Truth in the middle

This is a warning…this blog post might strike a nerve with you. I don’t expect you to agree with me; sometimes I even question myself. Today I’m going to touch on GMO’s.

This jumped into my head today after I swallowed the synthetic hormone that I’ve been prescribed due to Hashimoto’s. I’m not a person that likes taking medicine unless absolutely necessary and here I am taking this synthetic drug and putting it into my body. It got me thinking of the battle that is being waged regarding GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

The camps on GMO’s are far apart. The anti-side is vehemently opposed to any type of GMO. The other side states that GMO crops feed the world.

The truth is probably something in the middle.

What exactly constitutes a GMO? GMO or a genetically modified organism means an organism that has been genetically modified. But what is the true definition? No one can really, truly answer the question.

I remember high school biology and learning about Mendel’s peas. I was taught that this is the first time that genetics were actually studied (although I’m sure that farmers were already refining skills but lacked the knowledge to put it into “words”). Humans have been genetically modifying organisms since the dawn of human-kind. We’ve altered the genes of a wolf so that I can enjoy spending time with my German Shorthair Pointer. This was done through selective breeding and selecting the traits desired for a certain breed of dog.

Humans have been selecting crops and refining them the same way. We’ve altered carrots to select for the orange color trait. We’ve altered corn to select for sweeter fresh kernels. We’ve cross-pollinated to give us different varieties of tomatoes. All of these (and much more) genetically alter the final product. Are these not also GMO’s?

Are GMO’s only what is created in a lab? Is it the corn that can tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate? Is it the salmon that has genes added to promote growth? Is it the chicken that has been specially bred to grow to size within weeks so that folks can enjoy their daily chicken nugget? Is it a F1 hybrid plant?

These questions are always in my mind and as a farmer, business owner and chef. And, I have not yet found a definite answer.

As a farmer, I want my farm to be healthy and viable. I want my animals to have a good life and my crops to grow quickly. I want to enjoy seeing spiders, blue birds and lady bugs and the occasional praying mantis. Using pesticides, both organic and conventional, can change the ecosystem of the land thus chasing away the predators that can keep the unwanted pests from destroying my crops.

As a business owner, I need my business to be profitable. Chemicals, whether organic or synthetic cost quite a bit. The cost of inputs have to be passed onto the consumer, there is no other choice. That being said, I also eat the food that I produce and do not wish to add to my own personal cost of food or chemical load. (I’ve read that even some “organic” pesticides are showing up in bloodwork.)

As a chef, I want access to great quality food. Typically those in the food service industry need food that is uniform and consistent, which modern crops and food production techniques provide.

In my day job, I teach nutrition to limited resource children and adults. I’m not an authority on nutrition and I don’t promote myself as such. But it isn’t possible for me to promote organic food when I’m just trying to get people to eat more nutritious foods on a limited budget.

The anti-GMO group stresses purchasing organics. However, I think we should instead stress that folks purchase foods locally. For one thing, rural areas do not have the access to organic food that a larger metropolitan area does. Another thing to think about is the travel time (and fossil fuels) that it takes for organic food to make it to the grocery store. A local farmer, even if using conventional farming techniques is only going to use synthetic inputs as needed; the cost of those inputs raise the cost of doing business.

I have a better thought. Maybe we should just eat more vegetables. Put good, real food into our bodies and less food-like products (Thank you Michael Pollan!) into our bodies. Cook at home with REAL ingredients. Grow your own food. Shop at local farms and farmer’s markets if you have them available. Shop smarter. Sometimes it is recommended to shop only the store perimeter as that is where the fruits and vegetables are located. However, don’t forget staples like dried beans or canned goods (for those that cannot preserve their own foods) as they too can be part of a healthy diet. Learn the skills needed to bring food to your table. Know where your food comes from and the road it took to get to your table.

I don’t know the answer to the GMO debate but I don’t think it is a simple answer either. This is something that I wrestle with in my head and I think that there are probably others that feel the same way.

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