BOTANY OF DESIRE: The Apple and Potato of Desire

The banana plant can 'walk' up to 40 centimeters in its lifetime. Many herbal plants can warn each other chemically when predatory herbivores are nearby. The sunflower is able to extract radioactivity from water.

Plants really aren’t appreciated enough in our hi-tech world. Many humans like to believe that we somehow exist outside the web of nature rather than living within it. From an evolutionary point of view, plants are just as advanced as humans. Time and time again nature proves that it is stronger than any of our designs as we constantly try to control it.

A friend of mine who has just come back from the United States told me about a fantastic book by bestselling author, Michael Pollan, called The Botany­ of Desire. The book tells the story­ of human desire and is about the domestication of four specific plants from the plants’ perspectives (metaphorically speaking). The apple, tulip, cannabis and the potato have all been integral to the human tale and have influenced history, economics, politics, religion and technology and raised debate over genetically modified food.

The Apple of Desire (as explained in The Botany of Desire)

According to The Botany of Desire, apples have evolved to gratify our desire for sweetness — an innate, hardwired desire that is simply a part of our biology. From an early age we learn that bitter plants are often poisonous while sweet ones are calorie-rich and therefore good for us.

The Botany of Desire Red AppleThe apple first sprouted into existence in Kazakhstan. To migrate to all four corners of the globe and spread its genes, it had to appeal to mammals as a sweet food source. This brought the apple to the New World.

However, what was unknown to the early pioneers is that every apple seed within an apple contains different genetic material and will produce a completely different variety of apple if planted from seed. These tend to be very bitter and New World apples were primarily used to make hard cider, which put rural America into a great binge.

Today there are thousands of apple­ varieties and it is still arguably the universal fruit. It even influenced artists of the Renaissance to imagine the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden as being an apple.

The Potato of Desire (as explained in The Botany of Desire)

According to The Botany of Desire, the potato represents our desire to control nature and cultivate a staple food source. It led to the rise of the Incan Empire and helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. It changed the course of European­ history and led to a population­ boom. For civilisations in and around Europe potato crops freed more people from tilling the fields and allowed them to focus their attention on other pursuits.

The Botany of Desire PotatoesThe potato was also a godsend for the Irish who were unable to grow much of anything. This was until a fungus caused the great potato famine in the 19th century — killing over a million people.

The potato has taught us a valuable lesson in biodiversity and illustrates the risk of monocultures. Growing just one species of an edible plant makes entire crops vulnerable to disease and infection. However, the demand today for a certain kind of McDonald's potato chip has resulted in farmers once again growing mostly just one kind of elongated potato.

Attempts to prevent another potato famine has led several farmers to genetically modify their potatoes. Splicing a gene from a bacterium that lives in the soil with the potato leaf kills insects, but has also led to huge consumer uprisings against genetically modified foods.

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BOTANY OF DESIRE: The Tulip, Marijuana and Human Desire

** Read the first part of this article here **

Cannabis (as described in The Botany of Desire)

Marijuana gratifies the human desire to experience an altered state of consciousness. We are all born with an innate drive to experience other mind states periodically, whether this manifests into singing, dancing, experimenting with substances or jumping out of an aeroplane.

The Botany of Desire CannabisAccording to The Botany of Desire, the genius of marijuana is to appeal to this human desire and it has mastered the art of biochemistry. Through it we have discovered a wealth of information regarding how memory, emotion and consciousness all work.

Marijuana’s world domination strategy involved producing more of the chemical (THC) that appeals to the human creature in order to be spread its genes and be given more habitat in which to thrive. Anthropologists posit that the only human culture never to have been influenced by this plant were the Inuit.

Most cultures have historically used cannabis to relieve pain. In Western culture marijuana was the driving force behind the jazz era and set alight the social revolution of the sixties.

The banning of marijuana in the United States led people to splice the genes of Mexican­ and Indian marijuana to produce a short, resilient and fast-growing plant that could be produced indoors. This has resulted in an almost entirely new species of plant, which now largely lives a cushy existence removed entirely from nature and the foothills of Mongolia and China where it originated.

The Tulip (as described in The Botany of Desire)

According to The Botany of Desire, the tulip (like many flowers) has evolved to gratify our desire for a certain kind of beauty. Flowers have been flaunting their beauty for more than 100 million years since the rise of the angiosperms. These plants form fruit and seed and have male and female types, which allows for the mixing of genes. This creates greater variety, which means greater adaptability and ability to survive.

The Botany of Desire Sempter AugustusWhen the tulip caught our attention and began to be cultivated, this plant underwent some startling changes. Its new forms bewitched the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and engulfed the Dutch in “tulip mania” during the 17th century. The tulip fast became one of the most valuable commodities in the world and spurred one of the biggest investment bubbles in human history.

The tulip came to denote wealth and status and it became fashionable for the prosperous to grow flower gardens. One tulip variety, the Semper Augustus, fetched as much as R70 000 in today’s money. Soon there was more money outstanding on tulip bulbs than there was in circulation, which caused economic collapse.

