GMOs and American Culture With Food

There is this notion that Americans don’t necessarily worry about the contents in which they put into their mouth. With the obesity rates escalating across this country there is some truth behind the idea. According to Jan Factor, head chair of the Biology program here at Purchase, there is this blatant disregard that “the general public mostly doesn’t care, contrast to those in Europe.” And what is it that Americans are swallowing down their throats with barely a care in the world: Genetically modified foods or GMOs for short. Compare to places such as Europe and Africa, America is one of the biggest suppliers and supporters of genetically modified foods.

Dr. Lisa Weasel, an associate professor of Biology at Portland State University came to Purchase College Tuesday Night for the Natural Science lectures to discuss her studies on GMOs. With an impressive resume, Dr. Weasel has received an A.B magna cum laude in Biology from Harvard, and her Ph. D in Molecular Biology from the University of Cambridge. Her studies have helped her write and publish her book on this very subjected called: Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food.

One of the many topics Dr. Weasel mention at the lecture was that “in Europe there is very strong consumer opposition to genetically modified food…and from a consumer perspective people really just have a philological position on this kind of tinkering with plants.” In her books she dwells more onto this subject, this idea of how there is a cultural difference in the way Americans view food versus the Europeans. This one case study of how Europeans view food is quite distinctive.

Weasel, through her intense scientific research on the social aspects on the subject, traced the outstanding “historic tension” in the role of science in European culture and society to why Europeans opposition is so strong against GMOs.  She brings up the whole era of how novels such as Frankstein dealt with humans trying to play God, the struggle between scientific facts and religion. Weasel explained that they don’t culturally identified with food like Americans do, such as with coke and McDonalds.

Based on statistics sugar beets (~95%), soybeans (93%), cotton (93%), and corn (86%) are the highest of all GMO crops grown in the U.S.  Weasel explained that half of America’s sugar comes from sugar beet crops. This is a fairly new crop that’s been around for almost two years.

There has been much debate on why America is still one of the few countries that don’t regulate their laws against using modified foods. As of this year however there have been two court cases that are ceasing the production of both alfalfa (3rd most valuable crop in the world, 4th in the U.S) and sugar beets.

Harping on what Weasel believed strongly on was that there should be more scientific literacy within American culture. Talking to Dr. Ronnie Halperin, Chair of the Natural Sciences at Purchase, she agreed that Americans need to be more scientifically involved when it comes to their diets, yet she also believes with the financial issues many American families are having nowadays buying organic foods isn’t always an option. Purchase sophomore, 19 year-old Taylor Edelmann, a Psychology student said that, “Americans aren’t aware of GMO’s because companies like Monsanto work too hard to keep Americans from finding out that nearly 75% of foods are comprised of genetically modified. One of Weasel interviewees in Switzerland stated that “Americans eat McDonald’s special sauce; of course they don’t care if they eat genetically modified foods.” Maybe it is not that they don’t care about what they are eating, but that they don’t have the time, the money, the resources, and the knowledge to care about it.


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