A new problem has surfaced in agribusiness. ConAgra has decided that sweet potatoes are the new potato. And it isn’t good enough. Orange is the new white, I suppose.
There was a time in life when I grew sexy, plump non-GMO tomatoes in the back of my Cambridge, Massachusetts condo. In my urban haven, an oasis of herbs and tomatoes existed to make my solitary Sundays bright with rituals of biting straight into a tomato like an apple. For contrast and salt, I enjoyed shaved parmigiano reggiano drizzled with olive oil to savor between the luscious, juicy bites. These tomatoes were always better than anything I ever bought.
My long office hours as a corporate biotech attorney felt balanced by that small connection with nature in my morning walk around to check on my tomato plants, pressed into the soil and covered with mulch or newspapers to prevent black bottom fungus. Each day, I watered them like a child tipping the watering can further and hoping for immediate growth. I breathed a little deeper and reflected a little longer about the beauty of watching this plant life transform from day to day—deep greens first matched plant stems until the unripe tomatoes turned into a mélange of greens and orange until finally giving way to blaring reds that announced the arrival of August’s ripeness.
I had known for a long time that different companies were using genetic engineering to manipulate plant genes for increased harvests. In culinary school, we read about the science “breakthrough” of splicing a tuna gene into the DNA of tomato plants to protect their fruits from frost. My friend, a leading biotech partner in Boston, and I spoke about food occasionally in the corporate cafeteria. With all that we had learned through our work with biotech companies, neither of us wanted any part of tomatoes with tuna genes.
Philosophically, I’m okay with using technology to help us determine which types of plants of the same species can be cross-bred effectively to produce a stronger plant. If it would happen in nature and technology only helps us select the right plants faster, it seems like technology-based Darwinism. It’s the unnatural being sold as the natural that bothers me. The shaping of life to fit what seems to be an agribusiness need.
I never thought I would say this, but I may be “foie gras-ed out.” My friend, Jaimee, would probably come to Wisconsin to check my temperature if she read this. Maybe my friend Millie would too.
In days past, I used to dream of having more time in Chicago to dine on Graham Elliot’s foie gras lollipops. I used to hope to see foie gras on more common menus in other places. Locally, in Wisconsin, I ordered it most recently when I saw a chef’s rendition of a foie gras crême brûlée. It was beautifully done, so much so that we ordered two. It isn’t part of the culinary lexicon of most Wisconsin commercial kitchens, only the bold and higher-end establishments. Its scarcity has always made me want it more.
ARCHIVED FROM 2009
“In chemical farming, it’s about the plant, pesticides, herbicides and designing the plant to take it all up. The focus is on the plant. In organic farming, the focus is on the soil. You feed the soil; then you do the worms, air, microbes, sun and water … all forces of the earth working on the soil. The same thing is true of a person’s life. You can treat yourself chemically with all the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughtas’ or you can feel the soil that nurtures the spirit [organically]. You know what feeds you: good relationships, food, good music. If you live chemically, you beat yourself up.”
Ed believes in the truth of the old saying, “As above, so below.” Put simply, he proclaims, “if you nurture the soil, the dang gone seed knows how to grow.” He claims that when you start messing with the seed, things don’t turn out the right way. Undoing the hard-wiring of the seed through genetic modification and through the use of chemicals during plant growth attempts to fix something that would otherwise already work.