Hi-TEK learning

Another week, another set of classes with intense learning.

This week we tackled issues including: the Commons (many of you have probably heard about or read “Tragedy of the Commons“), Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK for short, and biodiversity. Oh, and we tasted some lovely cheese.

On Monday, we discussed the issues surrounding the Commons, including what exactly fit into the definition of a ‘common’, as well as cultural commons and whether setting restrictions or limits on said areas always works in regards to sustaining ecosystems or people could adequately regulate themselves. We also discussed TEK, or traditional ecological knowledge and its relationship (or lack thereof) with western science.

Western science has only recently taken an interest in examining the ecological practices and knowledge of native peoples, as they are just realizing and acknowledging the success and sustainability of millennia-old traditional hunting, gathering, and farming practices. How much TEK can contribute and help sustain the planet in conjunction with western science has yet to be seen, but will be important to explore and integrate as the growth of the human population shows no signs of slowing down.

img_4668To break up the lesson, we had a tasting of cheeses with very distinct histories and maintained cultural identities. Two were from the same area of the Pyrenees, one made with sheep’s milk and the other with goat’s milk. But, despite almost identical geography, the two places couldn’t be farther apart sociopolitically. This allowed us to taste the subtle differences between the cheeses, knowing their producers were so fiercely proud and protective of their separate cultural identities.

Tuesday, we discussed monocropping and monoculture, as well as it’s impact on biodiversity. The discussion included the issue of mass-production farming and lack of diversity in the crops being planted, and as a result, the vulnerability of our food system and extinction of certain varieties due to disease or other environmental issues.

For example, you know that ‘fake’ banana flavour found in sweets and other manufactured food products? It was actually the flavour of a real, now extinct variety of banana called the gros michel. Previous to 1960, the gros michel was the banana our grandparents ate. But after a fungus devastated the crop, the gros michel ceased to exist. The Cavendish, the type of banana we eat today may be facing a similar fate. Instances like this, has many critics suggesting we plant more than one variety of crop to lessen our dependence on one as well as prevent food shortages should a fungus or other disease severely damage crops.

Next week, we are talking about GMOs, a topic some of you may know I did extensive research of for my undergraduate senior project just a couple of years ago. The class has been divided into ‘for’ and ‘against’ groups for a debate on GMOs, which I think will result in a very interesting conversation next Tuesday.

 

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