Stop Yelling About What Poor People Eat
Chris Newman

Before I was a graduate student in plant science in the U.S., I had been an agronomist in Vietnam. My circle of American scientist friends are folks who wholeheartedly defense GMOs, preservatives, “chemicals” — and I know why. They hate mongering fear that is not based on scientific evidence. They hate the fact that people are afraid of GMOs without knowing what GMO is. They hate the fact that people are automatically afraid of chemicals, whatever they are. There are a lot of sarcastic jokes in the lab on this kind of ignorance. And naturally, they divide the world into “us” vs. “them.” Anyone who is against GMO is stupid. Anyone who likes organic, minimally processed produce is hippie and silly. This kind of thinking is so strange to me, coming from a country where every way of producing food is okay. It isn’t a war over there. I never thought I ought to hate organic farmers if I want to be part of this smart, scientific evidence based only community.

I am an NGO worker, and I have worked with farmers in mountainous corners where organic farming is probably their only option. They have to be independent. They have to be able to rotate their crops, close their circle of production, using minimal inputs, simply because they can’t afford anything else. Do I have to hate them so that I can prove myself to be a well-informed scientist?

Another thing that drives me nuts is this first claim they put in every single powerpoint presentation: “The world population is growing at such and such speed… By 2050 we will have this many people… To feed that many people we must double our yield… Therefore my work studying this tiny gene in plant is contributing to feeding the world.” C’mon, give me a break. First, who are the people you are feeding? People in developing country? Come see me in my developing country, I’ll feed you. People who are living in slum? I doubt your fancy gene study will help. People who are living in extreme poverty and wars? Tell me how exactly your gene study will help them?

Their research is important to understand the basic biology of crops and living things. Someday they might have application. That day might be very far or very near. Part of it is the fact that they are forced to do that, so their grant proposal will be accepted, so their research will be funded. But part of it is the fact that they truly believe in it. I don’t. I am sorry. Maybe I’m not a good scientist. I’m too real a human.

One thing about the food production system here that still amazes me: the more processed the food is, the cheaper it gets. It is strange to see how all of that added value (preservatives, transportation, processing…) actually makes things cheaper. And eventually, it gets to the point that minimally processed food is more expensive. So now that option is more out of reach. In my home country, it still works the other way: the more work you put into it, the more expensive it gets. Stuff that are in season and local are always cheaper, sometimes so cheap that farmers don’t make profit out of it. Here, it seems to be the other way around. Farmer markets sell “premium,” expensive food, and eating healthy becomes a luxury.