Pain Free: a creative conversation with Ruth Ozeki & Susan Squier

2012 Modern Language Association Convention 143. A Creative Conversation: Ruth Ozeki with Susan Squier

Thursday, 05 January 7:00–8:15 p.m., 604, Washington State Convention Center

Ruth Ozeki and Susan Squier will have a conversation on the theme Pain Free. Their conversation will wander from such agricultural innovations as genetically engineering animals so that they feel no pain, to questions of affect and academia, to Zen and suffering. The conversation will be interspersed with readings.

Susan Squier is the Brill Professor of Women's Studies, English Literature, and Science, Technology and Society at Penn State University. She is the author, most recently of, Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet (2011). Her other publications include:  Virginia Woolf and London: The Sexual Politics of the City (1985); Babies in Bottles: Twentieth Century Visions of Reproductive Technology (1994); Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism (1984); Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (1989); Playing Dolly: Technocultural Formations, Fantasies, and Fictions of Assisted Reproduction (1999); Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture (Duke University Press, 2003), and Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine (Duke University Press, 2004).

op ed

Here is an Op Ed essay that I wrote for the New York Times. I got a very kind email from the editor turning it down on the grounds that the Op Ed page does not currently accept fiction. Oh well.

To the Editor,

I would like to state an opinion in response to the growing debate over genetically modified crops, but before I go any further, I must speak straight and tell the whole truth about myself.

I am a retired potato farmer from Liberty Falls, Idaho, but I am not real. I am a fictional character in a novel. I know that it is unusual (and mighty presumptuous) for a fictional character in a novel to have strong political opinions, never mind to try to contribute one to the country’s “newspaper of record.” However, the fictionalized (as many would call it) nature of our current administration’s claim to office, the steady stream of invention issuing from the press rooms of our nation’s capital, and finally the imaginary characters and dramatized scenes that have recently appeared in the general media and even in these distinguished pages, all lead me to believe that since nobody knows what the truth is anymore, I might as well try my hand at telling it.

So here goes:

1. The argument that GMO crops are necessary to solve world hunger is a fiction designed by corporate PR offices to overcome consumer resistance to transgenic food, sell patented and lucrative seed to skeptical farmers, and further expand and strengthen US trade in developing countries. As such, this argument is unconscionable.

2. There is no shortage of food that could be offered to nations in need. Take potatoes, for example. In 2001, overproduction drove potato prices so low that desperate spud farmers in Idaho chose to dump 410 million pounds of potatoes, plowing them back into the ground to drive up prices and make room to store the next year’s crops. Similar overproduction of corn, wheat, milk, and most of the staples needed to provide nutrition to starving people occurs regularly, and what is not dumped here is dumped abroad. Oxfam, the London-based relief organization, noted last year that the United States has been selling surplus wheat on world markets at prices 46% below the cost of production, and corn at 20% below costs.

3. The evidence that genetically modified crops are of agronomic benefit to anyone, other than the CEO’s and shareholders of the corporations that sell them, is marginal. The premium prices farmers pay for transgenic seed often outweigh the profit that may derive from increase in crop yield or savings in pest or weed control inputs.

4. Plants cross-pollinate and breed. Wherever GMO varieties are planted, there will be some degree of genetic pollution of native species, and the “novel” traits expressed are likely to be unexpected and possibly dangerous to local ecosystems. Gene flow is real, not a science fiction.

5. “Buffer” or containment zones to prevent gene flow are not effective or enforced, nor are the so-called “refuges” aimed at preventing pests from developing immunity to the bacterial pesticides spliced into some GMO crops. According to an article published in your newspaper on June 19, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report stating that the biotech industry has been misreporting farmers’ compliance with E.P.A. standards governing the planting of GMO crops.

6. There have been no long term, government-mandated studies on the human health impact of GMOs, either in this country, or anywhere else.

Hearing me talk like this, you might think I was one of those liberal environmental types, which I’m not. However, I do find it mysterious that those people, who think that this earth and all its wonder was an accident, could treat nature with far more reverence and respect than those of us who believe it is God’s gift and creation.

And if your readers take issue with the idea of a character like me appearing in your newspaper, well, I guess I can understand that. As a fictional character, I have a high regard for reality. Novel creations belong in novels, not in nature, and on the page, not on the dinner plate.

Sincerely yours,
Lloyd Fuller
Potato Farmer (retired), Liberty Fall, Idaho
Character (fictional), “All Over Creation”