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A Complicated Answer To A Simple Question

wwu2's picture

To begin, I would like to ask you some questions. Organic vegetable and pesticide-mutated vegetables, which one would you choose? However, if you have a budget constraint, then which one would you choose, cheap one or expensive one? Most people may pick what is beneficial to them. However, the reality is that the organic food is more expensive than the transgenic food. So what do you think is more important, the price or your health? Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation illustrates different factors woven into human’s attitude towards genetically modified potatoes.

There’s one scene in All Over Creation when in the Fresh Foods section at a grocery store. Facing “a heap of waxy cucumber”, Y and Lilith who are the two members in the Seeds of Resistance group respond differently. Lilith was disgusted by the nonorganic and doesn’t want to “put that toxin shit inside her body” (Ozeki 151). Meanwhile, Y cares less about the organic—“just wash it real well and say it’s organic (151)”. Does everyone really know what GMO is? Elliot once clams “inorganic plants are designed to minimize the environmental impact of some of the older farming methods, and have no issue of human health (308).” But him as a clerk at a genetic company, how are we supposed to know his credibility that if he is not lying to us for his own company’s profits?

Farmers, on the other hand, are in a tough situation: they “need a higher yield to make a profit, and inputs maximize the yields.” Therefore, “there’s not a whole lot of room for error.” That’s when the genetically engineering takes in place, to “build a natural pesticide in the plants” so that “the beetles will eat the leaf and die” (145). In Ozeki’s book, Will, the owner of a potato farm, implements a “natural” bacterial toxin called Bt in his plants, which helps to cut the chemical applications as well as the cost of potato plantation. Furthermore, this NuLife line can “manufacture its own insecticide in the cells of the pant (271).” Regardless of the lives of beneficial insects and the human health, Will is a restless farmer who only puts profits in the first place. In contrast, his wife Cass is such a compassionate woman that cares about small bugs, like bees. She feels bad for the dead bug because it can’t choose its own life and dies just because it takes a nibble on the wrong leaf. Geek also has the similar feelings as Cass. He is an activist, “pro-choice”, who takes right-to-life stuff seriously. He believes that “plants have a right to life” as well (267). In addition, from a religious aspect, Lloyd, Yumi’s dad, claims, “A life is a life.” People should respect the original life of the plant because “it is a God’s gift (267).” But why should we care about the trivial animal lives and the religious beliefs if we, as humans, are still starving because there isn’t enough food? For sure, GMO will enhance the efficiency of farming and provide poor people cheap food resources. Something has to sacrifice so that others can live, and “the idea is to try to maximize [our] chances of staying on the living side for as long as [we] could”. But is this anthropocentric thought too selfish? Propagating Genetically altered plants may do convenience to us but also do harm to other species on this plant. What if the earth avenges us and makes us lose who we love?

Overall, a lot of complicated components are woven together with the GMO products. Therefore, it is hard to drive a line to define the genetically modified plants are good or bad.  The answer varies between person to person according to different life experiences. So what do you think?


Works Cited


Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.



Anne Dalke's picture

I like your beginning with a series of questions—a very engaging opening!...and I also like the way the questions carry on through this paper, getting larger and larger, until you reach the point of asking whether “anthropocentric thoughts” are “too selfish”—before throwing the ultimate answer back to your reader. There’s an openness to your approach which nicely fits Ozeki’s description of her novel as a ‘thought experiment,” rather than “agenda-driven fiction.”

So, then: what might be next steps in this project? Would more research, for instance, help you (or any of us) to decide whether to work for or against GMOs? You end by saying that the decisions are personal ones, but I’m wondering what larger social factors influence so-called “personal” decisions: if you are in a particular socio-economic group, you might chose one way; if you are a farmer or an urban planner, you might chose another. What decisions go “beyond the personal”? If all decisions are personal, how then can public policy be shaped and made?