Like many of you, when I hear the word “Monsanto” my hackles rise.
For the last 100 years, Monsanto has been the leader in the business of developing deadly chemical technologies (including Agent Orange), creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs, otherwise known as food with which they have played God by changing it’s basic genetic structure without any knowledge of, or concern for the long term consequences, except higher crops yields and more disease resistant plants which of course equals more money for them), and being the first to patent their GMO seeds as well as their chemical herbicide (called Round Up) which is designed specifically to compliment their seeds, giving them unprecedented control over farmers (and all consumers of their products, which includes you and me whether we realize it or not).
They have also managed to succeed in killing any legislation that would require labeling on foods to indicate whether they contain GMOs, which means those foods remain, though pervasive in almost every single American diet, invisible. They have single handedly and subversively changed our very relationship with the earth upon which we live, and the bodies in which we live on it.
The food we are eating today may taste the same and look the same as the food we ate prior to the 1980’s, but make no mistake, it is as different as black is from white. Even if we ourselves are not eating these genetically modified grains, if you’re omnivorous, the animals and animal products you are eating are, and therefore, so are you.
That means many things.
One, our bodies don’t know what this alien substance is, and react by developing allergies, inflammation and unexplained illness of all kinds.
Two, the earth doesn’t know what this alien substance is, and it reacts to the lack of biodiversity and chemical intrusion in countless ways; migratory patterns of birds are disrupted, soil becomes dependent on chemicals for renewal, animals become extinct due to loss of habitat, and that’s just for starters.
The rare farmers who can afford the more expensive non-Monsanto seeds and who try to farm real food, find that their neighboring farmers Monsanto seeds blow into their fields with the wind anyway. And these mutated seeds, being designed to dominate whatever is in their way, take hold and poison everything in their path.
At this point, there is no turning back, and the end sum of this dangerous game may remain unknown forever.
Our world has been changed on a molecular level, without our consent, by a few greedy men. If this wasn’t reality, I’d think it was just a bad science fiction show.
So, knowing all this, imagine my surprise when I accidentally ended up having dinner with a retired Monsanto executive.
It was a casual Saturday, and my husband, my mother-in-law and I were out at the local watering hole. About three sips into our beers, my mother-in-law realized she knew the man and his wife who were just walking in. Her face lit up.
“Oh, I used to date that handsome guy in high school!” she said, waving at them excitedly. (My mother-in-law was quite the charming co-ed in high school, and had more beaus than she could count.)
The couple came over to our table, a pleasant looking pair who looked as if they wintered in Florida and spoiled their grandchildren rotten.
We insisted they join us for dinner, they ordered some drinks (House Chardonnay for her, Ketel on the rocks for him), and we settled into a companionable evening.
About halfway through our entrees, I was running out of things to say, so as my own mother taught me, I began asking polite questions of my table mates. (My mom’s theory is that people like nothing better than to talk about themselves to an interested listener.)
So there I was, halfway through a crispy french fry, when I heard the evil word “Monsanto” uttered across the table.
This ordinary looking grandfather happened to have been a lifelong Monsanto employee who moved into upper echelon management in his thirties and from there, to an executive position. He had been with Monsanto his whole adult life.
A silence fell across the table. My husband glanced at me—he is not a fan of scene making and he could sense that I was about to make one.
I struggled to control myself. I realized this was a rare opportunity to gain first hand insight into an exclusive club. I smiled.
“Did you enjoy working for Monsanto?” I asked.
“Oh yes, yes. Wonderful.” The nice old man said.
“What are your thoughts on GMOs?”
“Oh GMO’s. You know. They’re beneficial to everyone. A good thing. A great thing. We’ve been able to feed millions of people in third world countries.”
Again, I could feel my husband’s icy gaze. My mother-in-law and the nice man’s wife were oblivious, chatting about the upcoming holiday craft fair at the local Catholic school.
“Really?” I said through gritted teeth. “Beneficial to everyone? What about the farmers that are being put out of business for refusing to buy Monsanto seeds? What about the people who are getting sick from eating all this great food? What about the fact that every country except the United States has either banned such food or requires it to be labeled?”
“Erica,” my husband hissed, grabbing my knee under the table. I looked down at my plate. Then I looked up again.
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to be clear. You think GMOs are a good thing?”
“Yes, absolutely,” he smiled kindly at me with his grandfather eyes. ‘We’ve been able to increase food production a hundredfold. It’s a good thing for everyone. Everyone wins. Food is cheaper. More abundant.”
He went on to basically recite the standard propaganda Monsanto uses to convince people what it’s doing is in everyone’s best interest. The interesting thing was, I think he believed it. I had no sense that he was trying to persuade me of anything, but rather that he was simply explaining the facts as he knew them.
I had no idea what to make of it, and after he finished talking, sat in silence, bewildered.
Was this man lying to himself? Or did he actually believe that Monsanto was doing great things for the world?
I will never know, but it put a human face on what I had previously thought of as a faceless force of evil. This man was just a man, working away at his job, trying to support his family and live his life like everybody else.
But that frightened me all the more—because here he was, complicit in what I think is one of the greatest crimes perpetrated on our earth, and he was either unaware or unconcerned.
It reminded me that corporations are made of individual people, who, if they allow themselves, can get caught up in the skewed fantasy the corporation is selling and become unwilling to challenge it. It smacks of Nazi Germany, when so many decent people did so many horrific things because they were afraid.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we must all be very careful about the decisions we make and why we make them. The truth is, a few people with their untamed greed, and few more who blindly follow, can quickly make mincemeat of this beautiful world we are blessed to live in.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise