It’s not cact-you. It’s cact-US.

The Man-Proof Fence

 

At first appearance there is nothing welcoming about the prickly pear.  A free growing cactus can stand as tall as an imposing twenty feet and stretch as wide as ten feet.  A thick, tough cuticle barricades its leaves and its broad, flat pads are covered in sharp spines. Even the bright and delicate flowers that blossom on the tips of its pads in summer will turn into fruit covered with fine (but equally sharp) needles by fall.  Strong, hard roots twist deep into the soil so the plant can survive almost any hardship.  New prickly pears will spring up to taunt farmers who hacked at it with machetes or set fire to its flesh.  It is not unless the plant is approached cautiously and treated gently that the plant becomes kind.  Delicately weaving a small hand between the leaves with a sharp blade can remove a pad or fruit in a quick, painless stroke and softly rolling the fleshly on a warm surface easily removes the spines from the fruit.

And it is a kind plant.  Most people in the South West will serve the cactus to their families.  Tourists will proudly take home preserves of its fruit to sit proudly on their shelves.  Vitamins and clean water stream from its broad pads.  Once the spines on the fruit have been pacified, its juices can be drunk, the flesh eaten, and jellies, syrups, and candies prepared.  Heavily pigmented with indicaxathin and betathin, powerful antioxidants whose names are splashed across bottles juice, prickly pear also lines the shelves of health food stores.  It looks a little like the “Bam!” and “Pop!” non-sequiturs that punctuate the fights in Batman comics except it’s “Fights hypertension!” and “Lowers blood sugar!” Even the slime that oozes from its thick, nobby roots seems to apologize for its rough exterior: a small amount of the mucilage will bind sediment and bacteria in drinking water and make it safe to drink.   Yet, unless it is treated with respect and patience, the prickly pear cactus remains a nearly impenetrable mass that unforgivingly stabs at anyone who comes near.

Though it can be found in dry, semi-arid regions around the world, the people of the Southwest United States think of the plant as their own.  Native to Mexico, a genetic analysis of local cacti places its origin in central Mexico specifically in the early fifteenth century. It is the state plant of Texas and is also featured on the Mexican Coat of Arms. In a time of contentious relations between the two countries, the prickly pear cactus seems like the only thing that Texas and Mexico share.  The plant sprawls itself across a zone of contention between the two areas, spreading resentment and suspicion.  Because of it’s share of the land in both countries, the cactus does not represent an ecological border.  The prickly pear can come into Texas.  It’s people they want to keep out.

The cacti grow around a small office for the United States Border Patrol that sits on the dry, ground in the south of Texas and its purple, pink, and yellow blooms dot the grey land around the building.  A fine layer of dust, in equal amounts from the United States and Mexico, lines the outside of the station and settles in the border patrol officers’ coffee cups.  The officers will still drink their dusty coffee while they wait for a scratchy voice over their radios to tell them about the illegal aliens, drug dealers, and criminals that approach the border.  These men must be caught and it is the officers’ job to catch them. This, however, is a pursuit with more determination than is seen in a simple occupation.  They will run to their white cars, greyed by the dust, and drive off.  They will drive after the men until they reach a place where their cars cannot go any further:  the thick tangles where the prickly pear cacti grow.  Even though the thick rubber or the tires and the hard metal frame of the cruisers cannot go through the cacti, the chase will still go on for the officers and the men.

Neither officer nor wanted man will come to the prickly pear quietly, gently, or softly.   No one that night will want to taste the warm, soft flesh in its leaves.  They won’t want to the purple juice dribble down their chin while they slowly bite into the sweet fruit.  To them, the cactus is not a medicine, a food, or just a simple plant.  To them, the cactus is a barricade, an obstacle, a fence. So the prickly pear cactus will stab at any legs that try to untangle its needles.  When the chase is over – whether the wanted man sits in the back of the officers’ car or escapes capture – all of the men will sit and begin to pull out the long spines that have pierced through their clothes and into their skin.  They will dig through the flesh on their shin and pull the bloody barbs out one by one.  And when they finish with one leg, they will start on the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Bisson, J., Dabule, S., Hidalgo, S., Guillemet, D., Linares, E. (2010). Dieuretic andantioxidant effects of Cacti-Nea, a dehydrated prickly pear extract. Physiotherapy Research, 24(4), 587 – 594.

