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Stranger Than Fiction

Because of a paper I’m researching for, I have spent a lot of time over the past year thinking about the weird reasons we  human beings have changed the ways  we perceive natural phenomena. Naturally occurring plants like spices and peppers and tea and coffee and salt and seaweed all get the thumbs up from the social world; yet, other naturally occurring entities are viewed with the utmost contempt.

Photo: Bobby Jones

Why is there a distinction to be made between a coca leaf and a coffee bean? A poppy plant and corn stalk?

The answers that can be used to deal with this question are trying to say the least. It might not seem like an important question glancing at it from surface level, but think about how weird the life of the coca leaf is. It’s  grown in a lush jungle in Peru by farmers who understand the enormous amount of profit they can turn on it. After the leaf is harvested, it has two production-based paths it can follow. Either it goes a ‘legal’ route and is synthesized into medical products by giant pharmaceutical companies like Merck. Or, the leaf will be synthesized into a derivative of cocaine by cartels or other ‘illicit’ factions.

But think about how similar these paths are. A plant grown in the global south is reduced to a chemical substance that is useful in the global north via a complicated industrial process. It is consumed by people who generally consume industrially manipulated natural goods (I mean Americans here if that wasn’t obvious). Basically, without intense industrial manipulation, the leaf would stay put in the jungle without any stigma attached to it at all.

Yet, by the time the leaf becomes cocaine (either produced by Merck or some cartels) it is viewed incredibly differently. Street cocaine is a schedule II offense while pharmaceutical cocaine is a miracle of medicine. But why can’t it just be product? Why do we attach stigma to our resources? I think there might just be some value in consuming indiscriminately. It certainly could answer some of the weird questions these stigmas cause.

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