of the apple and would gladly read on about the tulip, marijuana and the potato (perhaps with a tall glass of crisp, fresh cider in my hand).