Wednesday night I went with a friend to Overland Park Cinema in Boise to see a screening of the film GMO OMG, a 2013, 90 minute documentary directed by concerned father Jeremy Seifert. The film was brought to the theater in partnership with GMO Free Idaho. I could write about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) but I am instead going to use this space to write about my experience seeing the film.
I came into the theater with memories of visits to a college roommate’s organic farm in North Dakota, having served for six years as pastor of a wonderful congregation full of people growing corn and soybeans on family farms in the fields of Western Iowa, now serving a congregation known for its community garden ministry, and living in the center of one of the largest garden bean seed and sweet corn seed producing regions in the world. I know that there are struggles in this industry–struggles of organic farming in the 1990s when such farming wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, struggles of farmers with memories of the 1980s farm crisis who talk about the weather and the market because their livelihood depends on it, struggles of farmers and gardeners in Southwest Idaho who count on snow in the mountains because that’s our source for irrigation. Agriculture is complicated. When I asked one of “my” farmers in Iowa about the Farm Bill he told me no one understands it.
The film started out much like Chris Rock’s Good Hair. But instead of a child’s question, “Daddy, do I have good hair?” it started with a child’s seed collection. Starting with Seifert’s oldest son’s fascination with seeds, the film continued to move naturally from the big picture to the small scope, from statistics to conversations, always returning to Seifert and his family. The film tells the story of one man on a quest for answers and the people and institutions he learns about and meets along the way. I loved that we got to travel across the country and the globe with Seifert –from Haiti, where the Peasant Movement of Papay committed to burning Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed donations (donated after the earthquake), to the farm fields of Iowa where Seifert talked with farmers against and in favor of GMO seeds, to Missouri for a documentary’s standard but still important visit to corporate headquarters (Monsanto’s in this case), to senate offices in Washington D.C. to talk about policy, to the truly amazing Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, to France, where researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini published a controversial study on genetically modified corn. As I wrote above, we always came back to Siefert’s family, whether they were traveling with Seifert or sitting around the kitchen table.
I appreciate that people are continuing to ask questions about what we are putting in our bodies. I am once again disheartened by the power of lobbyists in this country. Documentaries about social issues all seem to have voice overs that speak about lobbies–Bowling for Columbine had the NRA, Inside Job had Wall Street and GMO OMG has Monsanto (and other Agribusinesses). As someone who knows that studying history can help inform decisions we make today, I liked that Seifert gave a little of the history of pesticide use.
Out there in print and on the internet, GMO OMG received many negative reviews (second review). The most common and passionate complaints were that Seifert did not do the scientific research he should have done before filming and that he made his children props in the film. There is some truth in both of these claims but I do not think I wasted my time or money seeing this film. Maybe that is in part because I went in with lower expectations. GMO OMG was not being screened at The Flicks, Boise’s art-house movie theater, or the Egyptian Theater, where Trinity Lutheran members helped bring A Place at the Table last year. The film was not polished but in some ways that was just fine. Seifert came across as “any man,” critics complained, but maybe people will connect with that. He expresses the exasperation and confusion that many are experiencing today as we try to sift through research, conversations with friends, news articles, blogs, editorials, food labels and try to make decisions about what we eat. I was left, like Siefert, believing that the conversation about GMOs needs to continue. There is a reason there are countries who do not allow GMO seeds in their borders and if Seralini’s research was so controversial, let’s insist on more independent research.
Seifert’s film is one more voice we can add to the dialogue about food. It should be seen along with A Place at the Table, before or after you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma or Year of Plenty and in between your trips to the grocery store where you read labels or the farmer’s market where you talk to actual farmers.
If you have other books, articles, films or podcasts about food which you want to recommend, please leave a comment below. Thanks.