Dinner and a Movie
Saturday, Jan. 9, Cannery Row IMAX hosted the NO-GMO Film Festival, revolving around genetically modified food.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The four documentary films--The Future of Food, Food, Inc., The Power of Community and The World According to Monsanto--ran back to back from 11am to 6pm, drawing about 300 attendees throughout the day, said Event Manager Wendy Goldman, prior to the panel discussion.
There were four panelists scheduled to speak. They included pediatrician Doug Hylstedt, M.D., Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, Pacific Grove city councilwoman and environmental activist Deborah Lindsay, and organic farmer and co-founder of GMO-Free Monterey County John Russo. Russo's wife, Danielle, served as the festival's host and campaign manager for GMO-Free Monterey County, a nonprofit group seeking to put a moratorium on the introduction of GM crops in the county until further study.
After they films, they mingled in the IMAX lobby with audience members, among towering posters by photographer Michelle Magdalena, while Goldman handed out the last of the cookies provided by Big Sur Bakery. Then it was time for the panel discussion.
About 75-90 people peppered the enormous theater. Danielle thanked all involved, introduced the panel and opened the floor to each speaker, passing the one microphone which would also be shared by the audience during the later Q&A session.
Schlosser spoke first, in a modulated, polite tone.
"The introduction of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in Monterey County is an absolute terrible idea," he said. "It's a solution to a problem that isn't there.
"There's an enormous experiment being conducted on the American landscape. The people are the guinea pigs."
He attributed the efforts to introduce GMO seeds as a corporate takeover of the food industry, with patented seeds sowing the path.
"The one person responsible for saying GMOs are perfectly safe, environmentally sound...was Dan Quayle." The audience laughed at the mention. "A person who couldn't spell potato."
After Schlosser finished his opening comments, Dr. Hylstedt received the mic.
"Shucks," said the bearded doctor, "I wanted to say that." He talked about his particular focus on the rise of autism--once affecting 1 in 10,000 kids, now affecting 1 in 100, he said--which he attributed to two causes: toxicity and deficiencies.
"I think autistic kids are canaries in the coalmine," he said. "Roundup is an organophosphate pesticide. You can call it an organophosphate toxin."
"In the medical community, we thought we were smart--we weren't."
He chided the medical and scientific community for "tampering with something God gave us. How silly."
John Russo, bearded, wearing a cowboy hat and Birkenstocks, spoke next.
"About 10 years ago," he said. "I didn't feel right. Like my whole body was made of cement. I had no energy."
That went on for a year before he started eliminating chemicals--like statin, for high cholesterol--from his life. He railed over the 2007 aerial spraying campaign to deter the light brown apple moth. He learned more about the relationship between the environment, food and chemical agents at a Bioneers Conference last year (www.bioneers.org).
"It's like following the rabbit down the rabbit hole. How many felt a sense of despair after seeing these movies?"
Someone at Bioneers, he said, suggested a book, The Blessed Unrest, and a model called “systemic reaction” to combat that sense of despair and helplessness.
"We're the anti-bodies," he said, citing a tagline gracing Michelle Magdalena's photos in the lobby: "We are the cure."
He said that he attended an Awaken the Dreamer conference recently. At first he thought it revolved around self-actualization or creativity. But it originated, he said, from a South American tribe who were experiencing detrimental effects of the "impact of our society on them."
"They thought we were in a trance. To poison our air and food is not sane. But we accept it every day. We are in a dream state. We all can get people to a state of consciousness...There's a lot of waking up we have to do."
The next Awakening the Dreamer symposium takes place Saturday, Feb. 13, at The Discovery Center of the Ventana Wilderness Society (www.awakeningthedreamer.org).
Councilwoman Deborah Lindsay spoke next. She prefaced by saying that she's not a health expert or practitioner, but that she could speak to environmental and social justice issues.
She warned that sugar beets would likely be the first GM food introduced into the county agricultural landscape.
"It's not big deal if you can go to the farmers' market or Whole Foods. But if you can only afford Walmart or Savemart...that is most people in the county."
