Re-Release of Culinaria: Issue 1

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From Pepper Bowen

Miriam Webster succinctly defines “monograph” as a small, written, methodical discussion of facts, principles, and conclusions reached for a small area of learning.[1] Much more in depth than an article and much more narrow in scope than a review, a monograph can be understood as a “deep dive” into a single subject. And that is exactly what the Culinaria Monograph set out to accomplish from the first issue in 2012 on California’s Proposition 37.  

To set the stage, 2012 was quite a year! It was the year the Mayan calendar ended and the world was expected to end. Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark, Phyllis Diller, Andy Griffith, Whitney Houston, Etta James, Donna Summer, and Andy Williams all passed on. It was a great year for super hero movies; Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, and Dark Knight Rises were all released. Facebook went public. Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast and the Caribbean. Barack Obama was re-elected to the Presidency. And the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting rounded out the year.[2]

The year 2012 was also a year of growing consciousness around food, its origins, and impacts. That year, Jamie Oliver was the world’s second most successful celebrity chef.[3] No doubt he was riding high on the success of his 2010 TED Talk that won the TED Prize.[4] In a concerning eighteen (18) minutes, he talks at length about eating habits, increasing mortality from diet-related diseases, and the preventable aspect of it all. He never delves into the impacts genetically modified or engineered foods have on the landscape, but he does suggest the desire of large manufacturers to self-police their labeling of packaged foods is folly. His argument is simply that it is unreasonable to call something low-fat, thereby implying it is healthy, when it is filled with large amounts of sugar.

Not unrelated, in 2012 there was growing discontent with Monsanto, foremost genetic engineered seed producer, in part because it had been embroiled in legal battles against small farmers like Vernon Hugh Bowman. Monsanto had filed suit against Mr. Bowman for replanting second-generation seeds saved instead of buying new ones from Monsanto. The Supreme Court of the United States rightly held this was a clear violation of the contract between farmer and Monsanto and ordered Mr. Bowman to pay more than $84,000 for patent infringement.[5] And this help set up a sort of David-and-Goliath mood as people the world over were increasingly determined to “out” genetically modified foods and distinguish them from natural or organic varieties.

It is into this climate that California proposition 37 was introduced. It would have:

  • Required labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
  • Prohibited labeling or advertising such food, or other processed food, as “natural.”
  • Exempted foods that are: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.[6]

However, the proposition was narrowly defeated (51.4% to 48.6%)[7] for a variety of reasons.

Fast forward to 2016 and Congress passed a genetically modified organism (GMO) bill[8] that established a mandatory system of disclosure for food containing genetically modified or engineered ingredients. The bi-partisan legislation was hotly contested, but was forecasted to be implemented within two (2) years. That means that before the end of this year, barring unforeseen circumstances, we would see notifications on all such foods in one of three (3) ways:

1.      Text, a symbol, or a written statement on the package,

2.      A link to a website or a phone number to call to ask about the food product,

3.      A QR (Quick Response) code that shoppers would scan with their smartphones to look up information about the food product.[9]

Between now and then, please accept my invitation to read where the discussion began in “Labelling of Genetically Engineered Foods: A Constitutional Analysis of California’s Proposition 37” by Lauren Handel.