 

Butera, D., Tesoriere, L., Di Gaudio, F., Bongiorno, A., Allegra, M., Pintaudi, AM., Kohen, R., Livrea, M. (2002). Antioxidant properties of Opuntia ficus-indica fruit extracts. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50, 6895 – 6901.

 

Cota-Sanchez, H. (2002). Taxonomy, distribution, rarity status and uses of Canadian cacti. Haseltonia (9), 17-25.

 

Griffith, P. (2004). The origins of an important cactus crop: New molecular evidence. American Journal of Botany, 91(11), 1915 – 1921.

 

Hoffman, J. (1998). Evaluation of cactoblastis cactorum as a biological control agent for          cactaceae opuntia. Biological Control, 12(1), 20-24.

 

Hunter, M. (1985). In defense of opuntias. Cactus and Succulent Journal, 57, 68 – 74.

 

Midey, C. (2005) A magical plant. The Arizona Republic.

 

Women Sustaining Women in Arid Lands. (n.d.) The Prickly Pear Cactus.

 

Action Against Hunger. (2012). Clean water projects: Fixing the cycle of “Break-down” and Repair.” Retrieved from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22380448/ns/world_news-africa/examples-failed-aid-funded-projects-africa/

 

 

 

 

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A well-rounded diet has three square meals.

Smith, A. and J.B. MacKinnon.  2007.  The 100-mile diet.  Vintage Canada. Toronto.

“Are we to regard the world of nature simply as a storehouse to be robbed for the immediate benefit of man? Does man have any responsibility for the preservation of a decent balance in nature, for the preservation of rare species, or even for the indefinite continuance of his race?” – Kenneth Boulding

“Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”  – Homer Simpson

I sat back to read “The 100-Mile Diet” while drinking coffee that most definitely was not grown within 100 miles of me but was most definitely bought from McDonald’s.  I sat in a chair that came from IKEA in a house that I got to by driving in my car while I listened to my iPod.  And as I sat and read this book about the authors’ year of living “raucously” (a challenging, coffee-free year wrought with relationship stresses) I realized how hard the first-world life is.  Even though we have very little (in)tangible connection to the process of how food gets onto our tables and into our bellies, we have an almost Pavlov-ian relationship with food. Maybe it’s because these are foods that we like and don’t want to give up, but perhaps, in actuality, our ignorance of how much we appreciate food is because we are in no danger of being confronted with having to give any of it up. Ever.  No matter the cost.

For me, the greatest service that this book about people who did actually give up certain foods was to point out that the average person isn’t just disconnected from where our food comes from, but we are also totally disengaged with what to do with our food.  I can be my own example of this.  I quite like to cook but, even with a fridge full of vegetables, the last bowl of soup I ate came from a can.  I’m willing to conceded that tomato soup (that doesn’t have tomatoes as the first ingredient) might still taste better than “chum soup” sounds, but I would still say being detached from buying, preparing, and eating food as a process is problematic.  Another example:

There is a mindfulness that can be (un)intentionally ignored when food is simply placed in front of us.  I was surprised to see how both conscious and conscientious the authors were when they had to make plans on turnip time.  The one question that the book left unanswered was whether this acuity was because they were committed to the task, or simply survival?  To me, it all circles back to the issue of dependence.  The authors are certainly correct when they point out how dependent we are on the “monoculture” that has moved from farms and set up in supermarkets.  Tell me this wouldn’t happen if tastes weren’t dictated by grocers the way Prada dictates what the Devil wears:

I think this book is as much about the 100-Mile Diet and philosophy as it is about the effect that it had on the authors.  In regards to the effect on the (un)lucky couple, I really appreciated that they chose not to romanticize their task.  Sometimes I found myself thinking “You picked some berries in the forest and you’re friends were too polite to tell you that’s weird.  How could you not think this would be hard?”  It wasn’t until after I had finished the book and thought about their experience that it began to be more meaningful for me.  They were very honest the effect that the diet had on their lifestyle, on and off the dinner table and I felt their frustration that the reason they were simultaneously so passionate and yet verged on defeat was because of things like the cost of water and fuel to grow lettuce in California. However, I have to say that, in regards to the diet and philosophy, I’m not sure I was really satisfied with how these played out in the book.  I don’t mean to sound skeptical or condescending.  Still, I wonder if (now that it’s been five years since the book was written) there has been any meaningful decrease in the water or fuel used to produce the lettuce or any significant benefit to local farmers.  I think it is these types of quantifiable measures that would help combat some of the loaded sentiments that arise when people hear about sustainability measures like the 100-Mile Diet.  I think it’s really difficult to advocate for any kind of lifestyle change, let alone a hugely challenging diet overhaul, without people feeling judged.  And when people feel judged, they generally get defensive or downright scared.

