I find the way our culture treats diversity both humorous and frightening. Supposedly, we are supporting cultural diversity, celebrating difference, and encouraging our children to gain knowledge of ideas that are alien to them, rather than fearing what is different and pulling their heads into their shells. But from what I have seen, our culture frowns on diversity. We want everyone to think the way we think. This is played out in many facets of our existence.
Take, for example, the political arena. I had a student a few years ago who had trouble reconciling my sense of community (that he labeled liberal politics) with my strong sense of “family before anything else.” His question was, “How can you be liberal AND have family values?” The machinations of our culture had him believing that one had to practice Conservative politics and be a Republican in order to have Family Values.
I’m not sure which force is at work that drives this homogeneous machine: it wants everyone to look the same way: thin. It wants everyone to have the same definition of success: having lots of stuff. It wants everyone to believe in the same food values: whatever the Industrial Food Gods tell us to eat, we should eat. When it comes to food, we are pulling our heads into our shells because the agricultural road we are on is leading us down a path of homogeneous food. There is less and less diversity in agriculture. [Ah, dear reader, you knew I would pull this around to food eventually, right?]
What’s the big deal?
Bio-diversity, or planting many varieties of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, steer, cows, etcetera, means strengthening the gene pool. What happens if farmers are only planting one or two types of wheat? When a pest comes along that devastates that variety, all of the wheat will be affected. Sadly, farmers are planting fewer and fewer varieties of plants. How are they avoiding pest problems? Through biotechnology. Biotechnology is the science of gene modification, in which DNA is transferred from one organism to another. The transferred DNA changes the characteristics of the receiving organism (Eicher). This creates a Genetically Modified Organism, or GMO.
Sounds okay, but what is being engineered? Corn seeds that produce plants that resist herbicides. Corn seeds that produce plants that don’t mind crowding. These are useful results, right? So what’s the problem? We have no idea what effect these genetically modified organisms might have on our health and well-being. Look at High Fructose Corn Syrup, once thought to be a cheap, innocuous alternative to sugar, now suspected to be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and some liver problems. Well, wouldn’t sugar affect these issues as well? No, actually, it wouldn’t. Over ten years ago, Dr. Meira Field was doing research on the effect of HFCS on lab rats. While glucose can be metabolized by all cells, fructose is only metabolized in the liver. “The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic”(Forristal). Can you avoid HFCS in your diet? Start reading ingredients lists. You will find High Fructose Corn Syrup in things from crackers to yogurt. And while it is a chemically converted food, you will find it in “Natural” foods, as well. In addition, there is no way to tell if that HFCS was made from GMO corn!
GMO’s are already everywhere. I went to find information to estimate the percentage of crops that are GMO crops and found very conflicting numbers. Some places reported that over 90% of soy and 70% of corn being planted world-wide are genetically modified. And maybe you are thinking, well, read your labels. But in the United States, a food product does not have to list that the soy products that have been used were genetically modified. Also, there is the reproduction issue. Plants reproduce by pollen landing on stamens. How does the pollen get to the stamen? Through pollinators, such as wind or bees. No farmer controls the wind or the bees.
What if genetically modified pollen lands on non-genetically modified stamens? Watch the film Food, Inc., and you will see one facet of the result – the financial one. GM seed is patented. Another facet is that the resulting produce from the non-GMO pollinated by the GMO has the GMO traits. Therefore, a farmer who did not wish to grow GMO foods is suddenly, and without his knowledge or consent, growing GMO’s! And as I said before, we have no idea what the long-term effects of GMO’s will be. What harm could GM food create? I have no clue, but I sure don’t want my children to be the test rats for the effects of GM foods. I guess, in a sense, I am volunteering them for the Control Group.
A much less risky option? Bio-diversity. It strengthens the gene pool. Look at dogs: mutts and mixes are generally healthier than pure-bred dogs. Why? The diversity in the gene pool helps unwanted or harmful traits to recede. Bio-diversity also means creating a farming situation where the farm has different offerings of produce. Take the grazing steer for beef (who have four good legs) out to the field, rather than bringing food to the steer. It takes a lot less equipment. Let the chickens follow the steer in the pasture and pick and scratch for bugs. This breaks up the cow-pies and helps the manure nourish the grass, which will, in turn, nourish the steer. Bio-diversity goes against the current model of specialization.
Bio-diversity works on an old traditional model. When viewed in this light, it is very simple, but our culture really hates anything that is old. Look at the lengths people go to in order to “stay younger looking!” Notice how much advertising uses the word younger, whether you will “look younger” or “feel younger.” The other trigger words are “newer” and “improved.” I’m not saying that all new things are terrible, or that nothing can be improved, but I am saying that sometimes we overlook what is good just because it is old. The way we treat the elderly in our culture is symbolic. Visit a nursing home sometime and ask one of the workers how many of the residents have no visitors. The number will shock you. We take our old people and put them away in a corner where we don’t have to look at them any more. I really do not understand what is wrong with being older.
Eicher, Annie. “A Glossary of Terms for Farmers and Gardeners.” Organic Agriculture: Michigan Conservation Districts. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2010.
Forrestal, Linda. “The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup.” Wise Traditions. 17.02 (2003): n. page. Web. 11 Jan. 2013.