Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Pepper Flavored Invasion

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p 113-175

Right now, while I am writing this very blog, I can feel the presence of a single idea taking root in my mind. I imagine that you probably know what I am talking about; at first it just feels like a little itch in the back of your mind, a tease of something huge, something that could possibly blow your mind hole. However, no matter how tempting it may be, the best way to lose an idea is to force it. Just like the harvest of any kind of crop, a creative thought or an original idea needs to be seeded be in a healthy atmosphere and requires patience to properly flourish, then it is ready to be collected. 

"How can I know what I am thinking until I write it down," those words have been dancing around in the back of my mind ever since the first week of university. Nonetheless, I don't think a person necessarily needs to write down an idea to solidify it in their minds; but I would agree that, in most cases, putting thoughts into words is a crucial step in understanding a thought. 

Well hopefully by this point you are now totally engrossed in these words of wisdom ;) and you are now finally prepared listen to what I have to say next. After taking part in the Plants and People course for about two months now and being introduced to a magnificent mosaic of facts and knowledge, produced by my professor and from the thought of authors I have read this semester; I have come to a single conclusion, "Plants have taken over the world and in their own way capable of mind control". Creepy right? Well let me explain.

During my latest reading, Thor Hansen's: The Triumph of Seeds, the author goes into particular detail about Christopher Columbus's voyages to the West Indies. Although Columbus is often considered the sole man responsible for discovering the Americas, he is also known as the man who didn't quite make it all the way. His actual goal was to reach the eastern shores of Asia and to open up a new trading route to deliver more spices. Believe it or not gold didn't fund exploration, spices did. Back in 1522 when the first ship to circumnavigate the world returned back to the shores of Seville, Spain, four of the five ships were missing from the original fleet; furthermore, Captain Magellan was dead along with over 200 members crew. The journey however, was still considered a success due to the amount of profits made from the spices they were able to collect (Hansen 132). 

Now let us back to the topic of Columbus; what was he looking for, what possesses a man to sail across open ocean to sail into the unknown? The answer is to search for black pepper, which according to popular myth grew on flaming trees guarded by serpents (Hansen 130). Since little exploration had been made across the Eurasian continent into Asia by European explorers, Europe was completely unaware to the origin of many of these spices and their origins. Nonetheless, Columbus never created a new trade route for black pepper, but unbeknownst to him he achieved something greater. Before his return trips to Europe, Columbus would attempt to salvage as many plants and seeds as he could, hoping that he could satisfy his backers (the people funding his operations). The result being the introduction of chili peppers into Europe and the rest of the world.

So let's recap for a moment: people like spices, spice trade funded exploration and early colonization, exploration led to the introduction of new plants worldwide. Adaptive evolution often involves selection preexisting traits to solve new and unique problems. An example of this, can be found in looking at the evolution of early birds. Precursors of modern birds (dinosaurs) already had feathers, which may have been used for communication, sexual selection, warmth and/or protection. Nonetheless, even though they were not originally selected for flight, feathers were fundamental in evolution of modern birds. The cultivation of chili peppers is a similar example.

Capsiacin is the compound in peppers that create the burning sensation in people's mouths. However, the original selection pressure that gave rise to the production of capsiacin, was a fungal seed pathogen (Hansen 136). Coincidentally, the presence of capsiacin, have made peppers a sought out commodity; and without saying a single word, firing a single shot or possessing a single human thought... peppers have bent humans to their evolutionary will and have now claimed dominion to vast portions of the tropic/temperate world, something they never could have never done on their own.

There is my argument for addressing the notion of a plants ability to influence human behavior, but no matter how much it feels like my own original thought; I know it was seeded there by others and I am incredibly appreciative for the new perspective and insight that I have been given.

