I’ve been really hungry. Once. I was working for the Haiti Sun and my boss, Bernard Diederich, had set off on his mother’s yacht, leaving me to run the newspaper for a month. Sadly, he had neglected to leave me banking authority. For most of that month, I was able to afford a lemonade, a day-old roll and a slice of Velveta cheese for supper, and an occasional avocado for lunch. But for the last three days of the month, I was penniless. All I had was water.
Imagine what it’s like to get up, walk to work without breakfast, miss lunch and walk home to no supper. Then do it again the next day. And the next.
By the third day, I was seeing and hearing things. My guts ached. My brain swam. My legs wobbled. I was a mess.
I can still see the 20-year-old me sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Haiti Sun, watching the cars go by and fighting an urge to throw rocks at them. Hunger fills you with irrational rage. As they say in Jamaica, “a hungry man is an angry man.”
So when I read about world hunger, it is no abstraction. I remember what hunger feels like.
Even so, I was sickened by a Chris Hayes segment on laboratory-generated beef the other night. If I understand what the story was about, some scientists had grown a beef patty from a cluster of stem cells. And there on TV, volunteers were eating the thing. One – Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler (above) – commented that it could have used some seasoning.
I was disgusted. But Chris, of course, was elated. Could this be the answer to world hunger? Could this be the end of animal slaughter? And the unspeakable abuse to which food animals are often subjected?
Perhaps, Chris. But I couldn’t get that frankenburger down my throat. I doubt I would’ve eaten it even on the third day back in Haiti.
Yet it seems I’ve eaten that kind of thing routinely without giving it a thought. An article in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine concludes I am probably eating genetically modified foods without even knowing it. Writer Maggie Caldwell argues that:
Since several common ingredients like corn starch and soy protein are predominantly derived from genetically modified crops, it’s pretty hard to avoid GM foods altogether. In fact, GMOs are present in 60 to 70 percent of foods on US supermarket shelves, according to Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety; the vast majority of processed foods contain GMOs. One major exception is fresh fruits and veggies. The only GM produce you’re likely to find is the Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn. No meat, fish, and poultry products approved for direct human consumption are bioengineered at this point, though most of the feed for livestock and fish is derived from GM corn, alfalfa, and other biotech grains. Only organic varieties of these animal products are guaranteed GMO-free feed.
How long has this been going on? Ms. Caldwell figures we’ve been eating GMO foods since the 90s, when “a biotech company called Calgene released the first GMO approved for human consumption: the “Flavr Savr tomato,” designed to stay ripe on the vine longer without getting squishy.”
So far, there are no reports of anyone growing a second head – or anything weird like that. But you never know.
There’s a lot of skepticism surrounding the proliferation of genetically modified foods. Protests are mounting. I just saw a headline about farmers in the Philippines uprooting genetically modified rice.
But what are we to do? The global population has raced past seven billion, and is expanding exponentially. Voracious humans have stripped the earth and sea of its products. Famine blights large swaths of Africa. Children are going hungry even in a rich country like America.
We have to eat. But do we have to eat food grown in a test tube?
That’s a tough question, isn’t it?