The most positive attribute of the book is its writing and I think the authors really played to their strengths to diffuse any resentment by advocating for small, manageable changes.  I do think that they verged on the preachy and saccharine at times, but I appreciated the effort.  I wonder if it will change the contents of my coffee cup the next time I sit down to read.

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Get to the joint

“Marijuana is self-punishing. It makes you acutely sensitive, and in this world, what worse punishment could there be?” – PJ O’Rourke

 

“Caution: Objects may appear more edible than they actually are.” – Warning label on Homer Simpson’s medical marijuana jar

 

This is another blog that’s a cop-out.  I don’t particularly wish to share how I feel about marijuana and that’s specifically because I don’t want to have to called on to explain or qualify or defend how I feel.  There.  I said it.  I’m worried my opinion might be different than yours so you might think that means that I’m different from you, too.

 

And this brings me to my next question: Why is it that marijuana (or any drugs in general) makes people so….judge-y. Or at least makes people feel so….judge-y’d.   I don’t even want to write a few sentences about what I found on Wikipedia.  Michael Pollan will haul ass emptying wood out of a truck into the middle of the field to avoid being caught with it. And having done that myself, I have to say that the sheer volume of back sweat alone really impressed upon me that the “taboo” of marijuana is still as much of a verboten as it is a temptation.  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I do know that I had to set that question aside when I was reading this chapter because Pollan really stripped down the topic to what amounted to some stinky plants growing in an ad-hoc green house.

 

Still, I was really interested to read about marijuana as a subject of gardening.  Not a public health issue.  Not a criminal policy issue.  Not an economic or socio-cultural issue.  Maybe the stoner culture was touched on a little, but I think Pollan used a tongue-in-cheek tone writing about it.  These weren’t the Phish-farm hippies that have tongues sticking out at them:

While I was reading this chapter, I kept thinking about the Liberal Party’s recent announcement that they would endorse legalizing marijuana in their future platform.  I think maybe this chapter would serve them well because it would provide some good biological background on marijuana growing as well as some anthropological background on man’s desire for altered consciousness.  Still, marijuana use (never mind it’s legalization) is more than just a topic of gardeners.  It can’t be separated from public health, crime, economic, and sociology.  And that’s why I don’t want to talk about how I feel about it.  Because I can’t do it without sharing more than I want to about those things too.  I think it’s certainly possible for individuals to be certain about how they feel about marijuana, but Michael Pollan very adeptly points out that it is much more difficult for communities, governments, and societies to come to a collective agreement.  I see this as changing the question from “Is marijuana a devil?” to “Is it a devil we really know?”

 

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Creo-dope

Nabhan, G.P. (1990). Gathering the desert.  University of Arizona Press. 209 pp.

 

“If there is a solution to the world hunger problem, it surely does not lie in destroying cultures but rather in re-establishing them.  Indeed, the great irony is that nutritionists are needed in precisely those societies whose culture has broken down.” – Nicholas Hildyard

 

“Yeah, Flanders.  I’m going to go all the way to a desert with no casinos.  Sign me up!…NOT!” – Homer Simpson

 

 

 

Maybe it was just me, but this week’s reading seemed a lot shorter than previous readings.  This was a change of pace that I appreciated.  I’m very behind in my appointment television, you see.  But I digress.  I think I will start with where Nabhan ended.  He (or she?) did so by saying that plants are persistent where humans are not.  Perhaps that true.  I don’t really know any human who has the persistence to last 11 000 years of existence.  Do you have any idea how many parking tickets I could amass in that time?  It’s enough to make me want to gouge out my eyeballs with a sharpened creosote stick.  Although I bet that damn plant would probably heal them right back up again. I think that mankind has at least a little bit of persistence.  I mean, Homer really wants that snack and he is not going to give up.

