January 15, 2012
On the Road to Justice
To control food is to control people. To destroy topsoil is to destroy the most elemental thing upon which we all depend. And to convince people that this system is the only way and that there is no other option is one of the most pressing myths before us that needs to be shattered.
– Justice Begins With Seeds conference program.
This past fall, I contacted my very brilliant friend Rosa Romero, Farm to Preschool Program Coordinator with the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, to see if she knew any activist projects and groups engaged in Anti-GMO work in Southern California. I was looking for partners and experts that could share their work and wisdom with CTC through the sacred space that is the story circle. Sigrid Gilmer is the lucky playwright focusing on all things agricultural and she and I both needed to develop our muscles on what the heck a GMO was.
Rosa told me about the upcoming Justice Begins With Seeds conference in San Francisco—a conference she described as a “Who’s Who” in the Food Justice/Anti-GMO world. So being that I always want to know the “Who’s Who” of any justice movement, I got playwright Sigrid Gilmer into my car and drove us up to San Francisco.
We arrived to the Women’s Building in the Mission District early Friday morning. We didn’t know what to expect and as the artists, we wanted to make sure we could ask questions and talk to different experts in the field that could school us properly.
The conference started late but we were able to catch some key messages from one of the plenary speakers, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a senior scientist from the Pesticide Action Network North America discussing the global impact and implications of genetically modified seeds.
One of my favorite conversations was the Counteracting The Food Industry With Ethnic Diversification And Alternative Market Forces panel with Dana Harvey of Mandela Marketplace, Maria Catalan of Catalan Farms, Michael Dimock of Roots of Change and Tezozomoc of South Central Farms. This was a fantastic talk about the means of production and distribution being in the hands of the workers—the people that actually work the earth, like Maria Catalan of Catalan Farms, who is the first Mexican-descent woman to own her own no-pesticide, organic farm after working in the fields of Salinas for 17 years. She’s a grandmother whose family is a part of the operation now.
This was also where Sigrid and I met the brilliant Tezozomoc. He is so smart he had us swooning. Next post is going to be us visiting South Central Farms in Bakersfield, so stay abreast, people.
A lot of what we learned was the stuff of horror movies—but worse because it’s been happening for decades locally and around the world. I didn’t always know what a GMO was, but it’s pretty messed up: A GMO is a genetically modified organism (also called “genetically engineered”): a plant, animal, or microorganism that is created by means that overcome natural boundaries. Genetic engineering involves crossing species that could not breed in nature. For example, genes from a fish have been placed in strawberries and tomatoes. Scary, I know.
I don’t know why we as the consumers, as health conscious people, as food-lovers, are told that GMOs will make food better tasting, more nutritious, and longer lasting. All I know is that the conference had some nefarious facts about who gains and who loses in when it comes to finding ways to feed you, me, our neighbors as well as the developing world’s growing population.
It could take years for the unhealthful effects of GMOs to develop. The government did not require any pre-market research; and we have been eating foods with GMOs since 1996. Without research, some experts conclude GMO foods could have new and different risks for all of us as well as the environment.
The most widely grown GMO crops include soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Most GMOs today are of two types: “insect resistant” and “herbicide tolerant.” That sounds super creepy – maybe we should do a play about it.
Raquel Gutiérrez is Cornerstone’s Manager of Community Partnerships.
Find out more about Cornerstone’s Urban/Rural play.