A Plea for Culinary Modernism

by Rachel Laudan in Jacobin

As an historian I cannot accept the account of the past implied by Culinary Luddism, a past sharply divided between good and bad, between the sunny rural days of yore and the gray industrial present. My enthusiasm for Luddite kitchen wisdom does not carry over to their history, any more than my response to a stirring political speech inclines me to accept the orator as scholar.

The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast: artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.

That food should be fresh and natural has become an article of faith. It comes as something of a shock to realize that this is a latter-day creed. For our ancestors, natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad.

Fresh meat was rank and tough; fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion; fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inedibly sour, fresh vegetables bitter. Even today, natural can be a shock when we actually encounter it. When Jacques Pepin offered free-­range chickens to friends, they found “the flesh tough and the flavor too strong,” prompting him to wonder whether they would really like things the way they naturally used to be. Natural was unreliable. Fresh fish began to stink. Fresh milk soured, eggs went rotten.

Everywhere seasons of plenty were followed by seasons of hunger when the days were short. The weather turned cold, or the rain did not fall. Hens stopped laying eggs, cows went dry, fruits and vegetables were not to be found, fish could not be caught in the stormy seas.

Natural was usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied from fifty to ninety percent of the calories in most societies have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make them edible. Other plants, including the roots and fibers that were the life support of the societies that did not eat grains, are often downright poisonous. Without careful processing green potatoes, stinging taro, and cassava bitter with prussic acid are not just indigestible, but toxic.

Nor did our ancestors’ physiological theories dispose them to the natural. Until about two hundred years ago, from China to Europe, and in Mesoamerica, too, everyone believed that the fires in the belly cooked foodstuffs and turned them into nutrients. That was what digestion was. Cooking foods in effect pre-digested them and made them easier to assimilate. Given a choice, no one would burden the stomach with raw, unprocessed foods.

So to make food tasty, safe, digestible and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission.

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*This was a very good piece! If it had gotten into the ecological side of these historical changes, it would have perhaps been better.

I encounter a lot of this ‘luddism’ in the permaculture movement, and struggle with trying to articulate a permacultural praxis that is modern, technological, and accessible.

Whenever I write about GM crops, science advocates criticise my anti-patent stance (which I actually take from reading the works of a futurist!) and my cautious-about-genetic-drift stance; meanwhile, organic advocates vehemently criticise my refusal to condemn genetic engineering wholesale. There is little room for a cautious optimism in that debate. I think there is a third potential position: one where genetic engineering is decentralised, open-source, and accessible.

I’ve been obsessed with biospheres and space travel for as long as I can remember. When I am writing about things like agroforestry, it’s not about returning to an idyllic past: it’s about engineering a better future on this world and others. I think many of the problems of modern agriculture can be better understood as scientific, not neccessarily moral.

These vitamin-fortified bananas might get you thinking differently about GMOs
More than 100,000 children around the world die every year from a lack of vitamin A.
By Nathanael Johnson

It’s not the first time there has been controversy over the use of genetic engineering to solve vitamin A deficiency. Since 1982, researchers have been trying to genetically engineer carotenes into rice. In 2000, the cover of Time declared that “golden rice,” as it was named, could “save a million kids a year.” But that was premature: The successful development of golden rice has been thwarted by both technical challenges and protesters.

This is a lot bigger than a squabble between student protesters and scientists. More than 100,000 children around the world still die every year from a lack of vitamin A. The pro-GMO and anti-GMO contingents have accused each other of taking advantage of these vulnerable people to advance their own causes. There’s no doubt that biotechnology boosters have used Golden Rice as a public relations tool, and there’s also no doubt that it could be a legitimate solution that has been delayed by protests.

Now we’re seeing the beginnings of the same debate as researchers from Iowa State, Uganda, and Australia team up to reengineer the staple food of Uganda, the cooking banana. Clearly, this strategy can be both difficult and controversial, so why do people keep trying to genetically engineer their way out of malnutrition?

Read more on Vox

GMOs Are Complicated, And Our Food System Is Not Designed To Handle Complicated. That’s A Problem.
GMOs are neither completely good nor completely bad. Our food system isn't designed to handle that kind of nuance, and that's a problem.

This month, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) — an independent group created by Congress — released what is, to date, one of the most extensive reviews of genetically modified crops. The nearly 400-page report looks at everything from genetically modified crops’ potential impact on human health to their impact on the environment. It’s a massive, hulking piece of scientific literature — the panel spent two years pouring over more than 1,000 existing studies on genetically modified crops, interviewing 80 witnesses, and analyzing more than 700 comments submitted by the public.

107 Nobel Laureates just signed a letter slamming Greenpeace over GMOs
"How many poor people must die before we consider this a 'crime against humanity'?"
By Fiona MacDonald

More than 100 of the world’s leading scientists just took a major stand in the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMO), by penning an open letter to Greenpeace and others who actively campaign against the use of GM crops.

In particular, the scientists called Greenpeace out for publicly opposing golden rice - a GM crop that has the potential to save millions of lives each year by reducing vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.

“They have misrepresented [GMOs] risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects,” the researchers write in their letter. “How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a ‘crime against humanity’?”

