George Boardman

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August 24, 2014
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Boardman: The hungry don't care if food is genetically engineered or grass-fed

I don’t know about you, but I don’t care how far the bees that make my honey stray from their hives.

If you are like me, you are clearly not part of the anti-GMO, all natural, farm-to-fork food fetish the United States in currently experiencing. You see, those bees might be feeding on nectar or pollen from GMO crops, making the honey verboten for the growing legions of righteous eaters in our midst.

That’s why a four-mile radius from the bee hives must be clear of GMO fields if the honey is to gain the blessing of the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit group founded by natural food retailers that has verified that more than 17,000 products meet its exacting standards.

Their task is a daunting one because 20 years after GM seeds were introduced, more than 90 percent of the corn, canola, soybean and sugar beet crops in the U.S. are genetically modified. The vast majority of feed given to dairy cows in the U.S. is made from GMO corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and 80 percent of packaged foods contain GMOs.

It’s unlikely any of this concerned our neighbors who gathered recently on Commercial Street in Nevada City to indulge themselves at the second annual Farm to Table Banquet, a celebration of the local effort to produce organic food and a benefit for the Commercial Street Music Fund and music for the First Friday Art Walk. This year’s meal, which featured a flat-iron steak (grass-fed, of course), was priced at $75 a plate, plus an 18 percent gratuity and a $5.86 fee on top of that — over $94 to dine on an asphalt surface infused with grease and oil. Alcohol was extra.

The prices reflect in part the willingness of people to pay the premium required to be a righteous eater, a premium that moves down the food chain. Being holier than thou commands a premium of 20 percent to more than 100 percent, according to price surveys done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other organizations.

Money wasn’t much of a consideration at another food-related event the day of the banquet, the junior live stock auction at the county fair. While it is not known how many of the 250 registered animals could meet the Non-GMO Project’s standards, bidders are known to show their appreciation for the work of the 4-H and FFA kids who raised the animals by overbidding.

Of course, not everybody appreciates their efforts. Take, for example, the Animal Place farmed animal sanctuary in Grass Valley.

The Union ran a story recently about a badly burned steer named Panda that has taken up residence at the sanctuary. The steer was originally an FFA project until somebody doused it with kerosene and set it on fire. After the steer began to heal, the owner decided to sell it at a junior livestock auction in Paso Robles. The steer was rescued from the auction block and ended up at Animal Place.

“It was painful for me to watch his relationship with that kid,” Executive Director Kim Sturla told The Union. “(Panda) trusted him. I have no doubt he would have followed him directly into the slaughter gate.”

“We don’t have to eat animals,” she continued. “You can walk into (a grocery store) and find all kinds of beautiful, delicious food to eat instead.” Sturla didn’t say if the food needed the imprimatur of the Non-GMO Project, but you get the message.

A lot of people didn’t like that story, as the editors of The Union quickly discovered. (It always amuses me when people attack the messenger instead of the message, but that’s a subject for another day.)

One of the more reasonable responses came from Robin Guerra, an FFA parent who wrote the following in an “Other Voices” column:

“Whether or not one wants to eat meat is an individual decision and all of us who engage in agricultural pursuits respect your decision…We’re happy to ‘co-exist,’ I beg of you the same consideration.”

All of this talk about what we should be putting in our bodies might lead you to believe that hunger has vanished from our midst, but you know better than that. The people who run our food banks see the problem every day, and the statistics back them up.

The U.S. Census reports that 11.6 percent of Nevada County’s population lives below the poverty line, over 11,000 people. The most recent numbers show that over 6,000 people or families receive food stamps.

I don’t think any of them care if their food is rife with GMOs or was grass fed. They’re just happy to get something to eat. You say that dairy cow eats feed made with GMO corn, soybeans and alfalfa? So what, it’s the first milk my child has had in several days.

The holidays are approaching and we will soon start hearing appeals from food banks that are straining to meet the need. Sure, there are some people in those lines who are just mooching, but most people are too proud to ask for food unless they or their children are really hungry.

So when the time comes, forego that hand-crafted peach, gorgonzola, bacon pizza and donate the cost to a food bank. You’ll find the act nourishes your soul.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in The Union.

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The Union Updated Aug 24, 2014 10:37PM Published Aug 24, 2014 10:37PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.