Walk through a grocery store – especially a health food store – and you’ll see all kinds of labeling which is mostly about marketing. A label appeals to people so that they will buy the product. Fine. A company wants to sell its products. I get that. But what’s going on now is creating misinformation and flat-out ignorance of actual reality. False ideas and impressions are created and magnified. And as a society, we are stupider for it. Here are my top three examples.
Somehow some people thought it was really creepy to change the genes of an organism in a laboratory, and that practice was so not “natural” that the result would be a dangerous open Pandora’s box. Frankenfood!! That point of view spread like a virus especially among liberal environmental activists (of which I have a history). Turns out, after decades of producing GMOs and studying the results, the world’s scientific community has a strong consensus that GMOs are as safe as anything else we could eat. See here for example.
Yet people are freaking out, thinking that eating GMOs will make us all get allergies, get sick, kill us, and it’s all a plot from Monsanto who has bought and paid for the US government, and on and on. That’s complete conspiracy theory rubbish for which there is no evidence. Check this out for example. Some countries, fueled by well-intentioned liberal environmentalists (like me), have banned GMOs. And most everywhere in the world, there is a movement to label them, in spite of excellent reasons not to (see this).
So, along comes the Non-GMO Verified Project. What a pain in the butt this well-intentioned, but totally misinformed organization is turning out to be. They’re slapping their label on everything possible and everything imaginable. What many people don’t realize is that to date only a few crops have been genetically engineered. Those include cotton, papaya, corn, soy, zucchini, alfalfa, canola, sugar beets. So the Non-GMO Verified Project will slap their label on peanut butter and coconut oil and lots of products that literally have no GE versions on the entire planet.
Given that there is no GMO peanut anywhere on Earth, why does a jar of peanut butter need the Non-GMO Verified Project seal of approval on it? Answer: The whole point of labeling GMOs is to jack up the fear so high in the minds of the public, that GMOs will get banned everywhere. Fear is jacked up by implying the false impression that there is a GE version of every single food on Earth (and since they are dangerous, those are to be avoided). That’s why a product with no GE version is labeled non-GMO. False impressions abound; and that’s nothing but ignorance. And it’s ignorance that keeps the fear hype jacked up.
The labeling activity of the Non-GMO Verified Project is downright irresponsible. It’s fueling a movement against a technology which has scientific support on par with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and greatly contributed to by humans. If you go into a health food store, it’s hard to find anything – even foods that are not organic – that don’t have the Non-GMO Verified Project label on it. This is pseudoscience, fear-mongering, and ignorance creating bullshit.
Gluten Free Foods
The second worse labeling craze that is getting out of hand is the gluten free movement. Yes, there is a tiny percentage of the population with a very real condition called celiac’s disease. Yet millions of people are avoiding gluten when there is no reason to do so. And, gluten is only found in grains such as wheat (including spelt, kamut, triticale), barley, and rye.
So, here comes the labeling. You can walk into a grocery store and see gluten free marked on dairy products! And there’s gluten free potato chips! By labeling everything possible that is gluten free as gluten free, there is a false impression created that gluten is something to avoid. For the overwhelming vast majority of people, avoiding gluten will make you feel better no more so than any sort of placebo.
If pasta is typically made with wheat, then fine, label pasta made with rice or quinoa as gluten free. But please, don’t label a can of pinto beans or a tub of sour cream as gluten free. Could we have some education please?
Just what does it mean if a food has the organic label on it? Lots of people will say that the food was produced without pesticides. Wrong. Start here with the Wikipedia article. Organic farming uses “natural” pesticides rather than synthetic pesticides. “Natural” is not necessarily less toxic. Here and here are articles about organic pesticide use. Scientists looking into this have found that the natural pesticides are often less effective than the synthetic ones, and then they have to be used in greater amounts. Shockingly – and I’ve been a consumer of organic food for decades – it’s not even clear that organic foods are healthier, tastier, or better for the environment. Here is a myth busting article. I, for one among millions, have been under the impression that an organic label means pesticide free, more nutritious, and better for the environment than conventional food. With more education, I now say: not necessarily.
I don’t even mean to bash organic here. Organic farming has some good attributes, e.g. crop rotations and other practices (which actually could be done by any farmer). But because of what the public believes about organic (which is full of false impressions), the label therefore will do nothing more than perpetuate the false impressions. Everything organic does isn’t necessarily the best, and some things organic isn’t allowed to do could very well be better environmentally.
All of us want healthy, tasty food that was produced with the lowest environmental impact possible. Let’s educate ourselves about how our food is produced and where it comes from. The job of feeding 7+ billion people in a world (projected to be 9 billion by 2050) with climate change will not be done without pesticides. Period. And the best way to do something will vary by the geographic location and the crop. ALL of our available tools need to be used – organic, conventional, GMO – depending on the crop and the place and the conditions. Tools could and perhaps should be combined for a particular situation.
There’s no reason that organic couldn’t include using GMOs. Conventional farmers could use some organic practices but use a more benign synthetic pesticide. GMOs have actually reduced land use and reduced pesticide use among other benefits according to this meta-analysis. This is an achievement.