I don’t understand the urge to equate the artificial selection I do in my backyard with what a team of well-funded biotechnologists can do with a gene gun and a team of intellectual property lawyers.

Plant breeding is not genetic engineering, unless you are understanding terminology in a way that is so abstract and broad as to make it meaningless.

Sure, we’ve been changing our food for thousands of years, but we’ve only recently started patenting and attaching user agreements to designer trees. We can’t hand-wave away any ethical questions with that new legal frontier by accusing all concerned parties of being luddites.

synteis said: But most of the concerns raised about GMOs are not about patenting, but about health, when such concerns have not been raised about foods which were made through irradiation (and were also patented).

I’ve fought tooth and nail with the people who think GM crops and glyphosate give you cancer and autism: I have an archive to prove it. I think it’s a faulty and also classist argument (the only people at any risk are agricultural workers exposed to high levels of pesticides, etc.).

But this is a seedswap site, so I focus primarily on keeping the rights to plants and the ‘means of agricultural production’ in the commons. In terms of the audience for which I am writing (ie. skilled horticulturalists or people involved in agriculture), the intellectual property argument is a common one and has been for decades. Just because it’s not in the news most people are reading, doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening.

anonymous asked:

What are your thoughts on GMO?

In terms of crops at least, I am against GMOs, though not due to it being unnatural or “playing God.” The humanitarian potential of genetically modified crops are huge, as well as having the potential to limit pesticide and insecticide use. However, what I object to is the idea that a crop should be anyone’s intellectual property. Large corporations like Monsato are now able to create and copyright their own crop specimens and pressure or force farmers to use it, and can then control food at its source and dictate unfair terms, as they are currently doing.

Government oversight for GM crop development is also dangerously lax. The FDA for example, does not require a single safety study for GMO crops and corporations can put them to market without even informing the agency. Besides this, GMOs may reduce biodiversity which would be harmful to local ecosystems; the potential damage done to animal populations is still untested. In short, I am not against GMOs as a concept, but I am against how they are being used and who is using them.

The Feds Almost Used A Pesticide That's Harmful To Pregnant Women To Combat Zika In Puerto Rico

Why has nobody been talking about the fact that Puerto Rico was going to be fumigated by the United States government using an unregistered pesticide called Naled which is extremely toxic insecticide, particularly to pregnant women, in order to “combat the zika virus”? If it weren’t for the protests in front of the island’s Capitol building and the governor agreeing to deny the use of it, the chemical would’ve been spread all over Puerto Rico.

Why should we let the U.S. Government continue using us as guinea pigs for their science experiments? We’ve been abused for way too long, and all Puerto Ricans should stay woke 👀 they’re still after us

Report: Genetically altered food safe but not curing hunger
WASHINGTON (AP) — Genetically manipulated food remains generally safe for humans and the environment, a high-powered science advisory board declared in a report Tuesday. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded that tinkering with the genetics of what we eat doesn’t produce the “Frankenfood” monster some opponents claim — but it isn’t feeding the world with substantially increased yields, as proponents promised.

The “higher yields curing hunger” line is based on a bigger fallacy-the idea that globally there is a food production shortage, which is flat out false.

I mean, here’s the UN’s page, and they’re by no means a leftist organization or even generally a progressive one and it’s a pretty basic fact that enough food is being produced already to feed everyone.

And that’s not even addressing places that have lack of food production because of things like colonialism rather than due to environmental factors (Haiti is a good example, where there are many farmers but also many hungry people-due to US pressures to import US products and US, IMF, and World Bank pressures to focus agriculture on cash crop exports).

It’s capitalism and colonialism that are causing so much hunger, not a genuine food shortage.

You’ve probably seen this post going around:

It pisses me off every time I see it and today I finally decided to address it.

I’m really fuckin sick of people talking about GMOs on this site like people are idiots for being against them, acting like GMO = Gregor fucking Mendel selectively breeding peas. yes, some people are anti-GMO without understanding the issue, and those people are idiots. but being pro-GMO because you read one convincingly long clapback on tumblr is just as idiotic. people can be against GMOs without believing GMOs are “full of chemicals” or “poisoning us.”

For instance, you can be against GMOs because of seed patenting, which chains farmers financially to the massive corporations that own the seed patents, forbids them from saving seeds, restricts farmers’ access, and limits biodiversity.

You can be against GMOs because you recognize that monoculture crops are damaging the earth by requiring more water, more pesticides, more energy — and I’d like to point out to everyone claiming that GMOs are feeding the hungry that 60% of all corn production and 47% of all soy production (both crops that are commonly grown GMO) goes to animal feed, which is extra funny since 15lbs of feed and nearly 2,000 gallons of water creates one pound of beef, but a pound of tomatoes costs no feed and only 23 gallons of water, which means that we could be more efficiently feeding the hungry already if we just stopped eating so much goddamned meat.

You can be against GMOs because they require a 7% increase in pesticide use over conventional crops, and are resulting in pesticide-resistant insects and weeds.

But you know what? Don’t listen to me. That’s right, don’t listen to me. Do you own fucking research instead of just passing around a post that’s snarky enough to make you trust that they know what they’re talking about.