Leave Corn Alone – April 13th

What I’ve found most interesting about this week’s discussion so far has been the idea that we have not only been shaped by food, physically and culturally, but that food has been enormously changed by us as well.  If we’re going to say that “we are what we eat,” we may just as well say that we eat what we are.  It’s a chicken-egg sort of conundrum, but the food we consume today has been so essentially altered by humans as to be representative of what we have become with its help – and on and on and round and round.  I was always told, as a child too young to pay attention long enough to sit through even an abridged explanation of evolution, that humans survived as well as they did because they could adapt themselves to their surroundings and adapt their surroundings to themselves.  I didn’t properly understand.  The selective breeding of crops and livestock discussed in Monday’s excerpt exemplifies this far better than my early concept of shelter and tools, and is really a much more interesting example of technology.

I’d never considered agriculture as a “technology,” but I’m sort of stunned by how fitting that word is to describe what happened in, for instance, Mexico, when somebody decided to plant the seeds that were easier to eat in the hope that they would be rewarded with more of them later on.  And I don’t know that we can call crops like corn “bad plants.”  For one thing, it’s all our fault, and for another, it’s working just fine for the corn currently populating the planet.  I mean, there’s no dearth of it.  It needs us to help it survive, but we’re there to do that.  Apple trees need insects to pollinate them so that they can reproduce – as long as the insects are there, nobody’s proclaiming them a broken species.  Just as it would be impractical for modern humans to have austraopithecine-esque digestive systems or teeth, it wouldn’t make sense for corn or wheat to have shattery stalks today – we would abandon them.  So give cereals a break.  They are what’s keeping us going, after all.  And how many neverending fields of teosinte grass do you see lying around?

I am intrigued by the possibility that this is the way that social hierarchies began to develop, but I want to read a little more about that take on agriculture before dedicating a post to it.

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