If you completely disregard Lenny and Carl in that clip (there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, by the way!), maybe our comparative lack of persistence relative to plants might be because we don’t have to be so self-sufficient.  Call it an “I-can-actually-move-so-I-can-get-away-and/or-high-five” complex.  People can help each other.  People can encourage one another.  People can be friends.  Granted that’s not every time for every one, but for the most part we’re asked to be good and not persistent.  Just not like this:

 

“…and then I gave that man directions even though I didn’t know the way – because that’s the kind of person I am this week!” – Homer

 

It could be that the reading was a little short that it also seemed that some cans of worms were opened and good thoughts were left to squiggle away.  For example, within the first few paragraphs Nabhan says that he (or she) and another trained botanist were working with a man who was native to the Sonoran Desert.  It seemed like, for him (or her) that was a completely natural and rewarding pairing, yet most of the reading was about how modern society has lost touch with traditional ways of food and medicine.  He even went so far as to lay the blame on scientists for wanting to have measurable proof that a plant did what they were being told.  If that’s the case, what exactly did he get out of walking the desert with Don Manuel and why was it important to him?  Was it only because Michael Pollan took his spot on the Johnny Appleseed tour?

 

One of the things that I liked about the reading was a note on page 6, where Nabhan asks “…can sketches express the character of plants?”  I didn’t think plants actually had a character except “Often Delicious with Butter.”  When he (or she) continued to say that we might prescribe a character to a plant to pass on our cultural identity, especially with food, I thought this linked quite nicely to the commendation about plants’ persistence.  It also gave me a new way perspective on how humans use and rely on plants.

 

There, were, however, few things that I liked about the reading overall.  I didn’t mind the first part because I thought a few interesting ideas were being set up.  I didn’t like the second part because I didn’t think there was any follow through with those ideas.  It felt a little bit disjointed.  How did the story about the Earth Creator go right into a PSA about creosote?  At that point in the reading, I began to detach from Nabhan’s words.  I did not appreciate that he slammed other scientists for wanting proof about the plant.  I would expect the same amount of curiosity from a traditional medicine man if I were to hand him a Tylenol.  I really didn’t appreciate that the focus seemed to be on how amazing creosote was instead of why other societies have lost touch with it.

 

Hands sore from last minute blogging? Slather on the creosote!

Always manage to sit next to the smelliest person on the bus? Pass the creosote!

Hate it when you get cracks in your pottery, engine, coffins, and condoms?  Creosote, please!

Have a PMS’ing horse? Creosote, pardner.

Is it important to regain a connection to native plants? Why?…….Creosote?

 

One thing that I really struggle with when people advocate for traditional wisdom is the idea that First Nations’ people can be so easily tokenized.  I felt like someone had switched “The Magic Bullet” infomercial with Nabhan’s story about the friendly, sage Native American who just happens to be at the right bus stop at the right time to cure whatever ails you.  That story didn’t demonstrate – to me anyway –why academic and traditional knowledge complement each other.  I thought it was almost hypocritical given that he praised one of the women he (or she) met in the Sonoran for being progressive and modern.  Creosote is, clearly, off the hook.  First Nations’ people have a lot of valuable knowledge.  These are the kind of things that don’t need to be marketed as a novelty. Leave that to the professionals.

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In-cider information

 

Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World”

Chapter One
Desire: Sweetness

Plant: The Apple

 

 

“It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” – Winston Churchill, not talking about Johnny Appleseed

 

Marge: Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?

Homer: Yup, pretty much….except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.

— Marge and Homer, also not talking about Johnny Appleseed

 

(Side note 1: *insert record scratch here* Pomologist? I Wikipedia-ed that.  It’s a job that totally exists.)

 

            In this chapter, Michael Pollan takes a road trip that traces the steps of the one and only Johnny Appleseed (who turned out to be an actual guy…or was he?).  For a lot of this trip, it seemed like Michael Pollan wanted to pound back a few hard ciders with Mr. Appleseed because his tour guide’s company was a little more seed than apple, if you know what I mean.  (Side note 2: Who takes a road trip through the Eastern United States – a hop-skip-and-a-Chunky-Monkey away from Vermont – and does not retrace the steps of Ben and Jerry?)   And, like all great road trips, Michael Pollan and we who are along for the ride learn that it is not the destination that matter, but the journey.

 

            Even though I have great affection fro Lenny and Carl’s strangly co-dependent relationship (kind of reminds you a certain plant and a certain people….), I think apples and the people of the Eastern United states probably have the most in common with Moe, the owner of Homer’s favorite bar, and Barney, Moe’s best customer.  First, Moe literally supplies Barney with alcohol.   Second, Barney’s immobile, orchard-like presence on Moe’s barstool is probably the most certain sign of settlement that I know of.  Third, their presence in each others’ lives changes both of them profoundly.  The only difference is that the changes are not necessarily positive.  For Barney, Moe’s influence takes him from a Harvard-bound opera singer/helicopter pilot to a human version of a tree that can’t be grafted.  For Moe, Barney’s influence takes him from a mean-spirited, amoral, emotional needy dive-bar owner to a slightly richer mean-spirited, amoral, emotional needy dive-bar owner.

