+ (Almost) Nothing is Truly ‘Natural’ – Part 4

Cezanne nothing is natural fruit and vegetables painting still life

Nothing on this table is natural – not even the fruits. The Basket of Apples by Cézanne

Corn isn’t ‘natural’

In 2014, I created a series of infographics to help convey this message. Corn, for example, used to be a spindly grass-like plant called teosinte, which Native Americans farmed and bred through artificial selection until it resembled the yellow corn of today.

In 9000 years, sweetcorn has become 1000 times larger, 3.5 times sweeter, much easier to peel and much easier to grow than its wild ancestor. In the 15th century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds, the corn evolved even further to become larger and multi-coloured. Corn no longer resembles the original teosinte plant at all.

Watermelon isn’t ‘natural’

Watermelon began as a hard, bitter fruit the size of a walnut. It caused inflammation and had an unpalatable bitter taste. Thousands of years of artificial selection (unintentional genetic engineering) have resulted in a modern watermelon that bears no resemblance to its African ancestor. Modern (artificial) watermelons are sweeter, juicier, more colourful and easier to grow than their ancestral varieties.

Peaches aren’t natural, either

Peaches used to be hard, cherry-sized fruits with giant pips. Like corn and watermelon, peaches became larger, sweeter and juicier over thousands of years of inadvertent genetic engineering.

Bananas, wheat, pigs and all farmed animals and plants are not natural

Before agriculture, carrots were white and spindly. Wheat was tall and scrawny with little calorific value. Apples were tiny and sour with giant pips (like crab-apples today). Strawberries were tiny, bananas had stones in them, and pigs were viscous creatures with tiny backsides that made for a not-so-delicious ham. Cows didn’t produce much milk (just enough for their own calves) and chickens were skinny little creatures that laid eggs weekly rather than daily. Every species that’s ever been farmed by humans has been genetically modified over time as a result.

I keep making this point because our ancestors deserve credit for their hard work: they toiled in the fields for thousands of years to breed plants and animals that are suited to our modern tastes and lifestyles. For modern humans to call the results of our ancestors’ hard work ‘natural’ is an insult to the millions of ancient farmers who worked so hard to produce them.

Engineers (including genetic engineers) know that humans have toiled for millennia to change nature and suit it to our own needs – animals became tamer and meatier, and plants started producing more edible portions. I want to counteract the misconception that humans encountered nature in a ‘pristine’ state.

Great documentary snippet – Animal Pharm

 

[ancient humans] toiled in the fields for thousands of years to breed plants and animals that are suited to our modern tastes and lifestyles. For modern humans to call the results of their hard work ‘natural’ is an insult to our ancestors.

I show the above documentary my Year 10 Science students to demonstrate what is currently being produced using genetic engineering techniques. The video explains all the concepts mentioned in this article and is accessible for and educated audience of any age.

This post is part 4 in a weekly series on chemophobia. Next week, we’ll look at the psychology behind chemophobia.

Source: (Almost) Nothing is Truly ‘Natural’ – Part 4

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2 thoughts on “+ (Almost) Nothing is Truly ‘Natural’ – Part 4

    • The main point that will be made in subsequent articles is that calling something “natural” actually has no value. Believing that all natural products and only natural products are good for us is the fallacious “appeal to nature”, a subset of the naturalistic fallacy.

      For example, many people suport the so-called “Paleo diet” becauase it was more natural. However, they fail to realise that in paleolithic times, people died at an average age of 32.7 years (and was 43.5 years if you discount infant mortality), and it was mostly from malnutrition. In addition, the vegetables and meats that we eat today are nothing like those which existed in the Paleolithic (from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago). Paleo enthusiasts tuck into a wedge of beef with cabbage or broccolli not realising that neither cabbage nor broccolli existed until 3000 years ago. The vegetables and fruits that real Paleolithic people ate were devoid of nutritional quality because they evolved to propagate themselves through seed dispersal, NOT to provide sweet flesh to humans.

      In my view, it’s not that we need to redefine what “natural” means, it’s that we need to reassess our cultural perception of natural and non-natural things. We need to understand what chemicals are, what doses are safe and which are toxic. Education is the key. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature

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