Food can be a uniting force: Join us Around the Table

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I was a teenager when my parents picked up a hitchhiker and brought him to our house to dinner. I don’t remember where the older gentleman went after the meal, but I do remember the dinner conversation: religion. The hitchhiker was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Dad, who preached occasionally for several years as a United Church of Christ lay minister, could hold his own in a casual theological or biblical discourse.

It was a civil meal, and when the dessert plates and coffee cups were cleared, the two thanked each other for the conversation, but agreed to disagree. Food tends to be a uniting force.

I thought about that long-ago dinner debate as I sat down to write this column.

I was all set to write about our new food newsletter that will be emailed weekly to interested readers, when Chipotle grabbed the headlines with an announcement that it is phasing out genetically modified ingredients from its food. “G-M-Over It” the Mexican restaurant chain declared on its website April 27.

“The manufacturers of GMO seeds claim that GMOs are widely considered to be safe, but we don’t believe the scientific community has reached a consensus on the long-term implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption,” the company posted online.

I’m not sure what they consider a scientific consensus, but here’s what I found: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the National Academies of Science, the World Health Organization, the European Commission, The Royal Society (UK) and the International Science Academies all say this: Biotechnology is no more risky than conventional plant breeding.

Geneticist Dr. Val Giddings added this last week: “Everything that modern genetic engineers do to improve seeds in the lab is done using techniques discovered happening in nature, with enzymes discovered in and extracted from organisms that practice these gene transfers in nature.

“It is simply not possible to mount a fact-based argument that GMOs are different in any meaningful way from what we find widespread in nature.”

A company is free to do whatever it deems necessary to improve its bottom line, but I can’t consider Chipotle’s announcement as anything other than a business strategy to play on customers’ fears.

There’s a new show on the cable Travel Channel called Breaking Borders. In it, journalist Mariana van Zeller and chef Michael Voltaggio visit various conflict zones around the world. While van Zeller looks at the issues from a news angle, Voltaggio explores the opposing sides’ cultures and foods. The chef then prepares a meal inspired by the people he has met, and brings individuals from both sides of the conflict around the table to share a meal.

From our archives: Chipotle under attack, farmers upset over HSUS support

“I hope people watch the show, start their own conversations, and it gets bigger than that one dinner table,” Voltaggio recently said in an interview with Hillary Dixler of eater.com.

“We’re not creating world peace. We’re out there just helping people have an opportunity to tell their stories.”

His biggest surprise? “The guests that are sitting at the table, in some cases, were once told to kill each other,” he told Dixler. “And [they’re now able to] sit down and have a meal with each other and be able to look at each other in the face and say, ‘I forgive you’ or ‘We forgive the situation.’”

I don’t eat at Chipotle because of its anti-GMO marketing ploy, but I’d love to sit around the table with people who do, so we could talk about it, even if that’s in the digital world. And even if we leave the table, agreeing to disagree.

Pull up a chair.

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On behalf of the employees of Farm and Dairy and Lyle Printing & Publishing, we would like to extend our sympathy to company owners Tom and Scot Darling, whose mother, Sally Darling, died April 29.

Many of us “old-timers” worked alongside Sally here at the Farm and Dairy office or at a trade show or county fair. Behind the scenes, she helped build Farm and Dairy, and left an imprint on all who met her.

She was a steel magnolia — gentile, quiet and kind, but strong, smart and funny. We will miss her greatly.

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