Don’t Be a Low-Information Eater

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My first trip to Colorado’s eastern plains was a culture shock. My future husband had driven me out to Holyoke to meet his family. As we drove 150 miles straight east from CSU, it was the longest stretch of uninhabited land I had ever seen. What a contrast to the same 150 miles in Southern California where I grew up, from the top of Los Angeles to the tip of San Diego. But what I have come to learn and appreciate about this “flat” part of our state is that these are not empty expanses of land, but the fertile sources of our food. And the farmers and ranchers who own them are part of the 1% of Americans who feed us and the rest of the world. There are 36,700 farms in our state that produce commodities such as wheat, potatoes, livestock, poultry/eggs, corn, dairy products, and much more. Not to mention the 173,000 jobs and the $40 billion they contribute to Colorado’s annual economy.

From Fort Collins to Alamosa and Grand Junction to Yuma, farmers choose this life of uncertain crops, fluctuating markets, dependence on their bipolar mother nature, a growing population, and crippling regulations. Throw in some propaganda that preys on consumer emotion, and it’s enough to make any farmer want to throw in the tractor.

The more I know about food, the better I feel about how I am feeding my four growing boys. It’s a healthy trend to know where your food comes from, but do you also know where your information comes from?

For example, take the GMO (genetically modified organism) debate. Much of the marketing tactics against GMOs are based on myths and take advantage of parents’ desires to feed their families well. What you don’t hear loudly enough, is:

• genetically engineered crops require less fuel and less pesticides
• that the crossing of DNA in food is a natural process and occurs on its own all the time
• there is no evidence that GMOs have caused illness or death in the last 20 years that they have been in use.

The method is an advance in farming that keeps up with the demands of the population. So, for our family, avoiding GMOs is not a concern. In fact one of the initial non-GMO advocates, environmentalist Mark Lynas, has changed his stance on GMOs after truly diving into the research. He has apologized and said he was “completely wrong to oppose GMOs.”

A farmer friend of mine in Kansas says “I can provide you organic, GMO-free food. But I can’t do that and feed the world. So decide which you want.” I’m not suggesting that you should or shouldn’t avoid GMOs. I am suggesting—challenging— you to take advantage of the information age and make informed decisions.

Recently, our family took a trip to Belize, where food options are limited. As we sat in a village hut eating their standard three-meals-a-day of rice and beans, I was reminded how lucky we are. Our farmers and ranchers feed us clean, safe, and reliable food so that we don’t have to worry where our next meal comes from and, instead, can pursue our own dreams and vocations.

If you feel better eating organic, go for it. There’s plenty of room for the free market even in the super-market. But give equal opportunity to messages about food sources. As a smart consumer, it’s worth considering the effect it has on your checkbook and on the people who keep your food on the table. Next time you bite into a Palisade peach or a juicy steak, thank your Colorado farmer, and don’t be a low-information eater.

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