36 pages 1 hour read

Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Chapter 4-EpilogueChapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “Desire: Control/Plant: The Potato”

Pollan notes his own desire as a gardener to regard his plants in the early summer and his hope that they remain "pristine rows" (184). He recalls the destruction of the neat allées of Versailles in a freak windstorm—an example of our hubris in thinking we can withstand the forces of nature. Agriculture is an attempt to banish the complexities of nature, but it is also an experiment that gives rise to unexpected outcomes.

The garden is a place to try techniques before using them on an entire farm. Pollan decided to plant NewLeaf potatoes, which were genetically engineered by the company Monsanto to produce their own insecticides. Pollan refers to genetic engineering as “the biggest change in terms of our relationship with plants since people first learned how to cross one plant with another” (188). The companies that market these genetically engineered plants claim that they represent a “paradigm shift” (189) in agriculture but are still the same plants we know and love. Pollan planted his NewLeaf potatoes to try to get at the truth. Even companies like Monsanto tout this new technology as a means of replacing the unsustainability of using pesticides and fertilizers.