The mad apple

«We can count how many seeds are in the apple,
but not how many apples are in the seed»
(Ken Kesey)

When eggplant arrived in the Mediterranean Europe, it was not accepted; for several years, doctors and dieticians believed that this vegetable was a danger to physical and mental care. In their opinion, eating an eggplant for some time could had been equal to become insane and exposed to various illnesses, such as leprosy, cancer, migraine and “melancholia”; the root of the Italian word “melanzana” comes from the name of this psychosis, even if its current meaning has a totally different undertone.

Today “melanzana” (translated into English as “mad apple”) is used as a superb ingredient in a lot of recipes; however, its raw use could be hazardous to somebody’s health (because of the moderate presence of solanine, a substance that can cause gastrointestinal and neurological disorders).

All these informations hail from scientific studies and popular wisdom, too. Farmers understood that “mad apple” had some special features in productive and nutritional fields; so, they started to cultivate it, selecting better varieties of the vegetable.

Thanks to generation of peasants’ work, nowadays, it is possible to enjoy various types of “mad apples”: elongated, round, dwarf, red, wide, premature, white, oval, purple, etc.

Over time, there have been made lots of experiments in the aim of producing eggplants varieties intended for consumption (artificial selection); nevertheless, the success of these tests is totally due to the extraordinary multiplicity of species produced by natural selection. That’s biodiversity!

It has been a true privilege, for all of us, to be part of species evolutionary history; human beings have learnt to take advantage of biodiversity and to influence the development of new variants.

The protection of biodiversity should not consist only in the standstill of current situation; it means, more properly, that everybody has to safeguard the thousand-years old processes of natural selection, preserving natural environments and letting natural selection do its job.

To ensure the safeguard of biodiversity, it is also necessary to promote the creation and the enlargment of protected areas; but, above all, it is just as important to incentivize small-scale agriculture, strictly associated with countryside and aimed at experimenting (and selecting, too)

Currently, there is a very heated debate about “cultivated biodiversity” and sustainable agriculture; the dynamics of the latter stands against large-scale agribusiness’ model, where product homogenisation, predictability and manufacturing process control are the guiding principles.

Wrtitten by Giordano GolinelliFondazione ACRA-CCS

Translated into English by Arianna Rimoldi

Originally published on

Ph. Eggplant (cc)  Mike Lynch