It was later discovered that the most sought-after tulip varieties were actually infected by a plant virus. Today, more than 19 million tulips leave Holland for flower shops around the world.

In a nutshell, plants are pretty amazing. The central lesson we can take from these four species is that we need to stop trying to control nature­ and rather learn to work with it.

  • Video footage, interviews with Michael Pollan and more about The Botany of Desire can be explored online at www.pbs.org

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TAKE2: A great place for safe & secure online shopping

CHRISTMAS has once again come and gone like a seasonal fling — leaving an empty feeling deep down inside, next to the leftover turkey that was for lunch. If you were one of the many that left your Christmas shopping to the last minute, I don’t think anyone needs to remind you how hellish it was driving to the Present Store. All Christmas spirit seems to dissolve away the minute you get on the road. It may not have been the best idea to leave the shopping so late, but if it wasn’t for the last minute nothing would ever get done.

There’s also a good chance that we were disappointed with what we got for Christmas this year — again. All those letters to Santa seem to be in vain sometimes. He must get more hate-mail than wish-lists I reckon.

Nonetheless, we are all adept at acting happy around our loved ones and consider that perhaps it is not the gift that counts but being near a fir tree … Or is it family? No no, it’s the thought that counts; that’s it. But great gifts would have been nice too.

There is a solution to fighting your way through traffic, struggling to find what you want and disappointing family and friends with “thoughtful” gifts that you managed to find at the last minute. The solution lies in the joys and wonders of online shopping. There are many ways to go about ordering goods online, but I have found one specific website particularly pleasing to use.

Online shopping with Take 2

take2 logo

Online shopping at Take 2

Take 2.co.za is a South African website that offers a very similar experience to using Kalahari.net (among others). They have their headquarters in Cape Town, but they will happily deliver ordered goods anywhere in the country.

They also charge a flat-rate deli­very charge of R30, which is the same if you order one item or 20. This is by far the cheapest delivery fee I’ve ever experienced. Take2 will also deliver right to your door and have a very efficient e-mail service to keep consumers posted.

Signing up for online shopping

Signing up is as simple as saying “silly season”. Simply visit take2.co.za and click on “sign up”. You’ll need to provide a name, contact number and e-mail address.

The next step is to create an address list. This could just be one address (presumably your own address) to have any products delivered directly to you, or you could include the addresses of family and friends to have items delivered directly to their doors instead.

The next step involves divulging banking details, which is where people often get itchy. However, you do not need to give out credit card numbers; in fact you don’t even need a credit card! Rather, you provide banking details such as your account number and branch code and they link your account with theirs.

Paying is as easy and stress-free as performing an EFT.

Email notifications and wish-lists

Something that I particularly like about Take2 is their speedy e-mail service that keeps you in the loop. They send you an e-mail when you place an order, a confirmation e-mai­l once you have paid the required amount, an e-mail to say that your products are being acquired, and a final e-mail once they have shipped your goods with the courteous line, “your products have been shipped and will be arriving shortly”.

Another great feature of most online stores such as Take2 is the wish-list. Any products that you come across while browsing around can be added to your wish-list to be ordered at a later, perhaps more prosperous date and time.

If the goods in your wish-list are currently out of stock, Take2 will also e-mail you as soon as they become available to order again. They also let you know if any price reductions occur.

What's available

Take2 is in the business of home entertainment and deals in DVDs, games, electronics, books and music mostly. They also constantly have specials on offer as well as a clearance stock section, which acts as a sort of electronic bargain bin. I have found goods there for half the price that they are labelled with in stores.

The service also has a fantastic sorting feature which allows you to sort products by price, sales rank, release date etc. This is great when you have a budget in mind or want to see what everyone else is buying. Other features are “monthly best sellers”, “top 40 viewed” products, “top rated products” and “current top sellers”. All specials are also clearly marked in red, making them easy to spot.

Customer network

To give you greater assurance that you’re not being scammed into buying cheap crap off the Internet, Take2 offers user reviews and an easy-to-use rating system. Any member can rate a product from one to 10 and an average score is displayed next to each rated product.

People who have purchased or used any of the products available on Take2 are encouraged to write short reviews, which will then appear beneath the products when people are browsing the website. There are often differing views and experiences of the same products, but consumers generally point out the pros and cons — invaluable information to new buyers.

Click click. All done

All that’s left to know is buying. Each time you click on an item an option to “add to cart” will appear (alternatively you can add the product to your wish-list). Once you’ve added all your desired items to your virtual cart, you can “proceed to checkout”, select the address where you would like your goods shipped to, transfer the right amount of cash due (calculated for you) and you’re all done.

Each product also gives an indication of how long it will take to ship the product. In all the time that I have spent using Take2, they have never been more than a couple of days late.

There was one case where an order that I had paid for went out of stock and I phoned Take2 to find out what was happening. They offered to either refund me in full or to place the amount into a credit balance (which has since been used).

And that’s really all you need to know about online shopping (or perhaps where to go). Happy shopping and remember that everything is cheaper online!

*** Visit Take2 now ***

  • If you have had any positive online shopping experience please feel free to leave a comment, and let’s do our bit to promote good South African service.

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