There is an old saying about it not being polite to discuss politics at the dinner table.
But what happens when the dinner table is at the center of political discussion?
This is an increasing occurrence as issues relating to almost every aspect of what and how we eat are coming under analysis and debate.
From what crops are grown to the calorie content labeling of menus to the banning of excessively sized sodas, it would seem that food and drink are as much fodder for C-SPAN and the Wall Street Journal as they are Food Network or Bon Appetit magazine.
The politics of food are greatly varied, and like many current hot button topics, there can be a wide chasm between two opposing sides.
One of these politically charged food issues is the role of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, in our food system.
There is a large contingent in the United States and around the world that is seeking to assert its voice in the ongoing debate over GMOs.
A regional selection of those voices was on display this last Saturday, gathered around Kansas City’s iconic J.C. Nichols Fountain for the “March Against Monsanto.”
On this sunny afternoon, the voracious crowd seemed somehow more intent than the standard corner protesters.
And it wasn’t just the fine selection of handmade signs and colorful costumes, though both were examples of a protest base teeming with exemplary craft skills and an impressive turn of political and pop cultural phrasings.
The real difference I noticed in this gathering was found actually walking amongst the people — a crowd comprised of old and young, costumed and plain clothed alike as they assembled for protests, speakers and a march through the streets.
The information tents located near the main concentration of people carried the soul of their message. There you could find a large number of pamphlets, flyers, FAQs (frequently asked questions), stickers and more shedding light on the issues from avoiding Monsanto and other genetically engineered foods to how they affect our health and way of life.
A chief concern expressed by many is the current lack of any legislation requiring companies to label their products as containing GMOs or their potential harmful effects.
Some of the strategies offered in the pamphlets ranged from simple things like starting your own garden, buying only certified organic or non-GMO foods to more action oriented solutions like writing your political representatives to enact change.
The Institute for Responsible Technology had a three-page leaflet offering basic info like an explanation stating that GMOs are the result of a “laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plan or animal.”
This is the one that really stuck out to me, because it seems to open up Pandora’s box on the issue of human control over nature. Its one thing to grind up a glossary of zombie like animal substances and sell it as the McRib, for a limited time only. But its something entirely different playing God with the very coding of genes and cells.
GMOs and the role of companies like Monsanto are just one of many important issues we face as politics and food become further intertwined. Like much of the realm of politics, the only way one can begin to make a right choice is to make it an informed choice.
That’s why I encourage people to ask questions and seek out answers. Get involved. The information is around, it just takes a little bit of digging.
Books by writers like Michael Pollan, films likeForks Over Knives and A Place at the Table
, or even grassroots campaigns like this past week’s “March Against Monsanto” are all tools that can be used to educate and discover.
Whether it is in our fields, stocked among our shelves or on our plates, the politics of food is a discussion worth having.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes “nose-to-tail” cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.