Being turned into a zombie is not something most of us worry about. Sure, some of us consider humans metaphorical zombies, controlled by mass media / the government / smartphone addiction / my pet hamster / ________ (fill in your own favourite 21st-century angst here). All I can say after reading Matt Simon’s book is that I am glad that I am not an insect. In turns gruesome and hilarious, Plight of the Living Dead is a carnival of the many grotesque ways that parasites can control their hosts. Something we do not have to worry about… or do we?
The term “wildlife” tends to evoke images of apex predators, cuddly creatures, or flagship species – usually vertebrate, usually mammalian – living outdoors in the wilderness of jungles, plains, or oceans. But what about closer to home? What about in your home? Ecologist Rob Dunn has written a delightful book showing that we live amidst a veritable zoo.
When I reviewed the book Defending Biodiversity: Environmental Science and Ethics, one of the reasons that was discussed as to why we should protect nature was the possibility of undiscovered pharmaceutical drugs. Seasoned ethnobotanist Robert A. Voeks shows that this so-called jungle medicine narrative has a long history. Though partially true, it equally contains parts myth, sentimentality, and nostalgia. However, if you are expecting a sceptical critique of superstitious indigenous practices – I was initially wondering whether the book would – no, this book delivers something far more interesting. Without belittling traditional knowledge, Voeks instead exposes the flaws in our interpretation and delivers a nuanced and fascinating ethnobotanical history lesson to boot.
Year-round availability of a wide variety of food in our supermarkets has become so commonplace that it is easy to take it for granted. Sure, many of us will have given a passing thought to where our food comes from or questioned whether those organic carrots are really worth the extra pennies. But I am sure I am not alone in having a slightly cynical gut feeling that this amounts to a certain amount of greenwashing: a new sector profiteering from our concern for the environment, promising us we can buy and eat our way to redemption. This isn’t helped by the fact that many proponents of organic agriculture often don’t seem to really know what they are talking about and keep having misconceptions around the issue (Organic agriculture does not use pesticides? Organic produce is healthier?). Plus, most are de-facto opposed to biotechnological sciences and techniques (don’t even get me started on all the opposition to GMOs – make no mistake, I am not saying there is no issue to be had with GMOs, but rarely for the reasons put forward). At least, that, in brief, is my personal opinion on these issues. All this is a long-winded introduction to say: this book made me sit up and pay attention, but for completely different reasons than I have mentioned above.