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October 30, 2012


We Consider How This Food Comes To Us

GGF Residents Discuss Genetically Modified Food

As a continuation of Food Awareness Month at Green Gulch Farm, the Ecosattvas have been discussing something that California voters will vote on at the polls next Tuesday: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

“We reflect on the effort that brought us this food and consider how it comes to us.” Photo of apples at Green Gulch by Claudia Hennum

A YES vote on Prop 37 would require all GMO food be labeled, with the exception of alcohol, certain meats and restaurant food. This would be the first labeling law of its kind in the United States, although over 60 other countries (including Russia, China and the European Union) have long had such legislation in place.

GMO food is produced using proprietary technology to alter plant DNA by introducing viruses or bacteria, as well as genes from other species, to develop different traits. The manufacturers of these seeds claim such benefits as pesticide- or drought-resistance, additional nutritional content and the capacity to feed a burgeoning human population. At this point, no long-term independent studies of the effects of this technology have been done since the laboratory processes are patented and privately owned.

Concerned farmers and scientists have found evidence that these genetic modifications have uncontrollable and unexpected impacts on other crops and the ecosystem in general. Impacts include increased dependence on the use of petro-chemical spraying as pesticide-resistant superweeds and pests evolve, and the narrowing of varietal diversity as GMO plants cross genes with non-GMO cultivars. Small farmers are disturbed by the consolidation and privatization of seed stock, as well as the clauses which prevent them from saving their own seed if they use GMO patented seed.

Prop 37 does not tell farmers to stop using this seed, but would require GMO labeling all the way to the grocery store shelf so individuals can know if their food has been genetically modified. Proponents believe this is a basic right to know issue that would give eaters the power of informed choice. They point out that if GMO products are harmless as the industry claims, then what is the problem with proudly labeling them as such and letting consumers vote with their informed purchases?

Opponents have spent over $35 million to simultaneously claim Prop 37 goes too far with regulatory burdens on farmers and others in the food supply chain, while also arguing that the labeling law doesn’t go far enough in documenting the amount of pesticides used in conventional, non-GMO foods. They feel that if people are concerned about GMO ingredients they can already buy USDA Organic labeled foods which do not contain any GMO elements.

A radio program recently hosted a debate between both sides of the Prop 37 issue, allowing both sides to articulate what they feel is at stake. It was followed by Michael Pollan speaking about the larger implications of the ethical food movement. You can listen to it here.

Photo of Green Gulch Farm by Claudia Hennum

The Ecosattvas, a volunteer group of Green Gulch residents focused on saving all beings through eco-social actions, strongly endorse passage of Prop 37. This legislation is fundamentally in line with our Zen practice of bringing awareness to the myriad causes and conditions of our lives, as we are reminded each time we give voice to the meal chant. All eaters have a right to know what is in their food and make ethical, informed decisions about their own and their family’s health, as well as choices that benefit other beings and the planet on which we depend. We hope that Prop 37 is the beginning of a much larger, thoughtful discussion about the values manifest in how we care for the earth while nourishing our bodies.

San Francisco Zen Center’s Central Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky offered a Wednesday evening Dharma talk at Green Gulch Farm centered around how our Bodhisattva Vows relate to mindful food choices and offered information regarding Prop 37. Abiding Abbess Linda Cutts also recently spoke to the centrality of food awareness in a Dharma talk offered at Green Gulch Farm on Sunday, October 21, entitled “Right Effort, Right Action.”

We encourage everyone to find out more about this important issue. California is the largest producer of food in the nation, so what happens in this state often becomes the norm for the entire country. General information about GMOs can be found at the Wikipedia web page.

More about the Right to Know campaign can be found on their web site.

San Francisco Zen Center has a practice of not offering views that recommend how people should view social, cultural, or political issues, or how they should vote or for whom. Yet the issues involved are often close to the heart of how each person sees their practice integrating with their everyday life and ethical concerns. SFZC is a religious non-profit and aspires to be completely open and welcomes everyone to sit together in harmony, consider their deepest intention and act compassionately in the world. The views expressed here are not intended as representative of the wide diversity of the SFZC community.


9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marlea
    Oct 31 2012

    Thank you so very much for confirming what I felt in my heart to be right – a “Yes” vote in support of Prop. 37.

    I admire, support and am grateful for this article.