 

(Side note 3: I would agree that alcohol probably fits well with certain communal aspects of living on the range, but let’s not forget:

)

 

            The two themes that seemed to be the most significant in this reading were the blending (intentional or not) between fact and myth, and man and nature.  For me, I think that we blend these things together when it most benefits us.  For example, it makes sense to me that Johnny Appleseed would be thought of as some sort of mystical representative of White and First Nation’s cultures that was celebrated and welcomed into homes.  The whole child bride scenario?  That doesn’t need to be elaborated on.  Similarly, it seems that the idea of settlement in North America becomes a much more powerful story when development is linked to man’s industriousness and resourcefulness rather than a couple of apples and two shakes of small pox on the side.

 

            I was surprised that the sweetness of the apple was not as discussed as thoroughly as the history of John Chapman.  I mean, sweetness is right in the title so I don’t think I’m reading too much into this.  I suppose maybe the desire for sweetness and the persepectives we have probably reflect the value systems we have, past or present.  I’m not sure if it reflects a superficial desire for tastiness or maybe a fundamental biology that it seems like only literal sweetness is a desire that remains today.  I do know that I wrote this after a night shift and sleeplessness and the anonymity of the interweb doesn’t lend itself to the most sophisticated writing.  I’ll probably call Pollan’s tour guide a buttwipe soon.  He sounded a mustache away from….

I also know when it’s best to sign off and go gently into that good nap.  Adieu, pomologists.  Good night, and good luck.

 

 

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The New Cornographers

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Pages 15 – 119

 

“We begin  to see, therefore,  the importance of selecting our environment  with the greatest care.   The environment is the mental feeding ground out of which the food that goes into our minds is extracted.” – Napoleon Hill

 

“The exports of Libya are numerous in amount.  One thing they export is corn, or, as the Indians call it, ‘maize’.  In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast.  Thank you.” – Bart Simpson, delivering his speech on behalf of Libya at the Springfield Model UN

 

Who knew?  Who knew corn was so….interesting?  Be it pop or candy, I owe a lot to Zea Mays.  I know that corn was really the focus of the reading, but I really wanted to talk about some of the other points that came up throughout the reading for me. 

After this reading, I would describe myself as someone who has as much knowledge and insight into my food as Bart Simpson, but aspires to have the perspective of Napoleon Hill.  I say this not only because Hill says quite pointedly what Pollan implies in this reading (that is, that growing, using, buying, and eating food is increasingly becoming an intellectual exercise), but his name is Napoleon.  Try not to take a guy whose name is Napoleon seriously.   I am now acutely aware of the absence of mindfulness in what I am eating.  There is a whole lifestyle, culture, industry, political system, economy and so on and so forth that I had no idea even existed.

 

For more than 100 pages – granted they were interesting, but 100 pages is still a lot for someone with a 22-minute (with commercial breaks) attention span – Michael Pollan described a human-centric food chain in great detail.   It begins with corn and ends with McNuggets.  Don’t think I just saved you 98 pages because there is a lot more than that.  It’s not so much a food chain as it is a cycle.  The crux of the cycle is the dependency of man on corn and corn on man.  I was really impressed by this week’s reading.   I always thought that humans were only passively involved in the food chain.  By that I mean, I knew a food chain existed.  I just thought of it sort of like a conveyor belt that passed through civilization and we just kind of picked different parts off the conveyor belt as they passed by.  I suppose we are somewhat removed from the food chain now: it isn’t like I have to look over my shoulder for a sneak attack by some saber-tooth tiger anymore; but this week’s reading demonstrates that humans are still very much involved in the food chain. 

 

100 pages is a start.  I wouldn’t say that I’m completely enlightened on everything that I need to know, but, again, it’s a start.  It’s important to see that start to the finish because otherwise I can’t take responsibility for my part in the food chain.   Maybe I should start studying at Bovine University: 

 

 

 

 

A few other impressions from the reading….as interesting as it was…..I felt a little “icky” after reading it.  I have a hard time putting into words exactly what it is that I didn’t like (because I didn’t actually not like the reading), I just felt…..unsettled.

