Wild versus Cultivated

I’m reading and loving Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. I’ll be back to tout it further.
Great poetry of evolution, of science … Wise understanding of ecology, of what’s “natural” … Beautiful on co-evolutionary stretagies: flower and bee, potato and man …

(Somehow it’s been easier to see how dogs are using us while we use dogs that it is to see how the grasses have employed humanity, tulips, cannabis …)

2012 01 22 I finished the book a few days ago: except for the end notes: and they look to be as wisdom-filled as the chapters! If less poetic.
There’s a parallel I have to develop ASAP:

Pollan treats government-interfered-with industrial-scale, patented-intellectual-property agriculture as mono-culture. He presents Idaho potato farms as having banished nature: border to border brand-name-fertilized spud clones. Please, I beg you, notice the parallel with universities and school systems as they’ve manifested in my life time and as I’ve described them, villainizing them since the 1960s. My PhD orals committee prevented me from presenting my reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets, not patented by Monsanto, in 1971, just as the whole department had ignored everything I’d said since 1962 or 63. And the culture, sanitized, helpless, monocultured, doesn’t hear that a hand is being offered to them: any more than the temple-numbed Jews heard Jesus: and of course the goose-stepping Romans didn’t: still don’t.

I’ve expand on those metaphors: and add further develop this image of the god cartels. Of course I’ve been saying for half-a-cntury that churches block messages from god, schools block messages from experience … government blocks messages from people.

2012 01 22 Flour as the Epitome of Civilization

Civilization was invented more than once in more than one place, but the dominant one is the oldest: wheat, in the Fertile Crescent. Pollan is fabulous in his contrast between the humble, even despised potato and the championship-belt-displaying cereal grasses. Flour is the food where the finished food bears no resemblance to the raw food. Flour production is specialized, capital intensive … Ancient, storied … Wheat growns toward the light! White is Christian, vertical, godly … spiritual; the potato: ugh, a nightshade, grown underground, in the dark …

But, the wheat civilizations weren’t altogether monocultures; the poor damn Irish, had little choice in the matter, and did become dependent, for their gross overpopulation, on the ugly potato, every potato utterly unique in its ugliness.
I made dinner last night for my beloved Jan. I cooked, at my house. I made braised beef: Tysons, ugh: a prepared, ugh, food. String beans, very good, but frozen, damn them. And mashed potatoes: from a damn package, just add water. The milk, the butter, the herbs … are supposed to be there: our lives more and more totally in the command of Beatrice. Fortunately, it was damn good, every bite. Jan loved it, was still singing about how good it was hours later, as we watched Ken Russell take on DH Lawrence, in Women in Love, on DVD. Fake food, fake culture. Jan mentioned that left over mashed potatos made good potato fritters. “Put a little flour on your hands, form a pancake, sauté it in a little butter …” I told her I had some potato pancakes mix, dry, ugh, in a box, ugh. Prepared Jewish. Ugh. And, this morning, I made a potato fritter, it was great, with bacon, egg, cheese …

But I didn’t keep my hands dry with any flour. Flour ready to hand was a staple of my childhood. There was always flour in a container on the stove, just as there was always coffee around, sugar … But no longer. I have flour in the house, in a paper bag, unopened, these twenty years. I am a cook, at least I was, a real chef: by talent, passion, not by income, by earning. (I’ve seldom earned an income: my inventions stolen, misrepresented.)
just notes, I’ll improve, develop, spin off …

I wish I had an administrator to gather money for my work, to check the law to see how much Pollan I may legally quote without asking his permission, paying royalties … If you benefit from what I say, send me a few bucks. If you benefit from authors I quote, send them a few bucks. Tell Amazon, and the fed, Pentagon, university system, CERN … eBay, Google … to send me a few thou’ for plagiarizing my idea of cybgernetic data basing, and a few billion, a few hundred billion in penalties for not paying me in 1970 when it would have done some good. I’ll split the money with Pollan, and a few others. Meantime: I quote:

Psychoactive plants
Psychoactive plants stand on the threshold of matter and spirit, at the point where simple distinctions between the two no longer hold.


Organic farmers like Mike Heath have turned their backs on what is unquestionably the greatest strength—and still greater weakness—of industrial agriculture: monoculture and the economies of scale it makes possible. Monoculture is the single most powerful simplification of modern agriculture, the key move in reconfiguring nature as a machine, yet nothing else in agriculture is so poorly fitted to the way nature seems to work. Very simply, a vast field of identical plants will always be exquisitely vulnerable to insects, weeds, and disease—to all the vicissitudes of nature. Monoculture is at the root of virtually every problem that bedevils the modern farmer, and from which virtually every agricultural product is designed to deliver him.

To put the matter baldly, a farmer like Mike Heath is working hard to adjust his fields to the logic of nature, while Danny Forsyth is working even harder to adjust his fields to the logic of monoculture and, standing behind that, the logic of an industrial food chain. One small case in point: when I asked Mike Heath what he did about net necrosis, the bane of Danny Forsyth’s potato crop, I was disarmed by the simplicity of his answer. “That’s only really a problem with Russet Burbanks,” he explained. “So I plant other kinds.” Forsyth can’t do that. He’s part of a food chain—at the far end of which stands a perfect McDonald’s french fry—that demands he grow Russet Burbanks and nothing else.

This, of course, is where biotechnology comes in, to the rescue of Forsyth’s Russet Burbanks and, Monsanto is betting, to the whole industrial food chain of which they form a part. Monoculture is in crisis. The pesticides that make it possible are rapidly being lost, either to resistance or to worries about their dangers. As the fertility of the soil has declined under the onslaught of chemicals, so too in many places have crop yields. “We need a new silver bullet,” an entomologist with the Oregon Extension Service told me, “and biotech is it.” Yet a new silver bullet is not the same thing as a new paradigm. Rather, it’s something that will allow the old paradigm to survive. That paradigm will always construe the problem in Danny Forsyth’s field as a Colorado beetle problem, rather than what it is: a problem of potato monoculture.

The subject of monoculture continues in Poly Mono.
Notice how much this is what I’ve been talking about for decades, but without using the word. Diversity: that word I have used. But the whole culture is revising its vocabulary. So am I: leading, following …


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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1 Response to Wild versus Cultivated

  1. Pingback: The Botany of Desire | Witness This

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