May 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the FDA's approval of the birth control pill. Time Magazine did a long story on the development of the pill and its integration into American society. But they left out a fascinating and mostly unknown part of the story. In the 1940s chemists discovered that barbasco, a wild yam indigenous to Mexico, could be used to mass-produce synthetic steroid hormones. The development of the Pill led to increased demand for the yams, and to thus to increased opportunities for the Mexican farmers who cultivated and harvested them. In her new book Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill, Gabriela Soto Laveaga reconstructs the story of how rural yam pickers, international pharmaceutical companies, and the Mexican state collaborated and collided over the barbasco. By so doing, she sheds important light on a crucial period in Mexican history and challenges us to reconsider who can produce science. In a review of the book on Feminist Review this weekend, Maya N. Vaughan-Smith says Jungle Laboratories is "an engaging read for women who are curious about the political economy of
the pills they are popping on a daily basis."