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Is Paranoia Ruining Your Life? Maybe GMOs are Delicious

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 | 9 Comments

Do you worry about the food you eat? Do you worry about the composition,the origin, or the effects it may have on your health? Do you REALLY worry about this to the point where the anxiety interferes with your day-to-day existence?

That used to be me.

Over the last few years, I’ve made an important change in how I live my life:

I no longer worry about stupid shit.

A major element of this philosophy involves keeping a distance from “movements.” Those movements can be political, social philosophical, economic… whatever. Prior to my “don’t sweat stupid shit” philosophy, I spent considerable time worrying about a litany of issues that didn’t affect my life in any discernible way. Sometimes it kept me up at night. My focus on the irrelevant was interfering with my life.

My involvement in the barefoot running movement was the major eye-opener. There was a subset of barefoot runners that were convinced the shoe and medical industries were conspiring to keep runners (or non-runners) injured to increase profits. There was no empirical evidence of such; the furor was based entirely off illusory correlations, emotional pleas, a a healthy dose of hyperbole. The “true believers” seemingly had no capacity to objectively examine contradictory evidence or question their own beliefs. Since I’m a naturally skeptical person (especially with my own beliefs), frustration set in quickly, which led to a close reexamination of my entire life outlook.

The change was simple- I just stopped getting caught up in the noise of largely irrelevant issues. All that anxiety magically disappeared. In the event an issue popped up that managed to suck me in, the “meh” approach allowed me to analyze both sides without emotional attachment, come to an appropriate conclusion, and move on with my life.

Of course, I’m absolutely fascinated with human behavior. I love to understand why people do what they do and believe what they believe. My favorite forum for these observations tends to be Facebook, and my favorite tool tends to be sparking antagonistic debates. Luckily, I have a ton of like-minded friends that understand this “game.”

One issue that pops up repeatedly is diet. I have a lot of “diet fanatic” friends. Some are vegan, some paleo, some eat only organics, some eat nothing but junk food. Regardless of their actual diet, the important point is they talk about it.

A lot.

Not only do they talk about diet a lot, but they have a strong emotional connection to their dietary choice. It is a major life focus. And a strong emotional connection to any belief is like blood in the water for the shark that is my antagonistic debating.

[Qualifier- my own diet philosophy is pretty straight-forward: Eat anything and everything in moderation and variation without creating significant caloric surpluses or deficits.]

Specifically, I’m fascinated by the genetically-modified/ scientifically-derived food debate. It elicits some shockingly strong feelings that seem out of proportion to the actual effects of GMOs. The recent development of a lab-created hamburger brought up an angle that’s not always discussed. The science behind the development could feasibly provide a great deal of sustainable protein that would require far less animals that our present system.

I wanted to know if moral vegans (those that don’t eat meat because animals are killed) would oppose or support this technology. I was also curious if the natural foods folks would oppose this. Finally, I wanted to know if the anti-GMO folks would consider this a “Pandora’s box” issue.

I wanted to know what people thought because it would help me answer an important question- are these issues rational?

The discussion was interesting, which led to people posting several resources that eventually led me to investigate several issues in more detail. One of the best was this Ted talk by Michael Specter. That talk led me to start researching the origins of the anti-GMO movement starting with the empirical evidence (this Wikipedia article is a good summation of the research.)

The conclusion I came to- people spend way too much time fretting about GMOs. Much like the shoe/medical community conspiracy, the anxiety is warranted by the preponderance of  empirical observations. Some is good, some is bad. Overall, it represents progress just like computers, vaccines, and multi-speed vibrators. And I’m not going to spend my days worrying about it.

I’m curious- what do the readers think? How do you assess the rationality of the issues that are important to you? Do you actively seek out sources that conflict with your opinions? How do you deal with propaganda that supports your opinions? What about propaganda that refutes your opinions? How about empirical data… is it a necessary prerequisite?

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  1. Will
    August 13, 2013

    I believe that the people that worry about where our food comes from, and whether it is healthy/sustainable are collectively saving us all.

