Sunday, July 27, 2008

All our friends are dicks

So we all know that a tomato is technically a fruit, though we use it as a vegetable. It was even, based on the latter reasoning, once legally classified as a vegetable for the purposes of tariffs (Nix v. Hedden - 1893), though even that decision conceded that they were in fact a fruit. It's been said that much of the confusion stems from whether you ask a chef or a scientist the question.

What I derive from this is that the way one classifies a tomato says more about the person or the reason for the classification than it does the plant itself. And I think you can go further, because really fruits and vegetables are just plants. We put them into special categories and sub-categories based on which part, if any, of a plant that people eat.

The way we relate to plants speaks to and of us.

All of which has been kicking around in my head for quite a while.

Recently I read Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, in which he talks about the co-evolution of plants and humans. The apple offers, I think, the best example. Each apple a tree produces contains five seeds, all of which would produce genetically different trees and would also be different from the parent tree. Of the thousands of varieties of apple trees that these seeds could produce, only a portion would be at all palatable to a human being. Enter grafting, which allowed a farmer to produce and maintain an orchard of identical trees bearing palatable fruit (prior to that, untamed and varied apples were mainly harvested to make booze). The apple as we understand it today, as it stands in our lives today, developed in co-evolution with people. Were it not first for our desire for hooch and secondly for consistent, palatable apples, it would be just another plant.

This idea hasn't been kicking around nearly as long as the first, but they bumped into each other this week.

I was walking back home through my neighborhood after the Greenwood Seafair Parade, and happened tp notice some Morning Glory. The stuff is everywhere, covering fences, choking yards - it really is Seattle's native invasive.

But it tripped a bunch of other switches that had been set when I recently read a book about the fisheries of the world called "Bottomfeeder," in which aquatic invasive species are mentioned often. The two that most stand out are, of course, zebra mussels, and jellyfish, whose populations have been bursting into giant colonies in the Atlantic, killing even large predator fish that make the mistake of wandering into their field.

Looking at the Morning Glory, it seemed to me obvious that as human beings began to travel, they would intentionly and unintentionally transplant species, be they zebra mussels in a ballast tank or English ivy planted by a foolish homeowner who thought it looked pretty (and if you have ever, as I have, spent a day ripping ivy out of a public park, you too would curse that foolish gardener).

But given that plants and human beings co-evolve, and that much can be read about human beings in their relationships to plants, what exactly does it say to us and about us that invasive species seem to flourish under our stewardship? That the species most likely to succeed in the world we create are the toughest and most self-centered species, those that have no interest in maintaining a balance with other organisms but instead take up more and more space and resources until everything else is choked out, and even until their are no resources left for their own survival?

Just wonderin'.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Refrigerator Epiphany

And, no, it has nothing to do with that little light inside. I figured out the refrigerator gnome when I was five, and see no need to revisit the subject.

I'm working the monkeycage tonight, and went to retrieve the salad I had stashed in the Production department fridge. Two slices of pizza that looked like the classic sausage, pepper, onion, black olive to me caught my eye for just a split-second.

Now, let me make clear that I am not the kind of guy who would snake somebody's pizza outta the employee fridge, dig? I got that out of my system working nighttime janitorial contracts with my step-father, and that wasn't food theft from co-workers.

(By the way, the next time you want to get indignant if someone suggests the cleaning crew is stealing food, let it go. They totally are. It's one of the few job perks.)

But anyway it occurred to me tonight as I looked at these pizza slices that I had no idea how long they had been there, and based on my knowledge of that fridge going back almost ten years now, it could be as much as three months between the periodic purges marshaled by some self-righteously irritated staff member. In fact, there is no way in hell I would eat anything out of that refrigerator I hadn't put in there myself.

And I think this actually makes your food safer. It's like an organic camouflage ecosystem develops in office refrigerators. There have to be some items that last long enough and look putrid enough to throw the quality of all other items into doubt. They are the warning signs, the bright markings that say "back up, yo." Then there is the dense undergrowth, the identical salad condiment jars of varied fullness, eleven varieties of low-cal Italian salad dressing, the myriad and diverse-yet-somehow-of-a-kind takeout boxes and tupperware containers.

It is really the ideal place to hide in plain sight, among the false morels, that leftover phad thai that ain't nobody better touch.