When people hear the term GMO I’m not sure they really know what an actual GMO is. For years a certain segment of the population has been on a terror streak to stop what they call “Frankenfood”. For the most part, I’m with them when it comes to genetically modifying foods to resist pesticides or modifying a fruit or vegetable for longer shelf life but we have been genetically modifying food ever since Ancient times. Almost all the fruits and vegetables that make up your natural diet and in the produce section of your local supermarket are pretty much “man-made” or genetically modified to produce a certain fruit or vegetable.
The biggest distinction between man made food and GMO’s is that scientists usually mess with the DNA of a particular plant, introducing characteristics and traits through controversial techniques such as using a viral carrier to change the structure of the DNA. Basically they use a virus to infest the food and replicate the trait with in it’s DNA. Another technique is using a bacteria carrier to infiltrate the food and attach the new DNA characteristic to the food. With the onset and discovery of DNA technology science has found a way to speed up the process of changing the DNA within food. I personally don’t like the unknown… but if DNA didn’t change or wasn’t mixed up every once in a while we wouldn’t have some awesome looking people and fun and tasty foods.
Now there is a huge debate about manmade and GMO… whether the DNA being changed through breeding (cultivation) or through a petrie dish is an argument for the ages. Through the means of cross pollination and grafting we have been able to change the DNA of some “wild” plants put together some really cool fruits and veggies that have been nourishing us for many centuries. Here are just some of them:
Broccoli is the result of specific selective breeding and was cultivated by Italian farmers way back in the 6th century BC… yep, nearly 1000 years ago. Broccoli was named for the Italian word Broccolo that described the flowering tops of the wild cabbage. Kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and collard greens all come from some hybridization of the wild cabbage. None of these vegetables are found in the wild… so when vegetarians tell me that they are only things that come from nature, I usually tell them to shut the fuck up.
All the varieties of lettuce actually come from one plant called “wild lettuce” or Lactuca virosa that is known for it’s narcotic qualities. Yes, you can eat it or smoke it and get high. Not iceberg lettuce, wild lettuce… idiot. If you walk around eastern England, Pakistan, India or Australia you may see some in the wild. There has been some introduction to the United States in states like California, Alabama, Iowa and who would have guessed this… Washington, D.C.. Now that explains a lot.
Carrots look, taste and feel very different to it’s wild ancestors. The first carrots as root vegetables were cultivated in Afghanistan about 1100 years ago, but there is evidence that they may have grown as far back as 5000 years. These carrots were nothing like the straight orange colored ones with greens growing out the top. Ancient carrots where very thin, white or purple and tasted more bitter than sweet. It wasn’t until the 16th century when some Dutch botanists turned the purple carrot into the bright orange carrot we know and love today. An added fun fact:
Carrots actual don’t give you better eyesight. It’s an urban legend that was derived from a lie spread by British troops to cover up the advancement in Ally radar technology. The Brits spread a lie that all their soldiers ate massive amounts of carrots so they could see better at night. The urban legend still survives today.
What I think is hilarious is tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, red bell peppers and cayenne peppers, all came from a hybrid of selective breeding while cultivating a plant called Wild Nightshade that has a little controversy of it’s own. Some botanists say it’s poisonous and other’s say… ahhh, maybe not.
One of my favorite fruits looks nothing like it’s wild counterpart… and I mean nothing. The domesticated banana aka the “Cavendish” banana is actually a sterile plant and cannot be grown without the help of man. The wild banana is much smaller, green and has seeds the size of pomegranate seeds. From the outside it looks more like a shiny squash than a yummy big yellow banana.
Grapefruits are a very new fruit which were created from marrying an orange and a pummelo. For all of you that never visited South East Asia, a pummelo or Pomelo is a green pear shaped citrus plant that is indigenous to the area. It doesn’t stop there. The orange that was bred with the pummelo is actually a hybrid of a mandarin and a pummelo… so obviously there is an incestuous relationship between many of the citrus fruits. There are only 4 known wild citrus fruits. Those are: pummelo, mandarin, citron and papeda and everything else came from a hybridization of these four. Now here is where it gets a little dicey… those Ruby Reds or Star Ruby’s are that way from scientists bombarding the fruit with gamma rays, and x-rays. Instead of turning green like the Hulk it turned them a lovely pink.
Marketing and science has changed our whole food system… I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do know that much of what we think we know is usually wrong.