Food production is a very complex thing. It is not served by black-and-white, overly simplistic, and (intentionally or unintentionally) misleading tactics, chief among which is labeling. Check out what the people who really know what they’re talking about – scientists and farmers – have to say. Putting organic up on an underserved pedestal and trashing GMOs are not helping the cause of being responsible planetary citizens.
For me, this has been a profound realization. For everything – every thing – there is a window. What I mean by that, is that every thing in the universe comes into an existence, and at some point in time, dies. Everything. The window opens for something, and at some point in time later, the window shuts.
The window for something could be a few seconds, or a few days, or a few months or years or decades. Or it could be thousands or millions or even billions of years. But it IS a window, and it WILL shut. No exceptions. This is true for everything, from bacteria to plants to animals (including humans) to planets, stars, and galaxies.
What humans tend to lose sight of is that our point of view and vantage point is simply one infinitesimal snapshot in time. Look around you. What you see is merely a snapshot in time. At another time, everything you see will not be there. It’s only a matter of time. My window is turning out to be several decades. An ant’s window might be a few days or months. A tree’s window might be two or three hundred years. A planet or star’s window might be several billion years.
Even the favorable condition for reasonable human life on Earth has a window. We’re in the middle of something like a 100,000 year window between Ice Ages. And the way we’re bringing on climate change, we may be bringing on a much sooner window than that which will shut down on human existence. About 99% of all species that have lived on this planet have gone extinct. We’re just another species, perhaps with a bit more reasoning and brain capacity, but just another species nonetheless. Things come into existence and then at some point go out of existence. That seems to be the primary rule of the universe in which we find ourselves.
This seems so simple, right? It’s not very deep and profound in that way. Granted. But that’s what makes this realization so profound. It IS simple. There is no other, deeper explanation necessary or even worth wasting time on. Delving into “there’s a reason for everything” is a complete waste of window time. It’s the bullshit of asking why about the goings on in one’s life or even about life itself. Physics is real. Metaphysics (not real) is our insecurity about the reality and the finality represented by physics.
So this is it. I popped into existence, I am given several decades before the window shuts (if I’m lucky), and then I literally no longer exist. What an amazing, exceedingly simple, and yes profound realization! Given the reality of that: what am I going to do with what time remains before the window shuts down on my existence?
THAT is the important question.
I’ve never minded calling myself a liberal. I don’t like wars and heavy militarization. I’m in favor of civil rights for all, all races, sexual orientations, gender identities. I understand how changes in the US tax laws over the last several decades have kept down the poor and propped up the rich. In addition, when I look at scientific evidence and see a consensus by the science experts about something, I’ll go with the science experts.
Regarding the scientific evidence, most liberals will agree with me that childhood vaccinations are good, as one example. And most liberals have accepted that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a major cause. But, in contrast, most liberals will be anti-GMO, and will believe there is something to homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, essential oils, etc.
For example regarding GMOs, there is scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and that GE technology represents one tool that could really help humanity in the coming decades. This consensus is on the same level as the agreement that there is climate change and that human activity is a major contributor. The same level of scientific consensus! And yet, when I mention this, my liberal friends get emotionally charged up and say that I’m spouting corporate propaganda.
Homeopathy, as another example, has zero evidence on peer-reviewed controlled, double-blind studies that it has any positive effects beyond a placebo. Zero!
Sure, it’s fun to hate big, mean, aggressive corporations. And it’s wonderful to take a few drops of some perfectly safe liquid and believe that it’s helping whatever condition. But where is actual reality? Do we want to do what feels good and believe what feels good or what we would dearly want to be true? Or do we want to understand the actual, factual reality?
It seems like the desire to have things that feel good to be true is so strong that people can be literally blinded to the point that real data from real experts are just patently dismissed. I’m not sure if that’s arrogant or immature. It certainly doesn’t sound like people who cling to these pseudoscientific beliefs are being responsible adults.
I speak from experience. I was not too long ago anti-GMO. I’ve taken homeopathics before and gone to the chiropractor. I so wanted all those things to be true. But if they’re not, they’re not. I’ve decided to make choices like a grown up.
The idiotic Republicans like to say “I’m not a scientist” and then hide behind the implication that a scientific consensus is somehow in doubt. Well, I’m not a scientist either, but I’m going to go with the people who are the expert scientists, and trust the work that they’ve devoted their lives to, and make my choices based on reality, not what might feel better.
PS – Want to see the scientific consensus that GMOs are not the dangerous horrible evil that many (embarrassingly, liberal) people say they are? Check out this and this. You’ll see an array of respected, non-profit, non-corporate-sponsored scientific organizations who have made statements about the safety and progressive promise of GMOs.
Growing up, I thought it was crazy some of the stories I learned about in my religious upbringing (Judaism), as well as stories from other religious traditions. Stories like Noah’s ark and the worldwide flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus coming back from the dead, Muhammad riding up to heaven alive and some say on a winged horse, Moses climbing up a mountain and getting the ten commandments from God on a piece of stone.
