Tuesday, February 26, 2013
unexpected lessons in gardening and culture
In my archaeology class last Friday morning, we discussed the rise of agrarian society in the prehistoric world.
It changed everything, my professor said. It was a societal revolution when humans figured out how to take wheat that was sprouting in the wild and domesticate it. He didn't use these words, but this is what I heard: agriculture is powerful.
Yesterday, in another of my classes, my anthropology professor spoke about Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who gave us modern genetics. And he did with pea plants. He was a gardener. Growing food leads to incredible things. Plants can change the course of history.
My archaeology professor brought up two other ideas that I scribbled in the margin of my notebook:
First, today we live among strangers. In band, tribe or chiefdom societies (those of early man) this would have been unimaginable. Everyone knew everyone.
Secondly, it's true: you are what you eat. Archaeologist can take skeletons that are thousands of years old and discover what the deceased's diet was thanks to chemical signatures left in their bones. What you consume indelibly builds the structure of your body. (Depending on how you choose to eat, this could either be alarming or gratifying.)
Maybe these four ideas seem completely disparate. I'm not so sure they are.
The power of agriculture.
You are what you eat.
If you can keep a garden, you can feed yourself. That's pretty empowering right there. But a gardener is aware of their food - where it is grown, how it is grown - and so more likely to be aware of their own health. We must stop to nourish ourselves everyday. While that could make it appear less significant of an act, I think it only makes it more important that we eat mindfully. Growing food is also creative, hence it goes against the grain of our consumption driven culture (which, maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem to be doing most people or our one and only planet much good). From what I've seen, gardens and food bring people together too: tending, harvesting, cooking, teaching, eating, cleaning up. And then - when the compost pile is replenished with scraps from the meal - the cycle continues.