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Open Minds 

Food Evolution takes on the GMO debate


oing into "Food Evolution," I thought I had an idea what the documentary was going to be like, based on the name. Documentaries about food sustainability, organic farming, biodiversity and eating healthy are popular right now, and with Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Sequel" a few weeks from release, I figured this would be another crunchy look at how Americans can better prepare themselves for a possibly non-plentiful future.

I was way off. "Food Evolution" is actually a look at GMOs, coming from a place of respect for science as opposed to fear of diving too deeply into such a hot-button topic. A big chunk of the film involves scientists from across the country taking a deep breath and asking Americans specifically what they're afraid of when it comes to genetically modified foods.

A fascinating section of the film looks at a county government in Hawaii fighting to ban genetically modified crops on the Big Island. A few years prior, a new strain of a virus got into Hawaii's papaya population and within three years basically wiped out all the papayas on the island. A scientist genetically modified the papaya, naming it the "Rainbow Papaya" and saved the entire industry across the state. So when the ban eventually passes, the Rainbow Papaya is exempted from the ban, even as GMO research and companies are shut down across the islands.

This seems incredibly hypocritical. I understand wanting to know exactly what's in the food you eat, but if genetic modification has proven to save the papaya, then couldn't it possibly save a different fruit or vegetable? The leaders in Hawaii seem to be saying, "All GMOs are bad and organic is the only way to go...except for this papaya. Don't look at the papaya."

I've been anti-GMO for years. I quit eating Totino's pizza or consuming anything from Nestle as soon as I learned Monsanto bought the company (yes, my white privilege is showing), so this documentary blew my mind. The scientific data the film brings forth makes a lot of the anti-GMO sentiment seem like fear mongering and raises interesting questions. "Food Evolution" does something that only the very best documentaries do: it made me want to start researching things on my own and getting to the bottom of conflicting information. The fact that Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates the doc also gives it credibility that it might not have had without him—even with all the data it includes.

"Food Evolution" may not change minds or get GMO-averse people to start doing their own research. The film might just be preaching to the choir. Activists will call the movie corporate propaganda and the human tendency to only accept information that confirms a previous bias might keep this movie on the fringes of public debate. But even if that's all it does, that might be enough. If a documentary on such a divisive topic creates discussion or debate, then it has, at least partially, done its job. When a mind is opened, it can lead to beautiful things.

Food Evolution

Dir. Scott Hamilton Kennedy

Grade: B+

Sisters Movie House

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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