This all did seem crazy. Even as a kid I thought: how could there be a worldwide flood? How could two animals of every species fit on a boat no matter how large? And how could all those animals survive for a year? And that’s just the Noah’s ark story. Other stories seemed equally implausible. Even still, I clung on to a belief in God.
Years later, I embraced atheism and gave up believing in anything supernatural. Once I experienced that relief (and what a great relief it was), I began reading and exploring. I found the works of Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, and Bart Erhman and others. According to these and other historians, there is no archeological evidence for any of the supernatural stories of the bible. These three men along with other serious scholars and historians, think that a specific person known as Moses and the one known as Jesus probably didn’t even exist. They believe these and very probably other characters or composites of several people. There is not evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, something I was taught from a very early age. Bart Erhman, interestingly, was at first a devout Christian; but after doing much research and seeing the fiction of the bible, he became a nonbeliever.
So, yea, the Red Sea did not part. No one has ever found evidence of dead Egyptians who drowned in that body of water. The bible is a work with literally tens of thousands of contradictions, not to mention stories that have no basis in reality. I never thought of this before, but isn’t it strange that all those “miracles” occurred only in a small time in history and only in a tiny part of the world. Hmm… that is suspicious.
It’s time to call religion what it is: mythology and fiction. It’s not real, and I don’t wish to waste my life moments on it.
Take 13 minutes and check out this history of money in our elections. It’s nothing to be proud of.
Here we are approaching yet another election, and the conventional wisdom is that it is very important to vote.
Well, sort of…
I’m sure many of you would agree that our political system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s full of greed and corruption. The candidate who raises and spends the most money usually wins. Only two political parties get any attention. Our choice is between far right and a moderate. Those of us who are more progressive don’t really get what we want. I would think that there are surely higher quality people to hold office than the choices we get.
So sure, there’s some difference between far right and the middle, which are the two poles we have. But when all the attention is on that limited range of political thought, the difference is not nearly as much as it seems inside that tunnel. There are worlds of ideas out there, outside of what we’re allowed to hear about and vote for, that do not even get into the mainstream public discourse.
At this point I ask this question: if everyone goes to the grocery store and screams loudly about how awful the selections are, yet you continue to buy them, what do you think the grocery store will continue to do? They will continue to offer you the fare that you don’t want. As long as you keep buying it, that’s what will be there for sale.
This is what is going on in the electoral arena. We scream bloody mercy about how awful the system is, how low quality the people running for office and holding office are, etc. Yet if we continue merely to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils year after year after year, nothing will ever change no matter how much we scream. The tide will swing from the far right to watered down middle and back and forth ad infinitum.
One of my favorite expressions is this: if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten. How will this ever change?
In my own city (Lexington, KY), we have nonpartisan city council races. Since it’s local, there is also less money involved. This brings about the situation in which there are people who are actually high quality human beings with good progressive values, people truly worth voting for. Contrast that with our US Senate campaign (Grimes and McConnell), and the noted difference is enormous.
When you go into the voting booth this November and you vote for Republicrats (one or the other) while hoping against hope that the one you hate more will lose, ask yourself the question:
How will this ever change?
I hear this all the time. A person on radio or TV interviews someone who has been in the military and says, “thank you for your service.” And I say, Why?
I think back through the US military escapades since World War II (which is my lifetime): Korea, Guatemala, Cuba, Indonesia, Congo, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Lebanon, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. I’m not sure this list is exhaustive. But, I don’t see one single campaign here that actually made the world a better place. I don’t see that any of it has really protected me or our country. Even going back to World War II, we can say, sure, we got rid of Hitler who killed 6 million Jews. But to do that, the world lost tens of millions of others, scarred people for their lifetimes; and we detonated not one, but two, atomic bombs. At the very least, one has to see that even World War II is a mixed bag. Since World War II, I’ve seen nothing from military actions but making the world a worse place.
Therefore, why would I thank people who participated in these military actions?
Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge that people who have been in the military have made a huge sacrifice. I totally grant that for the most part, people join the military with very good intentions. They have risked their lives, and if they’ve come back not in a wooden box, they have often been changed physically and psychologically in very negative and devastating ways, changes which affect them for the rest of their (usually shortened) lives.
But simply saying “thank you for your service” implies that I believe what they have done has been helpful. What I’d really like to say is “I appreciate your good intentions, and I’m truly very sorry that you’ve had to go through all that hell for no good reason at all.” That’s right. Instead of thanking people for their military service, we should (perhaps in addition to thanking them) APOLOGIZE TO THEM! They go through inhumane indoctrination, travel to awful places, kill people they don’t even know, or get killed themselves, or get physically and psychologically damaged. And after all that, there’s nothing more to say for it than we need to keep doing more of the same! “Thank you for your service” just doesn’t cut it.
Why don’t we thank people who serve in ways that really do help and really do make the world a better place? How about the people who collect our garbage, or people who are working on medical advances, or people who bring us great pleasure and joy from their artistic contributions? Those are some of the many examples of services truly worth thanking.