The Orchestra Conductor

Pollan, M. 2006. The omnivore’s dilemma. Penguin Press, New York.

“I’m just the orchestra conductor, making sure everybody’s in the right place at the right time” said Joel Salatin to Micheal Pollan as he describes how its the animals who do the real work on their farm (p 223). Joel treats his farm like an organism, ensuring that all moving parts are just the right size to benefit each other. The chickens trim the grass, feed the soil, and eat parasitic grubs, a key section of symphony. Joel also ensures his barns stay warm by the decomposition of cow manure all winter long. His ‘happy pigs’ search for fermented corn in the compost, and in turn aerate it while killing any harmful bacteria. The surrounding forest as play an integral roll in maintaining the system. The end result of such a healthy organism, is that the animals are able to be raised without chemicals and antibiotics.

Having been a vegetarian my entire life (yes, a rare breed, I know), I found the next chapter titles simply “The Slaughterhouse” both difficult to read and very informative. Pollan reminds the reader that a lot of us avoid thinking of steps between a healthy adult chicken, to a hot dinner. After recounting the factory ‘disassembly’ line, Joel mentions that only having to do this chore a few times a month allows them to process and think about these actions. This ensures that they continue to be as careful and as humane as possible.

As someone who tries to shop at farmers markets as often as the seasons will allow, I am all too familiar with the “no-barcode people”. I have had farmers hand out raw slices of sugar beets as samples, only to discover that they are mouth-wateringly delicious, and to be asked to take a bite of a raw husk of corn, only to subsequently buy a bakers dozen. I’ve heard tales of this years brassica bounty, or this seasons great humidity. Or apiarists who still have bees crawling on their arms, as they drove from only 5 minutes down the road… All of these stories, and interaction with my famers bring me closer to the food I eat. And, these irreplaceable moments are one of the reasons I keep coming back to farmers markets, and support out local farmers.

The relationships between land, animals, farmers, and shoppers, are inherently interconnected. If it weren’t for the conductors in our lives, the symphonies would fall apart.

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The Line Between Poison and Desire

Pollan, M. 2001. The botany of desire. Random House. Chapter 3

As we discussed in class this past week, the line between medicine and poison is often merely a matter of dosage. And we know as a general rule of thumb, that sweet foods are often edible, whereas bitter foods have more of a tendency to be poisonous. As Pollan states in chapter 3 of Botany of Desire, “[t]he bright line between food and poison might hold, but not the one between poison and desire” (p. 240). Pollan confirms this by referring to the lessons we had learned from our ancestors: their ‘mistakes’ are instructive. “For even some of the toxins that kill in large doses turn out in smaller increments to do interesting things—things that are interesting to animals as well as people” (p 244). Not only are we drawn to plants that alter our consciousness, but also those with medicinal properties…

What really spoke to me in this chapter was the way in which Pollan describes gardens as having more power than I ever could imagine. His observations of his cat ritualizing nepetalactone in cat nip he grew in his garden shows that our gardens are “capable of producing more than just food or beauty” but can also feed our needs to alter our consciousness, or cure illness. His imagery and description of the beauty of marijuana as ” a towering heap of leafy palms held up to the sun in an ecstatic frenzy of photosynthesis” connects to the way in which we as humans may also bow our heads and lay our palms on the ground in spiritual worship of these intoxicating plants.

The time of year once again comes to begin converting compost, sunlight and water into my tomato and basil starts, and to fill my greenhouse with seedlings of the food I crave to state my independence from my grocer. When this time comes, I will be all too aware that my garden is only feeding my desire for fresh sustenance, and not that of temptation and intoxication. I will still be reliant on my drug dealer (pharmacist, or otherwise).