She said she's pledged to increase "eco-literacy" in others and that the county's board of supervisors is charged with deciding on whether GM crops are allowed in the county.
"Jane Paker is listening. Dave Potter is listening--with conditions. He wants his bases covered."
She turned the mic back over to Danielle, who talked about the importance of education and then called out for Ag Commissioner Eric Lauritzen, who was in attendence, to stand up, which he did.
"I think people want to see you," said Danielle.
Then the Q&A commenced. The first question was an inquiry as to how Europe's approach to GMOs differed from that of the U.S.
Schlosser fielded the question: "There was debate in Europe...If GMOs were such a wonderful thing, you would think [ag companies] would want it to be on the label. GMO...exclamation point."
Europe and Japan, said Schlosser, require labeling of GMOs and so they are "essentially nonexistant" on the market.
John Russo spoke of his conversation with a county supervisor's aide.
"[The aide] was concerned that the supervisor not become a lightening rod for the ag industry. Who are they representing? The people or the industry? His dominant concern with the [light brown apple moth] spraying was [fear] of the industry, not the people."
At that point, Schlosser quietly excused himself to attend to a family commitment. Danielle Russo then told the audience that when she asked him to come on the panel, she couldn't, with certainty, guarantee a good turnout.
"He said 'I'll show up if it's just me and the panelists.'"
By way of solutions, Dr. Hulstedt encouraged people to "vote with your dollars and buy organic."
Councilwoman Lindsay also offered specific suggestions, including learning about the consequences of "corporate personhood," and supporting independent journalism: "Who made The World According to Monsanto? Canada and France. Because they are interested in the truth."
She also encouraged saving and swapping seeds "to ensure genetic diversity," net neutrality, support for "food activists," and called "terminator seeds" an abomination.
The audience was engaged in the dialogue, passing the mic around to different people who stood to say their piece.
"We have the USDA Organic label," said a woman. "[Corporations] are trying to get GMOs under that Organic label."
Danielle spoke about a third party verification label that Whole Foods is joining, "despite being a corporate giant."
A woman named Lorna said she had good news: "Apparently, the super grocery chains are recognizing that Americans don't want GMOs, just as Americans don't want trans fat."
There was dissent among the unified chorus.
"If you drove your car here, you can consider yourself an air polluter," said one woman. To Dr. Hulstedt's fear of the rise of autism, she suggested that the autistic mind is a precursor to human evolution, "the mind of the future."
Tracking back to address Councilwoman Lindsay's plea to support independent journalism, Michael Martinez, who identified himself as production manager for AMP (channel 24, www.ampmedia.org), the local public access TV station, told the audience, "You have an outlet available to you. You could actually do your own thing...[with] no [outside] control over content."
A man who described himself as a farmer who grows grass for cows with Sunrise Ranch suggested reading The Omniovore's Dilemma and pointed out the subterfuge of a sign in a Salinas ag field that read, "Don't spray pesticides; we're organic."
"That's true, for a year," he said. "But for 40 years they hosed that field with pesticides."
Judy Karas warned that methyl bromide was still being used on strawberries.
A man who identified himself as a former farmworker and current teacher said, "I'm concerned about farmworkers still out there in the fields."
John Russo talked about going to Carmel Valley's Hilton Bialek to show his bees to the students there: "There's something about nature that [the kids] connect to."
A young man asked the panel whether important scientific gains might be lost if "we get rid of [GMO technology]."
To that, John Russo said, "First of all, I would like to see debate." He also clarified that the petition that GMO-Free Monterey County is circulating (www.thepetitionsite.com/1/gmofreemontereycounty) is a moratorium to halt the introduction of GM crops until further study can be conducted, "before we let Pandora out of the box, or the genie out of the bottle."
Dr. Hulstedt, in response to an earlier question, said, "I've read about 150 books on evolution versus creation" and that if "DNA is a code, there must be a code-giver." His conclusion: "Evolution needs to be examined" and that "Darwinism is silly."
Danielle concluded the evening, thanking the audience and participants, who eventually streamed out into the Cannery Row night.