Wednesday, July 13, 2016

All praise to the mealworm!

When you visit Lafayette, it's non-negotiable that you go to Vermilionville. It's one of those historical villages that isn't real, but has been built out of genuine old buildings that have been relocated, and others that have been reconstructed. You find them everywhere - we've got them all over the place here in New Zealand - and they're usually worth a leisurely stroll around.
Lafayette's is done with customary thoroughness, the story boards throughout telling you the basics, and the costumed artisans inside filling in with the quirky details. Plus, the grounds are pretty, full of mature trees, gardens and neat lawns, beside the Bayou Vermilion. In June, it was sweltering outside, but inside is cool, not because the original inhabitants succeeded at ventilating their homes - though they tried - but because they cheat with air conditioning, to preserve the furnishings. So I spent most of my time poking around inside the buildings looking at portraits made with human hair, quilts that held secret instructions for escaping slaves, the bath-sieve system (line it with a bed sheet that you can take out to shake off the bits as the entire family takes their turn with the same water) and listening to the impassioned - if hard to understand - speech of a Creole fiddler in the school house where some pre-Bart child has had to write 100 times "I must not speak French".
To be honest, though, the most important bit of information I came away with wasn't historical at all, but a recent, and accidental, discovery. In the building given over to the Bayou Vermilion District's environmental display, I met a ranger who showed me a most astonishing thing: it was an open glass tank, like an aquarium, the inside filled to the top with bits of broken polystyrene. The bottom few inches were taken up with a yellowy, grainy substance. Not very interesting? I tell you, this is SPECTACULAR! (Though, sadly, not so spectacular that I thought to take a photo of it. My bad.)

What was happening here, was that a few handfuls of mealworms, those wriggling invertebrates used for fish food and other lowly functions, were busy living full and productive lives eating nothing but polystyrene and converting it to an organic soil conditioner.  Just think: all that unrecyclable polystyrene clogging up landfills all over the world, floating in rivers and the sea, blowing along city streets, that's been impossible up till now to dispose of in an environmentally-sound manner - IT CAN BE EATEN BY MEALWORMS.


I think that's a huge discovery. Everyone should know about
it. Pass it on.

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