    I certainly do not agree with every new fad that comes along (or even many of them), but I recognize that without the skeptics (many of whom worry a lot), society will quickly head to a tragedy of the commons of global proportions. Regardless of how we all feel about diets, nearly all agree that there are major problems in our food system (high usage of pesticides/fertilizers, draining of major aquifers, exceptional rates of heart disease/diabetes/obesity…) – so who will address these problems if not the concerned among us?

    Suggesting that people care about societal problems but not worry is probably unrealistic for most, so if I have to choose, I’ll take the worriers. I also remind myself that the person I am disagreeing with cares enough to worry, and for that I should thank them.

  2. Richard
    August 10, 2013

    If you ignore the law of gravity and step off a cliff, you will fall. If you ignore the laws of physiology, you will fall. The acceleration is much less and you will not feel like it, falling at a few millimeters a day. These laws have been in affect since long before any of us were born.

    A little common sense can go a long way in deciding to eat pesticides, whether sprayed on or grown into food, or not to eat them. I don’t obsess about cliffs, but I do avoid stepping off of them. I do encourage others to not step off the physiological cliff.

  3. Juha Myllylä
    August 8, 2013

    And I don’t like organic foods, because in essence it’s ineffective way to make food. In milk and meat stuff there’s too much bullshit in organic production, like not using antibiotics and medicine but homeopathics and herbs to cure animals. With organic plants the problem is that there are lots of actually dangerous plants and pretty ineffective means to prevent them. So, there’s bigger probablity that crops goes to waste.

  4. Mark Cucuzzella MD
    August 8, 2013


    you are right and I’m aligned with you. folks need to understand genetic variability, epigenetics, and the inflammatory response. I have spent most of my life in the field of obesity and nutrition. Dr. Tim Noakes in South Africa also focusing on this now. we just taught a course together. Read Weston Price book from 1930’s Nutrition and Human Degeneration. it explains it all. there is variability in the diets of the traditional well cultures…so get rid of the modern refined processed stuff. Meat not evil, eggs not evil, bread not evil. just have good quality. enjoying my omelet with all kinds of left overs mixed in as I write this. Mark

    • Dave
      August 12, 2013

      “so get rid of the modern refined processed stuff. ”

      So do genetically modified foods fall under the umbrella of “modern refined processed stuff”?

  5. René
    August 8, 2013

    I used to eat only organic food, Now I eat a mix of “normall” and organic food. I was to obsessed About it and nedeed to lett go a bitt….

  6. Bryan
    August 7, 2013

    I’m like you, Jason: I eat (and, occasionally, drink) what I want in moderation. Only rarely do I worry about the origin.

  7. Dave
    August 7, 2013

    I live in Boulder, and gluten is the favorite diet evil du jour. There is a comedy bit playing on the radio where a child asks her mother where bread comes from, and the mother replies “Satan”.

    I am certainly not anti-GMO per se. I am not aware of any evidence to suggest genetic modification makes food dangerous in some way (uknown unknowns aside). My main concern with GMO (above traditional breeding techniques), is that it is efficient at encouraging homogenization of the genome. This is already a problem with bananas which have largely been bred (traditional techniques) to have traits that make them consistent in size, flavor, and shipability. This lack of genetic diversity makes the whole species susceptible to a novel pest/fungus/etc. attack.

    Darwinistic survival of the fittest doesn’t work unless we have sufficient genetic diversity. This diversity is not impossible with GMO, but short term profit motives may run contrary to this long-term goal.

    • dakotajudo
      August 20, 2013

      Dave, you used exactly the wrong example with banana.

      Bananas can’t be bred. They’re clonal – you’ve surely noticed that bananas don’t have seeds. GM may be the only short term method to introduce disease tolerance into banana, as is already has been with papaya.

      You are right the bananas are largely genetically homogeneous, but that is due to the clonal origin, not at all related to GMO.

      GM doesn’t really affect diversity. For most crops, transgenes are introgressed into elite varieties only after such varieties have been developed using traditional methods. Any lack of diversity is a concern among breeders, and is addressed using traditional breeding.