You Say Tomato, I Say?
Any way you slice it, genetic food modification is here to stay.
Thursday, April 13, 2000
Or, even more startling and aesthetically discombobulating, has that tomato you''re eating been mixed up in a really creative laboratory recipe that includes, say, some mouse genes? Ever since a friend laid that one on me, I have never thought of them in quite the same fashion. Yes, these are the times we live in.
Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley has put her kitchen staff on notice: She mandates that all genetically modified products get the hell out of her kitchen by year''s end, an imperative that''s causing no small amount of scrambling when it comes to re-working recipes, interpreting product labels and getting in the faces of purveyors.
On the other hand, Julia Child''s attitude is "Why worry?" As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the matriarch of postmodern cuisine thinks GMO is the greatest thing since sliced genes. At 87 years, Julia says anything less is "a very backward-looking point of view."
To get a handle on how local chefs feel about GMO, I gave Bert Cutino a call. As the owner of the Sardine Factory, honorary board member of the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Culinary Federation and former chairman of the ACF''s honor society, the American Academy of Chefs, I figured Bert would be a good place to start. Cutino underscored the concern that is being voiced in the industry, with the issue becoming a more frequent topic at ACF educational seminars.
He also enlightened me on the Arctic char tomato. (I was still reeling from the mouse recipe.) "I gotta tell you the flavor was great," he laughs. "But the skin was a little tough."We both agreed that it''s great when hybridization comes up with a product like broccolini---a delicious cross between Asian bok choy and broccoli with plenty of aesthetic appeal--but becomes Frankenfood when your peanut genes get scrambled into your soy oil. Deadly, if you happen to be allergic to peanuts. "What we need to see happening is the Department of Agriculture become more like the FDA, to monitor what''s happening. We need to get the good information to evaluate what''s going on. If we''re talking about genetic modification of food giving us the ability to feed the world, we don''t want to be held back by traditions, or fear," says Cutino.
If you really want to find out what''s in that tomato you''re eating, go online to get fully into the fray. Type in "GMO" and you''ll find yourself in a philosophical firestorm unrivaled by the imagination of Stephen King. Consider Monsanto''s success in forcing food retailers and governments to accept unlabelled GMO soybeans. Consider also that soybeans are a common ingredient in baby formula. From Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Biology Department of the Open University, UK (geneng.html), "Agricultural biotechnology is big business, and science has been absorbed into industry to an unprecedented extent. Practically all established molecular geneticists have some industrial ties, thus limiting what they can research on, particularly with regard to safety.
"The mission to feed the world has the irresistible ring of a noble obligation," says Dr. Ho. He also points out that these biotech companies are heavy-duty transnational investors, with an eye on deep pocket returns to the tune of $9 billion in the UK alone, as of this year.
Anybody wondering who''s minding the store? When we pull back the curtain, whose face is the wizard?