Pollan M. The Botany of Desire: A plants’ eye view of the world. 2001. Random House Inc. New York, N.Y. (Pgs 3-58).
I will never be able to hear the word “sweet” again without thinking of an apple.
Pollan opens up this chapter with descriptive imagery and detail. It was incredibly easy to picture “Johnny Appleseed” in my head, floating down the Ohio River with his “fellow passengers.” By the time Pollan got around to talking about what kind of man Johnny was, and his relationship with those apple seeds he had in tow, I had already been able to paint that picture. It was easy to follow Pollan’s train of thought. “No mere passenger or dependent, the apple is the hero of its own story” (6). Pollan is obviously continuing his plant point of view approach as he had in the introduction of this book. He also mentions in the first few pages that the “apples and the man have suffered a similar fate…” which I slightly understood at first, but became more clear to me as the chapter continued (7).
The apple I know and love today is an imposter. The apple DOES fall far from the tree and an apple a day DOES NOT keep the doctor away. These are just two of the phrases associated with the “modern invention” called the “apple” that Pollan falsifies. When he mentioned finding the “real” apple that “had been lost” I was expecting him to describe a historical plant that looked much like an apple with one or few mutations that appealed to humans. Much the same as what we discussed in class as what led to the artificial selection of most foods we eat today. However, the apple caught me off guard. There is no ONE historical apple. Every seed is different and unique. Pollan uses this aspect of variety and diversity as a way of liking a population of apple seeds to a human population, being able to select and evolve to a new environment without difficulty.
I enjoyed thinking about our movement to the new world as the same as the apples. My parents being recent immigrants to North America, I guess I can liken myself to one of the first seeds being planted from my family in a new world. When I go back home to visit family I am in many ways a completely different person than the rest of my family. We may look the same, have the same blood, but the differences are obvious too. I don’t do well in that environment and they don’t do well in mine; “as distinct from the old European stock as the Americans themselves” Pollan said of the apple (13).
Something that stood out to me was the fact that sugar was not truly accessible in America until the 19th century. Today, sugar is in everything. It is so abundant that many people dedicate a large portion of their time just trying to avoid sugar, usually finding it impossible to do so. It is hard to imagine a world where “sugar on the tongue was an astonishment” so I can see why the apple was so intensely welcome (18). I can see why it has been regarded as such a powerful individual, even in the bible, as Pollan brings to attention, in the garden of Eden (20). Sweetness has been associated with desire for as long as we can remember, and for America, it appears that as long as we can remember started with the apple. Like I said before, I don’t think I will hear the word “sweet” again without thinking of an apple.
Two things that I noticed, and really enjoyed from Pollans’ book are 1) I was able to read and form my own opinions based on given information before the author fully revealed what he thought and 2) Pollan never needed to write out in full sentences what his opinion was on a subject; instead his language and wording made his feelings rather obvious. I never felt like the book was TELLING me what to think. Many times a writer gets so passionate on a topic that by the time I finish reading I almost feel trapped into agreeing with them. This was different. I found myself agreeing with Pollan, but not because I had to. This may be the powerful trap of Pollans writing, tricking me into thinking I got there all on my own. However, I think it more likely that Pollan intended for this to be an exploration of ideas for him, and for us to experience the adventure with him as we pleased.
A large portion of the chapter is dedicated to Pollan finding the “real” Johnny Appleseed, the man that helped the apple in it’s success. At first, I found myself taking a very keen liking to this character. The book mentions that grafted trees were already in Ohio when Johnny arrived, but that Johnny thought that this “is only a device of man” the “correct method is to select good seeds and plant them in the ground and God only can improve the apple” (15). I was already troubled by the fact that Pollan was introducing me to these wild, unique seeds and in reality I have only met two or three cloned varieties; so at this point of Johnny’s story my thoughts were along the lines of..”go Johnny Appleseed!!” “you tell ’em.” He sounds like a real environmentalist, someone with a rare bond with nature. I was confused when this relationship with nature was at first described as “perversive.” However, again upon further reading the picture became clear.
One question I had was that if sweet apples were already somewhat available, how was Johnny so successful in selling his seeds. As soon as the word alcohol was read I was surprised at myself for not thinking of that in the first place. DUHHH Sarah!!! All the weird quirks and behaviour displayed by Johnny, in the folk tales shared, can be explained by one thing…Johnny Appleseed was a drunk! It sounds as if he may have been a homosexual as well, although that one is questionable. His relationship with the fruit is considered “perverse” almost as if he “worshipped” the apple. As a bartender, I see that worship on a regular basis. Intoxication was as strong as a desire as the sweetness. Or is that the same thing? So now I can’t go to work without thinking of an apple either. They are everywhere god-damn it!
At one point I wanted to yell out “Enough of Johnny already…lets get back to the apple.” I mean as interesting a character as he was, after a while the reading about Johnny Appleseed seemed just a tad repetitive. Although as soon as I thought this, Pollan switched it up. It’s like he reads my mind sometimes.
One other character worth mentioning is Mr. Appleseeds’ biggest fan, Bill Jones. The only thing I can say here is not only does it appear that Pollan is a man of great writing, he is also a man of great patience.
“Sweetness without dimension” which was once used to describe the Red Delicious was, to me, one of the most powerful phrases I read in this chapter. To me it perfectly describes the world’s view of Jonny Appleseed as well as the worlds view on the apple. All the unique qualities that make up the character are gone, overrun with what we desire. Johnny is a friendly hero, and the apple is perfectly sweet. That’s it, that’s all we need to know to keep us happy. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. Who cares if we never know the real Johnny, we know he brought us the apple and that was great, thats what really matters right? Maybe it’s for the best we don’t know all the scary details. Sometimes knowing too much can rain on the positives. What we don’t know can’t hurt us kind of thing.
Where would the fun be if we all thought that?
The Apple has been domesticated so that it’s just as boring as a sober, green loving, treehugging Johnny. No mystery what so ever. My boyfriend right now is watching TV eating a bag of Dorito’s Roulette (he’s addicted to Doritos and the food network). Not sure if you’ve had them, but although the chips all look the same, some are cheesy and others are extremely spicy. Literally playing with fire:) I’m addicted too I have to say. Well why not a bag of apple roulette. Would that not make reaching in my gym bag every morning for a simple snack that much more sweet! or maybe not so sweet haha you never know;)
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