Thomas Powell    

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Army of Crops

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.-85-113; 131-156

When I first read the title of "Guns, Germs and Steel" I don't think I truly understood what the author Jared Diamond was referring too. However, after reading a good portion of the book I feel a little more enlightened as to what factors paved way for the rise of civilization. Now when I read the title I can see that it is a synonym for civilization.

In his book Diamond describes the transition between two lifestyles: the hunter-gatherer and the farmer. Furthermore, he shows that farming can produce a much higher caloric output per acre than hunting/gathering. This gave rise to larger population densities of humans and created an accelerating relationship, which cycled between plants and people. Farms would constantly become more plentiful in size and quantity to support a growing the populations.

Diamond argued that agriculture was also responsible for bureaucracy and kingdoms. That could out compete the hunter gatherers for resources and territories by means of creating large bands of professional soldiers and using new technologies. The domestication of animals also played a significant role in transport of goods and the militarization of nations.

So where did the advent of agriculture come from? Diamond suggests that agriculture arose independently around the world in at least five different locations. These first crops are referred to as founders crops and after their transition from wild to domesticate they were continuously introduced into new areas and stimulated the harvest of new types of crops by humans.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Plant Your Very Own Guacamole Tree

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York (NY): Basic Books. p. xix-18 & 55-80.

Was it just me or did anyone else find themselves wondering about the practicalities of growing their very own avocados after reading the first chapter of Thor Hansen's book, "The Triumph of the Seed." I personally think it would be a grand achievement and while I was the reading the first chapter of Hansen's book, I could feel the gears in my head turning. I have seen and held my fair share of avocado pits while making guacamole with my family; but I had never appreciated a pit as anything more than that "unappetizing brown thing," and never really saw it's true potential. I don't think I will be able to look at store bought fruit in the same way ever again.

As Thor Hansen explains in his book the avocado plant uses internal pressure to break through the hard casing of it's shell. This pressure ultimately comes from the water that has been absorbed from the soil/environment. When doing my own research I found one, do it yourself, method of growing an avocado tree; which involved sticking toothpicks into the seed and suspending it in a glass of water. "Sounds easy enough". Once the plant inside has matured enough and absorbed enough water it will then breakthrough the shell to expose its roots, at this point plant can then be transferred to a pot of soil.

This is the point where I reached my dilemma. Living in the interior of British Columbia I was pretty confident that an avocado tree wouldn't survive a winter in my backyard; which left me with only one perceivable option, I would have to have grow it in indoors. "Can you fit a tree fit in a pot?" I found myself wondering and it actually turns out you can. Although you can grow one from a seed, it appears that a healthy graft from a dwarf tree is your best bet if you want a plant that produces an avocado fruit. However I think that would remove the best part of the experiment, watching the seed the grow into a plant.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The 100-Mile Diet: The first half of the experiment.

Smith, A. D. and MacKinnon, J. B. 2007. The 100-mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. Toronto: Random House Canada. Print.

After reading the reading the first chapter of the 100-mile diet, I found myself beginning to wonder about the practicality of this experiment. Is this something I could potentially accomplish or is it one those scenarios where the author, narrator or human guinea pig says, "don't try this at home folks". However, as I continued to read further into the book; I began to think about the different recipes and stories the authors have mentioned, and the theme of the book started to became more clear to me. I think the purpose of the novel was not so much a challenge for the reader to try complete the 100-mile diet after they read the book, but was in fact trying to give the reader a better understanding/appreciation for the food that they eat and how it came to be.

"When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree;

 when drinking clear water, remember who dug the well."

- Vietnamese Proverb

This was a quote I found in the book and I think it sums up the authors' message very nicely. Speaking from my own experience, I know it can become easy for a person to become completely self absorbed in the routines of every day life, and I find in these moments that I can easily become disengaged from the relationships I have with my food. Which makes it easy to forget that bacon comes from a pig, or bananas come from the tropics. However, I think the best way to solve any of the social justice issues related to agriculture or any other kind of food production, is to get the consumers to care about and to truly understand what it is that they are eating.