Two things stood out to me about last night’s talk, one for each speaker. First was when Nicola Twilley talked about the way that refrigeration has so radically changed the way we see our food that we no longer have the ability to know what makes food good, to the point that it should be an evolutionary trait: to be able to tell what food is good. However, myself and many other Americans are no longer able to do this. I’ve spent some time thinking about this idea: if I were to buy meat, I would know it was good to eat by the packaging, the date on the package, perhaps if it was frozen, and maybe by the color. However, Twilley talked about how you can put your finger in the meat, and the amount that it bounces back reflects whether or not this it is good to eat. I definitely didn’t know that, but I was able to learn. With a little more guidance, I could probably master this skill. So what I wonder is: is this skill truly evolutionary, or is it learned? It would be pretty small scale evolution if it were to be true, because I assume that my grandparents had this skill. However, I believe that it is more likely a learned skill, and that had it been necessary in my life, I would have been able to (and still can be able to) check to see if my meat is good to eat.
The second thing that stood out to me at the talk was when Geoff Manaugh was talking about the kinds of things that we save. His example was some Mayan temples in the South American rainforest, that were once important, but have now become unimportant and have been allowed to become part of the landscape. I found this idea of “once good, now bad” to be an interesting contrast to an idea I’ve learned in outdoor education regarding Leave No Trace ethics. There is always an interesting question about where packing out your trash conflicts with leaving things that you find. A great example is sea glass: is sea glass really someone’s trash, and we could be good citizens by removing it from the landscape? Or is it an artifact, and we should leave it behind so that other visitors can see it? This has always been something that I have wondered about. When archaeologists examine historic communities, they say that their trash (or midden) is a great way to learn more about how those people lived. So, is sea glass a great way to understand how Americans dispose of trash? Is finding a SPAM can in the desert a great way to understand how hikers in the 1950s lived? Unlike Manaugh, I wonder when we come to a line of “once bad, now good”. When does trash become and artifact, and when does an artifact become trash?