    In metta,

    Marlea Taylor

    • Qayyum Johnson
      Nov 5 2012

      Hi Marlea,
      Thanks for leaving a comment & beginning the personalization of the blogosphere. I’m glad this piece landed on the side of encouragement and heart response for you.
      May all beings be happy.

  2. Kyle lemle
    Oct 31 2012

    Thank you ecosattvahs for such a beautifully written piece. Green Gulch is a farm of radical mindfulness with a fascinating voice that should be part of such debates. Monsanto should not be the only one talking! May all beings be honest with their impact on the Earth so that all beings may be free!

    • Qayyum Johnson
      Nov 5 2012

      Hello Out There Kyle!
      Great to hear from you, the ecosattvas are grateful for your encouragement and send much support and energy to you in the good work that you’re doing. We’d love to hear an update on the latest. I echo your wish for wholehearted engagement in a many-voiced conversation about our collective values.
      Sending Green Gulch sounds, smells & sights.

  3. myoyu costelloe
    Oct 31 2012

    Thank-you, to all concerned for your wonderous efforts, long may you run.

    • Qayyum Johnson
      Nov 5 2012

      Thank you Myo-yu, for participating wholeheartedly and practicing the difficult disciplines of restraint, right speech and action, and good humor. May you and all beings benefit from your effort!

  4. Patrick Monk.RN.
    Oct 31 2012

    My connection with Zen Center began almost 40 years ago with my first visit to Green Gulch with my then S/O Kathy in her green poncho, sitting next to the old pot belly, now I sit with mine. GG in particular has been a constant and a refuge ever since. When Kathy died we placed her ashes in the garden and planted a White Magnolia. Shortly after that my life was changed when I became one of the first rookie volunteers in the Hospice program. When my dear wife Lisa made the questionable decision to marry me, our ceremony took place in the garden next to Kathy’s tree. There are so many other ‘connections’, these three are especially close to my heart and I hope might remind all of us of the power and beauty of our sangha. Circles closing on wheels within wheels and opening into new cycles. I am deeply grateful to all who have sustained SFZC, and me, over the decades. I thank all who participated in this particular event, who took something away from it to share, or simply got reaffirmation. I truly believe that amongst all the other challenges to survival we are facing, this is at the top of the list, it’s not just about labeling a can of beans. It is a world wide problem. If we continue to ‘poison’ our arable land, air and water; irreparably damage the biodiversity essential to the survival of all life forms; allow the Agrochemical Corporations to control […ok…slow down… take a few breaths…get off your soap box]. I think this one of, if not the most, critical issues of our time, if we can’t feed the world it may not matter how much the ocean gradually rises. I have deliberately avoided posting anything overtly ‘political’ on this and other similar sites, but i think you opened the door and in my customary fashion, like a bull in a china shop, I jumped over the threshold. Proposition 37 is just one small step in this ongoing struggle, we always knew we would ultimately be outspent and possibly ‘defeated’, but we have already won. Our prime objective was educate, inform and try to raise public awareness. Mission Accomplished. There is much work still to be done after the ‘election’. Please VOTE YES ON PROP 37, and join us as we move on into “ROUND-up 2”
    Thank you.
    Patrick Monk.RN. Noe Valley. SF. Ca.
    Co-Founder: Noe Valley Farmers Market.

    • Qayyum Johnson
      Nov 5 2012

      Dear Patrick,
      Thank you for sharing your myriad connections and affections for Green Gulch Farm and SFZC. It resonates with so many people’s transformative experiences in the sangha jewel.
      It is clear in our ecosattva group that a significant part of being socially engaged is considering when and how we bring forward these matters that we feel so deeply passionate about.
      Skill in means has no fixed agenda, by definition; it is a response appropriate and liberating to the situation at hand. Sometimes bringing awareness to an issue in a bold, forthright way may be appropriate, or it may provoke a hardening which prevents intimate meeting from occurring.
      Addressing political (related to the Greek ‘polis’, having to do with the welfare of the people) issues from within a religious non-profit contributes an added layer of complexity to these communication questions.
      The ecosattvas aspire to do as you suggest, “educate, inform & try to raise awareness”, while abiding by the precepts of non-harm and benefiting beings through offering them an opportunity to sit silently and cultivate the relationships these temple communities provide.
      Thanks again for your thoughtful activism and for starting a farmers market!
      Wishing you all the best.

  5. Jul 2 2018

    Thank you for this very insightful article and great website too. You’ve really done a great job and research on this topic. Good job.


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