Review of The Botany of Desire DVD

Review of The Botany of Desire directed by Michael Schwarz
Rating *****

A while back I wrote about Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. I mentioned then that the subject matter would make for an interesting documentary. Well, that book was made into the documentary Food, Inc., which was nominated for a best documentary for this year's Oscars. I enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma and decided to read Michael Pollan's earlier book The Botany of Desire. Now that book has been made into a documentary. If you really want to see how a documentary can bring to life a book, then go out and see both of these. But read the books first.

This film was a PBS special. They could not have done a better job. Michael Pollan's book covers the domestication of four plants: the apple tree, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. This documentary takes the stories told in the book and brings them to life through interviews, images, and animation. Michael Pollan serves as the narrator. I liked Food, Inc. I liked this film even more.

It's one thing to talk about the many varieties of apples and potatoes, it's a whole other thing to actually see them. In the book, Michael Pollan covers the four plants starting from their origins. It's Asia for the apple; South America for the potato. He writes about the Tulip mania in Holland and the Mexican origins of cannabis. This film takes you to these places.

One of my favorite foods is the potato. I love potatoes. I'll work out for an hour just to not feel guilty about having a plate full of mashed potatoes. But I was alarmed to read about how the pesticides and chemical treatments that farmers use to protect their crops end up being absorbed into the potato. It is a root plant after all, and all those chemicals soak into the ground and right into the potato. Michael writes about how potato farmers won't eat the potatoes they grow because of the chemicals. The farmers grow their own potatoes in separate plots. This film covers these topics as well as the problems associated with focusing on a single crop. The film also covers the advances in genetic engineering of insect resistant potatoes.

Give a filmmaker some funding and a well researched topic and the result is a fascinating story told expertly. I highly recommend this film and book. To learn more visit the PBS website at

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