Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti reputedly once said, “One must have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.”
I’ve been away for a month in Scandinavia and haven’t yet had a chance to get out to any live arts or performance events here in town. But I did watch a film, “Food Evolution,” which opens this Friday at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center.
At first I thought this was just another anti-GMO documentary. For the record, and without seriously examining the science, I have stood on the anti-GMO side of the fence. This is where the part about an open mind comes in.
In fact, it’s not anti-GMO. This is the film in which science strikes back. And it’s pretty convincing. To drive the point home, one of the most respected and publicly known scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is the narrator. The film is directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, who also made the highly sympathetic 2006 documentary, “The Garden,” about the controversial destruction of a one-of-a-kind South Central community garden (nominated for an Academy Award).
“Food Evolution” does not address the many injustices committed by Monsanto, the giant biotech company that has been manipulating our major crops and buying up seed companies, ostensibly in the interests of putting fewer pesticides into the environment and securing the welfare of our food against pests and diseases. It is also the company that created Agent Orange.
“Food Evolution” does not address how Monsanto sues farmers for patent infringement after its own seeds contaminate farmers’ organic fields. I do not condone monopolistic practices nor the commodification of food, which should be an essential human right, not a means by which traders create markets and corporate profits come before the basic needs of people.
But: what this film is about is the science of bioengineering. The safety of the science. The indisputable scientific evidence that GMO foods do not harm humans. Yes, I said that out loud and I will be condemned by friends for it. We may be proved wrong in the future. But we’re not there yet.
The film opens in Hawaii, witnessing the county supervisors’ meeting at which an anti-GMO ban wins approval, to the cheers of the crowd, which had been active for many months to promote this outcome. However, Hawaii faced the devastation of its papaya crops from a crippling virus. The rainbow papaya, bioengineered by a Hawaiian scientist who added a gene from the virus into the plant’s DNA to create resistance, has saved that fruit.
We are taken into labs, into conversations with scientists, and to Uganda where bananas, the main food and economic crop, face a similar fate due to a bacterial disease. Local biotech engineers try to replicate the success of the rainbow papaya using genetic modification. Having created a resistant banana tree, now the people whose lives have been threatened by the extinction of their staple crop must convince the government to approve the GMO banana that could save them.
But thanks to the growing anti-GMO movement across the world and with the support of many governments, there are serious complications and approval may or may not be forthcoming. Meanwhile people will starve. Good intentions, questionable outcomes.
This is where I have to say, I fully believe the scientific evidence about global warming. Oh yeah, and evolution… So, I cannot understand why I have been so resistant to the scientific evidence that it is, indeed, possible to bioengineer a plant to create a food safe for human consumption.
Is it Frankenfood? Or can it save a nation or the world?
One of the most persuasive sections of “Food Evolution” is a public debate featuring two anti-GMO and two pro-GMO experts. The audience votes at the end, persuaded by the pro-GMO forces.
This isn’t by any means a fully balanced film; but then neither are the anti-GMO films out there. But too many people, myself included, have succumbed to the emotional arguments, the anti-GMO studies that have not been replicated and have been retracted, the arguable equivalencies of correlations (such as the rise in autism and the rise of GMO use; the same increase in sales of organic products also matches the rise of autism…).
Can we “separate the dancer from the dance” (Yeats)? I vow to be more open minded – but not so open minded that my brain falls out. Go see this movie and decide for yourself whether the argument has been settled or whether we still need more evidence to be convinced that GMOs might truly be beneficial.
A WHOLE NEW IRVING
I don’t know where this brand-new YouTube series is going, but now that I’ve watched the first two episodes, I’m intrigued. Producer/Director Terry Dawson has created a feature series called “A Whole New Irving” about a highly educated African American man struggling to find his place in the world after receiving his college degree.
With six-figure student loan debt, behind in rent to his mother, at odds with his delivery man brother, with a broken-down car he can’t afford to fix and forced to (humiliatingly) ride a bicycle around town, he ends up as a salesman in the wellness department of the Venice/Marina adjacent store, Rainbow Acres (yes, the real store).
It’s fun so far and new episodes drop on Fridays. I’ll be watching. Join me here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBsydMGoLuVUEGL10akstRg?view_as=subscriber