Do you like scary movies? Chalk it up to a bad experience with The Changeling (not the Angelina Jolie version but the really old 80’s one) or just an overactive imagination but I normally stay as far away from the scary stuff as possible. The other night however, I found myself parked in front of my computer glued to the scariest movie I’ve seen in the past decade. It had all the makings of a horror flick: wickedly powerful bad guys, gruesome deaths, a citizenry unaware of the disaster just around the corner and just a handful of helpless good guys standing between us and them. The movie that’s been haunting my dreams? The Future of Food.
I know, it sounds like one of those 1950’s film reels that they used to punish us in elementary school on rainy days and yet I’m telling you this was seriously frightening stuff. It was all about what “GM” – genetically modified – foods are doing to humanity and our critical food supply. If this subject interests you, I certainly recommend watching the whole documentary – you can even see it for free on Hulu – but I’m warning you: you will never look at your food the same way again.
Which Worry is the Most Worrisome?
Anyone who knows me knows that few things cause me more consistent grief than food. I’m worried about when to eat and when to not eat and how to eat and what to eat and what to not eat and so on until I became full-on look-at-the-crazy-lady-on-TV-ma sick. Strangely, in all of my worrying about food it had never before occurred to me to spend much energy worrying about the genetics of my food.
As a neurotic pregnant woman, my current obsession has been with organic vs. local food. Everyone from Jillian Michaels on down says that pesticides and food additives wreck your metabolism and harm your general health. The other thing everyone tells you to do is to eat locally – it saves the environment and supports local farmers. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to do both exclusively as one generally precludes the other.
The organic-local debate was wiped clean from mind though after hearing what scientists are saying about all of our genetically modified foods. Who cares if there is pesticides on the outside of your peach if the very genes that make it up are dooming you personally and society as a whole?
But is all the furor over frankenfoods legitimate or just hysteria? Basically what we’re talking about are plants that have been altered at the genetic level to provide some benefit, i.e. drought tolerance, higher crop yeilds, resistance to pests and so forth. The potential benefits are immense – you may have heard of the “miracle” rice that is touted as Africa’s salvation or the GM wheat that sparked the green revolution in the 1950’s and saved millions from starvation. The problem however, is that nature didn’t create the plants that way and even though we think we are making them better, humans are notoriously short-sighted when it comes to “better” food. For example, the negative effects of the Green Revolution are just beginning to emerge in hard-hit areas like India. GM foods also introduce other signficant economic problems such as patent rights for seeds and all the attendant problems that come with single-source farming.
Unsurprisingly most of the research into GM foods has been conducted by the massive food conglomerates, such as Monsanto and Cargill, that are most heavily invested in them. The FDA and the WHO (World Health Organization) have also done some studies. The report states: “Foodstuffs made of genetically modified crops that are currently available (mainly maize, soybean, and oilseed rape) have been judged safe to eat, and the methods used to test them have been deemed appropriate.” One author cautions, “However, the lack of evidence of negative effects does not mean that new genetically modified foods are without risk.”
On the other side, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and cautions from scientists about the potential risks of these foods. The movie summarizes these quite well.
The problem with worrying about GM food is that right now it is so prevalent in our food supply, mostly in the form of GM corn and soy, that it would be nearly impossible to avoid it completely. Also, while a few places such as the European Union have introduced legislation requiring labeling of GM foods, most places including America do not. Buying organic doesn’t mean it wasn’t genetically modified or engineered. Even going so far as to buy your own seeds, plant them and grow your own food won’t necessarily help because most conventional seeds come from the same few seed banks which use GM seeds. And even if you were to splurge on heirloom seeds, chances are yours would get cross-contaminated with the GM seeds that your neighbors are using.
You’d think that the inevitability of it all would give me a free pass to stop worrying about it but somehow it makes it weigh heavier on my mind. Which is where you guys come in: I’m known for being neurotic. Talk me down off the ledge people – does it matter to you if your food is genetically modified? Do you take any steps to avoid it? Anyone else watch The Changeling as a kid and get totally freaked out??