“I’ll modify your genetic organisms!” …or, Prop 37 and why I may or may not care.

I spent a good portion of today doing my due diligence on the California propositions and election issues. Like many, I try to be an informed voter, but the honest truth is that I’m not. My “research”, if you can call it that, is usually haphazard at best, and chiefly done the night before I report to the polling place.

Generally I try to learn enough to grasp the basics of each issue. What is at stake, and what are the effects. But many times I show up to the polls and vote based on whatever arguments are listed in the ballot. And yes, I still vote in person; it just seems more real that way (and I get a sticker).

For California in particular, there are a good amount of issues we have to decide on this year. Some are fairly cut and dry for me. Repealing the death penalty, for instance. From there it descends into varying shades of gray–Education funding is something I fully back, but making sure it goes to the right place is key.

And then there’s Prop 37, about labeling GMO foods. That’s where it gets tricky for me.

Food is something I’m passionate about. I eat it, buy it, study it, and occasionally obsess about it. When I’ve taken those online quizzes that stick you into the levels of hell from Dante’s Inferno, I always end up with the gluttons. I’m a firm believer in the power of buying locally above all. Health issues I deal with now (chiefly Thyroid) I suspect stem in part from dietary choices I’ve made throughout my life.

But my diet has been my choice. Sure, I could have been better informed. And how informed can you really be as a kid, when fish sticks, boxed mac ‘n cheese and frozen peas seems like a real deal meal. And I’m not sure that the most effective way to modify our food system is to get the government involved. Our most direct impact comes when we decide to take actual, real control over what we’re putting in our mouths. And I mean beyond just fork to face.

Much of my family is in Kansas and make their living growing wheat, milo, soybeans and corn. A cousin of mine does USDA research on the genetics of wheat strains. They search for things like drought hardiness, which is a make or break consideration in seasons like this past one. It’s a livelihood concern for them. It is an issues of putting food on their own tables, and it is rooted in history. We are century farmers, meaning that for over 100 years my family members have been farming the same lands.

Truth be told, I can’t begin to fully wrap my head around the complexity of these issues. But Michael Pollan, one of my favorite writers, made a good point in a recent interview. He noted that regardless of whether this is the “right” way to have this conversation, a passing vote for Prop 37 will do exactly that–stimulate a conversation. It’s a national chat that we’ve all been needing to have, and this may be just the push we need to make it happen.

If we slapped a sticker on a McDonald’s cheeseburger, would that stop someone from stuffing it in their face? Probably not. But maybe someone will at least think about where that product came from.

[Sidebar; before I went veg a few years ago a McDouble and diet coke were the only things capable of curing my collegiate hangovers. Please don’t judge. And if you’re looking for a great hangover cure, yes, I still recommend it.]

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