A Woolly World

I dreamt, the other night, that I was a Woolly Mammoth. I was being chased across the frozen tundra by a band of humans. It was an odd dream, to be sure, and I’m not quite sure why I had it. Probably this cold snap we’ve just come out of. The heat wasn’t yet on in my house, and so to keep warm I dug my big, fuzzy brown blanket out of the closet. I was lucky enough to wake up before the humans caught up to me, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve been a mammoth burger.

Funny way to start off a blog, huh? Well, let me explain:

One of my favorite lesson plans is from our Earth Day 40th Anniversary Unit called, “Pre-Conservation - Setting the Stage.” One aspect of the content therein is a discussion of pre-columbian North America. With Thanksgiving quickly creeping up, this lesson plan is particularly relevant. In it is a fascinating map of agricultural origins, that has led me to think about how the types of food we eat to celebrate this holiday - squash, turkey, corn, cranberries - are not only seasonal, but native. Before Europeans arrived on this side of the Atlantic there were no cows, no tomatoes, no garlic, and no wheat just to name a few. To shine some perspective on this fact, just over 500 years later, according to the USDA, we’ve gone from zero cows in the whole of the Americas, to 93.7 million cows just in the US alone. Imagine the implicit ecological impact - it’s mind boggling…

On one hand, Thanksgiving can be thought of as a celebration of a more ecologically sound North America. We eat foods that developed fairly naturally over countless millennium; foods that can be held up as an example of a complete system. However, before we go romanticizing it all too much, consider the Woolly Mammoth. We humans have always - even without steel and petroleum - managed to have a large impact on our environment. Once they developed the technology, our ancestors effectively wiped out the Woolly Mammoth because they were easy to hunt, and provided lot’s of protein. I think it just serves to underscore the fact that when using technology, caution is always warranted. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, and be thankful that there is so much food. But take a minute to think about where that stuffing came from, and who grew the apples for your pie. You never know, if things had gone a little differently we could be eating mammoth instead of turkey.