Saturday, January 23, 2016

A True Story of Food and Family

The story is real.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent from frivolous public records requests.

I have a colleague that is one of the world’s experts in food safety.  He is an encyclopedia on foodborne disease.  He knows how to safely handle food.  He understands foodborne toxins. This guy knows about genetic engineering.  In short, if you want to understand food and food risk, you talk to this guy. We’ll call him “Steve”.

It was Thanksgiving, 2015, and Steve and his wife joined the family at her mother’s house for a traditional dinner.  Among the family members in attendance was his brother-in-law, an accomplished concert pianist who is widely recognized for his expertise. We’ll call him “Richard”.

As the family took their places at the table and began to pass the dishes, Richard took the opportunity to comment on the items on the table.

“That turkey is oozing with antibiotics and hormones, you’re crazy if you eat it,” Richard said.

Steve jumped in, “That’s not true, these birds are bred to grow rapidly so they don’t need such things.”

But Richard knew better.  “That’s not what I read online.”

His gazed moved to the sweet potatoes. “Those genetically-engineered sweet potatoes make deadly insecticides that are destroying our insides, just look at the rise in leaky gut!” he said.

Steve replied, “Richard, there are no genetically-engineered sweet potatoes, even though they contain natural transgenes, and there's no such thing as leaky gut.”

“That’s what Monsanto wants you to think,” Richard replied.

He then zeroed in on the corn.  “That stuff is soaked with roundup, and studies have shown it will give you cancer, Alzheimers, diabetes and Parkinson’s.”

Steve said, “You are reading too many websites, that’s just not based on any real evidence.”

Steve’s mother-in-law had enough.  She chimed in, “Look, can we stop talking about it and just enjoy our meal together?” 

Everyone nodded in agreement. 

"How 'bout them Bears?" someone yelled. 


After dinner Steve’s mother-in-law suggested that her son make his way to the piano and treat the family to a few songs. 

Richard stepped with authority to the family piano he learned on as a child decades before, and sat down like he had been doing it his entire life.  In fact, he had.

His fingers met the keyboard with a flurry, producing beautifully synchronized notes from a challenging classical piece.  The notes filled the room in beautiful harmony.

Steve yelled above the music, “STOP!”  

Richard looked surprised.

“You really hit that transition too soon, and the whole thing is too fast, not as the composer intended,” Steve said.

Richard stared a hole through Steve and didn’t say a word.  After a few seconds he started back to the keyboard, exploding back into the same number, maybe with a little more authority.

After about thirty seconds Steve yelled, “STOP!”

Richard banged the keyboard in disbelief.

Steve said, “There’s way too much sustain on your bass notes and you’ve completely misrepresented the feel of the piece.”

Richard took a deep breath.  “You have a lot of nerve to criticize my playing, you know nothing about this instrument, the songs I play or how I play them.  I have been educated in the finest schools and performed with the finest musicians.  What gives you the right to even criticize?”

Steve let a pause build.

“Let’s just say your expertise in piano is like my expertise in food. Aren't critics that know absolutely nothing annoying?"

A Response to Carey Gillam