There are times in our lives where we have to take a stand. I'm not talking about culture, race or religious belief. This is about seeds. Seeds cultivate the earth. Seeds are the primary source of survival. Surely this is nothing new but with the rise of bio technology, scientists and food manufacturers are tampering with the "unbegotten." Much of this research has formed initiatives to spread the supply of genetically modified foods. Needless to say, many people are resistant to accept the natural world at risk of GMO contamination.
The National Heirloom Expo has become an effective counter argument to the implications of GMO food products. Just this September, Founder Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Rare Seeds, held its 5th annual fair in Santa Rosa dedicated to unadulterated foods. The number of attendants has made it the largest food event ever focused on organic unmodified foods. There were over 20,000 gardening and pure food enthusiasts, 300 vendors, and 100 speakers. This was a bash where "pure foods" were celebrated and honored through its spectacular displays and phenomenal presentations. As visitors suckled the nectar of mother earth's prized creations, everyone prepared for the keynote speaker at the main event.
Vandana Shiva is an environmentalist known for her activism against biotechnology and globalization. She educates people on the issues of "seed slavery" and the negative consequences of over commercializing agriculture. Shiva has been a voice in the natural food movement long before the popular momentum of today's experience. In 2003, she was validated an "Environmental Hero" in Time Magazine for successfully removing patents on genetically modified rice time and time again. She feels that these forms of "bio piracy" do ecological and economic harm while directly violating the natural order of life.
The presence of Vandana Shiva produced mixed feelings. Despite the seriousness of present issues, she always appears comfortable, centered, confident. Starting by acknowledging the generosity of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, she doesn't waste any time to press the subject. Shiva immediately jumped into the vulnerability of California calling it a "test case for freedom." I couldn't help but reflect on the validity of her statement. It seems as if the "Golden State" is experiencing a different type of historic rush. Only this one is more valuable than precious metals.
Shiva discussed the insanity of the California Seed Law. This act proposes federal control over the state's farming activity without approval from the Director of Agriculture. It also strictly prohibits free trade and exchange of seeds from entities that are not considered "neighbors." She laughs at its definitions claiming that in order for someone to be a neighbor, they have to reside within 3 miles of you. Any logical person would agree that this expectation is unrealistic. A law was set in place to complicate the freedom of our food supply. Shiva suggested regulations such as these indicate the existence of totalitarianism, which is a mockery to the agricultural community, "An abuse of all democratic structures created." She pointed out modern methods such, as bottled water is merely "false ideas of convenience" after preferring water from a cup on stage. Shiva explained that by applying the "additional effort of love and care," much of the discrepancies surrounding quality of life would fail to exist. Haven't we all felt like taking the easy route? Would one stop through the drive-thru really hurt? Should I really take the time to organize the trash from recyclables? I think we were all reminded that good things take time and there are some things that don't allow cutting corners.
Shiva shut down the idea that by genetically modifying foods, less hunger will be the end result. She claimed that ensuring the world's food security was never on the agenda for GMO proponents. In fact, Shiva mentioned that only 30% of the world's food comes from genetically modified sources. It has become a power struggle between local farmers of countries foreign and domestic and "peddlers of poison" such as Monsanto, that "don't change their habits easily." Shiva urged the audience to become a fighter "for the truth of the seed" and let its influence create healthier habits for the rest of humanity.
Shiva stated that the industry's guarantee of providing superior seed varieties has failed miserably. She exclaimed that the commercialization of seeds is focused more on "uniformity." Bio engineers are interested in conforming organisms to the preference of their standard. Because this standard doesn't allow diversity, it hinders bio-diversity, the only chance of producing corresponding extensions of nature.
Diversity begets stability.
Shiva continued by retorting the insinuation that GMOs could benefit ecological problems. Shiva claimed that no single genetic manipulation would be capable of impacting a multi-genetic dynamic such as nature. Nevertheless, "People are waking up" as she grinned down at the microphone.
Shiva took the time to respond to her critics from the Gates Foundation. Opponents have mentioned that she has become a fear mongerer on the subject of GMOs and that she is scared of the scientific potential. Shiva refuted the comment by replying she's "not afraid of stupidity, I'm just shocked and outraged!" Her raw emotion rattled the crowd that then bursted into applause. I couldn't help but be personally touched by her degree of passion.
It is not the quality of food, recognition, or personal-gain that makes me a foodie. The era we live in has made many recognize the moral fallacy of food conventions. The path to a more ecological sustainable future for earth and its species require us to reconnect to natural processes. Despite conflicts between industry and the public, The National Heirloom Expo exquisitely represents the will of human spirit. Just as Shiva said during her speech, "food is the creator," and it is our responsibility to maintain fairness and freedom of seed as nature intended.
Photography by Julie Ann Fineman