Human Nature in Relation to Plants

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Written by Michael Pollan, this book is his perspective of human nature in relation to plants. He theorizes that Nature’s creation symbolize our emotional and physical desires. Pollan uses four plants to prove his theory: Apples, Tulips, Marijuana, and Potatoes.

Apples, Pollan explains, mirror every human’s desire for sweetness. He writes of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), a man who planted apple trees all across America. He explains that Johnny Appleseed was not mythical or legendary, but that he was a real person who, like any other man or woman, had a desire for sweetness. Pollan writes that the apples that John Chapman planted were usually pressed into a sweet cider, both delicious and nutritious. It seems that Pollan uses this cider as a metaphor for human’s love of delicious food, sex, and good health.

Tulips represent beauty, says Pollan. He explains that in 17th century Holland, the beauty of the tulip was considered more valuable than money. In fact a man paid the price of a town house for a single tulip bulb. Pollan assimilates the tulip with human vanity. He compares the 17th century ‘tulip craze’ to the modern woman spending hours in front of a mirror painting her face with make-up, and the power that our aesthetical preferences’ has in our lives.

Marijuana mirrors man’s love of intoxication. Pollan believes that marijuana’s natural occurrence within the ecosystem represents, and perhaps validates, our desire to get high or stoned. However, human’s desire of intoxication is dangerous, because we begin to manufacture and enhance natural substances, turning them into dangerous and highly addictive narcotics (i.e., turning poppies into heroin, coca leaves into cocaine).

Potatoes, Pollan writes, represent the human desire for control. The potato is a wonderful gift that mother nature has given us, and we have used it for all that it is worth (i.e., potato chips, French fries). We have even genetically modified potatoes to create the infamous Bt potato, an example of our need to control and desire for unrealistic and unnecessary perfection.

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