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Michael Pollan is a storyteller of the natural world. A writer, an educator and a luminary with a remarkable ability to distill complex scientific concepts across disciplines to inspire readers to reconnect with the natural world. Through his books, we step into the world where plants reveal their secrets and we cannot help but pay attention.
With his latest book “The Botany of Desire: Our Surprising Relationship with Plants, Young Readers Edition”, Pollan extends his signature blend of science and storytelling to the younger generation. In this engaging interview with Smore Science, Michael Pollan shares his hope that this book inspires young readers to reexamine at their relationship to nature and be inspired to appreciate the intricate connections between plants and people.
In your book, "The Botany of Desire: Our Surprising Relationship with Plants, Young Readers Edition," you explore the fascinating co-evolutionary relationship between plants and humans. Can you highlight some key messages or lessons you hope young readers will take away from your book?
I’m hoping readers will emerge from the book with a completely new perspective on their relationship to nature– that they are not simply spectators but participants in the dance of evolution, and that their simplest choices– to choose one kind of apple over another– influences evolution, working as a kind of vote for one direction rather than another. I also want them to see that humans are not the only actors in nature, and that other species are acting on us all the time, getting us to do things for them, just as the flower gets the bee to transport its genes.
Plants play a crucial role in our ecosystem and daily lives. How do you think learning about botany and plants can inspire children to be more connected with nature and become better stewards of the environment?
Our involvement with plants– which we eat, which clothe us, which fill our field of vision and other senses everyday– is much more important than we generally realize. Also we don’t have to venture into the wilderness to connect with nature– it happens every time we sit down to eat!
The book has the potential to enrich educational settings, such as classrooms and libraries. How do you envision educators utilizing your book to foster a deeper understanding of botany and plant-human relationships in young readers?
The book can inform the teaching of evolution, by dramatizing symbiosis and co-evolution with vivid and easy to understand examples. It puts us into the Darwinian picture.
Your books encourage readers to think about their food choices and their impact on the environment. What advice would you give to our young readers who want to make more sustainable food choices but might not know where to start?
Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. That’s pretty much all you need to know about eating healthily and sustainably.
Your work bridges the gap between science, culture, and the environment. How can parents and teachers encourage children to explore interdisciplinary topics like the ones you write about?
Teachers should bring to bear multiple perspectives: Experiential first, then scientific, then literary. On many topics, poets have as much to teach us as scientists, and there is no substitute for direct, sensory, hands-on learning.
In the book, you highlight the fascinating stories of apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. If you had to choose one of these plants as your favorite, which would it be, and why?
I have a particular fascination with apples– their beauty, deliciousness, ingenuity and adaptability.
Who or what serves as your inspiration when it comes to writing books that ignite curiosity and fascination with plants and the natural world among young audiences?
Wendell Berry’s writings on nature and agriculture have been important influences. He writes as both a poet and a farmer, and crosses interdisciplinary boundaries between the humanities, science, economics and politics. All my favorite writers refuse to stick to their silos.
Lastly, what message or piece of advice would you like to share directly with the curious and budding scientists who visit our website?
Read what the poets and novelists have had to say about your scientific subject of interest. They just may inspire you with new ideas and perspectives.