For the past few days I have caught wind of a Washington Post article circulating around the social media circles. Its title, Unearthed: Thanks to science we may see the rebirth of the American Chestnut. Its sub heading, “Scientists are breeding a blight resistant variety, and its everything other GMOs aren’t.” I have seen a lot of excitement from fellow farmers, naturalists and normally anti-GMO advocates expressing their pleasure for such good news, and as the article articulates, there is such a romantic idea of bringing back the great American chestnut.
For those who don’t already know, the American chestnut tree was a prolific timber and food tree up until the early 1900’s and was wiped out almost completely by a blight that came here on the more inferior Chinese chestnut tree we tried to introduce to our country. All the chestnuts you eat today are from those trees from China. The article cites 3-4 billion trees gone overnight, which is an apocalyptic tragedy comparable to that of the Truffula trees, so it’s easy to just guess how devastating this loss was.
Immediately it feels important to point out that the article is talking about GMO chestnut trees, more specifically chestnut genomes genetically modified with genes from wheat. Sounds harmless right? At least it’s not spliced with toxic pesticides and herbicides. The immediate curiosity that comes to mind is, are we against GMOs because they are unnatural and potentially dangerous in the long term, or is it just when its spliced with things foreign to our palette and the lack of any real long term research isn’t really as important when “it’s everything other GMOs aren’t? “
Regardless the writer of this article opens up with a great walk down memory lane of what it was like back when America reveled in the bounty of such a wonderful natural blessing of an innate food supply, like the chestnut, available to anyone and everyone. I even have to agree, our fore generations had quite a blessed abundance from these trees. The idea of having again “a readily available supply of high-quality, good-tasting food, growing out there in the woods contributing to a wholesome, healthful diet” makes me want to believe that this new Frankenstein genome will deliver. Can it? Will these scientists the writer thinks we need to thank deliver us this lost Promised Land once again?
First off it’s GMO, so the nutritional stats and romance with real actual chestnuts will not be what we’re going to get from the GMO version. I can’t name one GMO variety of anything that is nutritionally equal or superior to its real counterpart. In fact GMO foods are so synthetically grown (denser plots, sprayed toxins, liquid sewage fertilizer, etc.) they usually don’t carry any nutritional value at all. Sure we might see a lot of unaffordable furniture stores popping up everywhere with a lot of nice product putting ma and pa out of business, but cheap chestnuts from the store, probably in boxes in every aisle, might not be as romantic as pen and paper can delude.
Take corn for instance. Genetically modified with the intent of saving a starving world with an abundance of good healthy food, yet almost immediately became the most subsidized, overabundant, nutritionally empty Franken food out there, in every aisle of the supermarket, in almost every box, driven by a profit model that has put virtually 75%, if not more, of all small farms out of business. But don’t worry, as the article suggests, the chestnut trees will be different. We will have our healthy utopia once again.
Its total naivety to think that designer GMO Chestnuts aren’t going to be exploited for profit, especially after explaining in great detail in the article how exquisite chestnut timber is and how one mature tree produces a half a ton of nuts. That sounds like an exact recipe for exploitation. The timber and food markets will capitalize on its overabundant output levels which will launch demands for the trees way above the Johnny Appleseed levels of frolicking in the forests and repopulating the countryside so all the folks of the land can have their fill of free “healthy” food. So easy we buy the dream, cast all our convictions aside, and pretend this new American wheatnut tree won’t come with a patent.
Honestly, the more I think about this article the more I think the American chestnut is the mascot for the great American Tragedy. America was the great Promised Land loaded with a bounty of blessings, such as the innate food supply described in this article, and we wiped it out by means of the cheaper more inferior versions from China. I suggest letting the American chestnut rest in peace and reflect upon its death for wisdom on how to change our industrial habits for the better and give rebirth to the great America that once was. But that’s just me.
I suppose with Christmas right around the corner though it’s just the right time to believe in Monsanto Clause and sit around the fireplace roasting great cheer to his name.
GMO’s roasting on an open fire
Blood flow skipping all your toes
Your funeral dirge being sung by a choir
And folks all dressed in hospital clothes
Everyone has a prescription and a pharmacist
Helps to make the food digest
Tiny tots with their bellies full
Will find it hard to want real food
They know that Monsanto’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of trees and chestnuts on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is a guinea pig
To the Franken food giants who are raking it in
So I’m offering this simple phrase
If you want to live to ninety-two
Although it’ll never be told by the industry goons
“Health comes from real food”