 

Given my attention span, I found the beginning and the end of the reading to have the biggest impression on me.  In the middle, I had a hard time keeping attention.  That’s probably because I didn’t want to keep attention.  It’s very difficult to not be blissfully ignorant because taking in and processing information (especially heavy information) takes a lot more energy.  It’s also less blissful.

 

All joking aside, I was pretty hooked on the reading right from the word go.  Actually it was the word Nature.  And Produce. Fish. Meat.  Capitalizing the words made them seem much more significant.  It was like they were proper nouns and needed that respect. 

 

I also thought that Michael Pollan made some of his most interesting points in the first few pages.  The first point that really struck me was statement that grocery stores are rich in biodiversity.  In the strictest sense, he’s absolutely right.  Yet, it’s hard to accept at the same time.  It just doesn’t feel right.  It makes me wonder if the definition of biodiversity needs to change, or my concept of what purpose a grocery store serves.

 

In the last few chapters of the reading, Michael Pollan talks a lot about how corn is used (almost as a crutch) in a vegetable based diet that has very little to do with actual vegetables.  Beginning in his description of making meat, to the manufacturing of processed foods, and finally to the fast food industry, I couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t really taking about the food and agricultural industry.  I wish I could put my finger on exactly what didn’t sit right with me, but I can’t.  It seemed to me that food turned into a commodity and now it is so far beyond being a product that it’s almost a  ______ (this is what I can’t put my finger on).  Obviously, there is some sort of connection between our lifestyle and our food and it’s always been that way.  We talk about the “hunter-gatherer lifestyle” the “farming lifestyle” but what we are living in now is very different.  This, I believe, is an accurate representation:

 

 

Maybe Produce, Meat, Fish, etc weren’t capitalized because they needed the respect of proper names.  Maybe there were capitalized because we’ve turned them in to something bigger and more important to us than they were originally.   I would have an easier time explaining it if I knew if there was a Mayan equivalent for the cupholder because when Michael Polan said that his car was designed for fast food and I realized how right he was It. Blew. My. Mind.

            At the end of this weekend, I look at the cover of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and I see that it is a dilemma indeed.  Michael Pollan’s description of plant domestication is that it is a crop that evolves certain traits that we find desirable so that we spread its genes.  I have a hard time believing that way back in 1493 Zea Mays was thinking, “Dude, I totally want to be breading on a chicken nugget.”  There is a whole evolution of corn that has brought us to this point and unfortunately, I can’t help but feel a little bit like the guy in this clip:

 

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Bananas for squash!

Guns, germs, and Steel. 1999. Jared Diamond. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, NY.
Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 8

When Lyn told us that she used to turn orange from eating carrots, I just sat there and thought “Preach it, sister!”  My parents have a picture of me as a glowingly orange toddler: I ate squash like it was my job and I worked a lot of overtime.  But to think all this time I have been giving praise to the Gerber baby when I should have been giving credit to the farmers of Mexico and the indigenous people of the eastern United States!  Boy, is my face….orange.

And can we hear it for the humble gourd?  Sure, up to and including the final chapter of the reading, there was a lot of blah blah blah “cereals grains provide more energy than any other crop” this, and yada yada yada yada “pulses provide an important source of protein” that – but I counted not one but two shout-outs (or do academic writer’s prefer the term “props”) to bottle gourds!  Granted, they were followed with the caveat “a container was not enough” but, come one.  I’m starting to think I don’t just owe my big bowl of ice cream to the people who domesticated large lactating animals, but to the guy who looked at that bottle gourd and saw something no one else did.  Nice work.

I really appreciate Jared Diamond’s narrative style to synthesizing information the same way that I appreciate The Simpsons.  In the overall readings, I could find some moments of levity, but I still take these chapters very seriously.  Now, you might say:


“Books are useless!  I only read one book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It only taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin, but gave me absolutely no insight into how to kill mockingbirds! ” – Homer Simpson

To me, chapter eight is all about Jared Diamond’s three stories.  For varying reasons, the stories were all different but they taught the same lesson.  I didn’t get any closure about colonialist attitudes and racism in food production, but this reading made me hopeful that it might be coming in a chapter soon to be discovered.   The previous chapters were building up to explaining the “haves” and the “have-nots” is based on the indigenous crops, wildlife, environment, and climate of the past.  Jared Diamond really cut to the chase: no one people have some level of mastery or ability more than another people.  It was unexpected, to add an agricultural perspective against scientific racism.

The passages describing the importance of ethnobiology were my favourite.  In that spirit, the closing word should belong to one of the greats.

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” – Wade Davis

 

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