ColumnGenetically modified foods: the plastic surgery of the plant world.
In February, the United States Department of Agriculture cleared a new genetically modified food: a wünder apple that doesn’t turn brown after it’s sliced.
Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. has been waiting three years for the USDA to give it the green light, and as Politico reported, the USDA has decided that the new Arctic Apple in Golden and Granny varieties “doesn’t pose any harm to other plants or pests.” In response, the Organic Consumers Association launched a petition to ask fast food chains to not serve the new GMO apple, because there’s a high potential that they will be making their way into Happy Meals, which currently use apple slices sprayed with citric acid to keep them bright and white.
As Neal Carter, founder and president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, told CNN, “Now we can get down to business planting trees and selling Arctic apples. We’re stoked.”
Well I for one, am not stoked at all.
There are pro and anti arguments in regards to genetically modified foods, mainly focused on the health and environmental risks of GMOs. But those arguments aside, we should all be able to agree on the fact that we are now going to grow apples that don’t do what they have naturally been doing for centuries. And that is just plain weird.
Apples turn brown because of an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase, which reacts in the face of oxygen. So what Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. has done is to develop an apple that produces very low levels of polyphenol oxidase. But just because an apple turns brown doesn’t mean it’s bad for you, it’s just “ugly” and unfortunately, a lot of people are more concerned with what their food looks like than the content. Looks trump both taste and quality.
The apples aren’t on the market yet – they’ll hit test markets in late 2016 – but in our superficial world of food, I’m sure people will buy them. I can already hear the arguments in favor of the frankenapples.
“My kid won’t eat a brown apple!”
“I can’t serve brown apples at a dinner party, now can I?”
“I just feel like brown apples are kind of gross.”
You know what’s gross? Completely changing the nature of a natural organism simply for aesthetic value. It’s the plastic surgery of the plant world.
Often we look to science to find ways to keep us healthier and safer, just like a surgery can be the deciding factor between life and death. But in this case, there is no nutritional advantage to these apples. It’s all about looks. There’s an easy way to not serve browned apples: don’t slice them.
If this GMO apple case is anything it’s an indication of how superficial we are about eating. In a culture where looks trump taste, it’s no surprise that there are companies that want to be able to easily grow produce that they can ensure will look great well after it has been picked. That means better sales for them, and I am sure that we won’t be stopping at apples. Imagine if you could make a banana never go brown? Or what if you could ensure that an avocado stayed perfectly ripe for weeks on end? In the eyes of biotech companies, the plastic plant surgery options are endless.
Because we want our apples perfectly round and completely unblemished. But find an apple grown in a completely natural state and you’ll find that they are rarely perfectly round, and there are usually a few blemishes here and there. But they taste great. This desire for detachment from the natural world is harmful, because sooner or later we won’t know what a real apple ever looked like in the first place. And we will definitely forget what one picked straight from the tree tasted like.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Billy Wilson