God/evolution, food, flying monkeys and the burden of proof
I have been in pain a lot recently. I’ve tried not to let it impact how I interact with the world around me, but it’s hard to act the same when I don’t feel anywhere close to the same.
After many months and multiple doctor visits, I was no closer to discovering the source of my myriad pains when I went for lunch with my family a couple of weeks ago. In the middle of a veggie burger and beer combo, I felt achey, confused, and so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.
I thought about that a lot the next couple of days, and noticed that I tended to feel worse after eating. This discovery reminded me of conversations with my best friend, Mackenzie, who told me she’d felt great during her couple of weeks on the Elimination Diet, a diet people use to help themselves determine to which foods they’re allergic or sensitive.
The wheels were turning, but I the engine hadn’t started yet.
I had another bread-filled meal early last week that knocked me down and prompted me to throw my figurative hands in the air. I cut out wheat products. I figured I was on the right path until I visited an allergist later in the week. He told me that I had only a couple of mild allergies from the top-20 most common ones, but that I have a great, great many sensitivities. He said that’s unfortunate, because allergies are much easier to treat; doctors prescribe antihistamines to counter the histamines a human body’s immune system creates fighting off entities it perceives as threats. Sensitivities aren’t as well understood, but they’re negative bodily responses that don’t involve the immune system. WiseGeek has a short and sweet overview here.
Following my visit to the allergist, I decided I had to cut all the likeliest culprits out of my diet: wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, and so on. I searched for “elimination diet cookbook” on Amazon and immediately found a book that fit the bill. I found a few mistakes in the non-recipe portions of the book, such as that nuts are no problem and sensitivities are just mild allergies, but found that the recipes were pleasing and simple enough even for a noob cook like me.
I’ve been without coffee, alcohol and many of my other favorite goodies for 2.5 days. I have a long way to go before I feel great, but I do already feel better all around. I don’t even feel crummy after I eat–bonus!
I had a chance to think about food, allergies and everything while doing my weekly shopping this morning.
I hit the farmer’s market first. I want to buy as much of my food as possible from local organic farmers. It’s better for the environment–no gas-guzzling trucks hauling my food cross-country, nor chemicals used to keep them looking sparkly over the long haul–and it’s better for my community. I smile as I walk between stalls, checking items off my list as I add them to my bag. I feel very much a part of my community as I shop, and ever so grateful that my community has a farmer’s market. Not all communities are so lucky.
My wallet thanks me, too. When I compared prices last week, the items I purchased at the farmer’s market were half as expensive as the ones at he supermarket across the street.
Today I crossed the street to finish up my shopping and thought about genetically modified food. I am suspicious of it, all right, but not all of mye reasons are hippie, tree-hugging reasons. Others have to do with my legal training.
I have heard it said that “there’s nothing proving genetically engineered food is bad.” I have also heard it said that “there’s nothing proving monkeys can’t fly.” (Honest. I just said it aloud so I could type it!)
What do these two statements have in common, in my mind? They invoke questions of “burden of proof.” If you’ve ever watched a crime show, you might have learned that this is one party’s burden to show they did or did not do something. The law determines who has a burden to prove or disprove in any given case. When I testified, for example, I did so as part of a prosecutorial effort to prove a criminal guilty according to the U.S. rules of law. The prosecutorial effort failed, and the verdict was a hung jury.
Let’s pretend someone (else) said “there’s nothing proving monkeys can’t fly.” Actually, there’s a handy body of evidence showing it’s unlikely that they can fly: absence of wings and/or hoverboards and no recorded history of having taken flight, for example. That’s not the same as definitive evidence that they can’t fly–that there’s not some magical property one of them won’t soon discover and teach to his compadres. It just means that, all things considered, someone’s going to have to do a heck of a lot of proving to make me believe that monkeys can fly, and especially to believe they’re doing so without the benefit of technology. Experience and my education lead me to believe with 99.9% certainty that monkeys can’t fly, in this world, without technological assistance.
Now let’s get to the statement that “there’s nothing proving genetically engineered food as bad.” How do I feel about that? The answer is complex, but I’m going to boil it down to the simplest form of two of my own warring responses that lead me to the same result.
Some days I believe in evolution and God. On these days, I marvel at how precisely every cell has been placed and ordered to interact in such an amazing, intricate danc with other cells to create life as we know it. I am filled with a sense of wonder, both that these miracles exist, and that humankind could know so little and yet still believe itself capable of, in a handful of generations, bettering God’s fruits.
Some days I believe only in evolution. On these days, I marvel at how precisely every cell has been placed and ordered to interact in such an amazing, intricate dance with other cells to create life as we know it. I am filled with a sense of wonder, both that these miracles exist, and that humankind could know so little and yet still believe itself capable of, in a handful of generations, doing better than the slow, steady, march of evolution, which is both a mark and part of the synchronicity and interdependency of things–like bees and pollen–that might not seem linked to the casual observer.
Do these divergent paths seem like they lead me to pretty unanimous conclusion? They should, because they do.
I will always be wary of any company or individual that tells me they can remove a thing from its native environment and do it better than God and/or nature have done. As much as humans know about the world, there is so much we don’t know–like how, for example, to cure the common cold or magic ourselves to Hogwarts. There are so many complex relationships between things, many that we not only don’t know, but others still we don’t even know we don’t know. Oy.
When we change corn, for example, and reintroduce it to the outside world, what happens to the crops around the corn? To the cows whose feed is pumped with corn, and to the people who eat the cows or the corn? What happens to the insects also essential to a local community’s ecosystem, and to the birds who feed off of them, and to the animals who feed off those birds?
I can think of a million “what happens.” I know that scientists are thinking of them, too, but I am not persuaded they can think of them fast enough, nor with enough breadth, depth and overall understanding to parallel either God or nature.
In the courtroom of my life, I am judge, juror and sentencer. My verdict is based on the premise that the burden of proof is on manufacturers of genetically modified food to show that it is as healthy to individuals, ecosystems and the world as is food not genetically modified that has withstood the arduous verdicts of nature for millenia; my own verdict is that the burden has not been met, nor nearly so.
“It hasn’t been proven dangerous yet” isn’t compelling to me, nor will it ever be. I like to play it safe. That’s why I advise on the merits of contracts instead of signing them.
Where my life and health are concerned, I’d prefer to play it safe. Where my son’s life and health are concerned, I’d prefer to play it even safer.
Sentence: not in my belly! Same goes for non-organic food, as much as possible; I don’t gasoline my plants, after all. I water them, because that, soil nutrients and sunshine are what they grow best by.
This is how I feel. This is how I’ve felt for a long time. And yet, somehow, I kept buying the stuff I didn’t trust because it was easy, because it was convenient, because I didn’t have to cook, because because because.
Until I couldn’t.
In a strange way, I am thankful to discover I am sensitive to so many things, including many foods. Discovering this makes it harder for me to indulge certain whims, such as having an IPA with my curry, but makes it eminently easier–and more important–that I live in accord with my beliefs.
You don’t have to agree with me, on any particular fact or verdict. You don’t have to like what I’m saying. I’m cool with all of it, as long as it’s respectfully expressed. What I would ask is that you think about burdens of proof as you go through your day to day life, and make the decisions that seem sound to you in light of your own experiences and education. It’s easy, and time-saving, in the hubbub of this world of ours to be swept up in seemingly sound decisions made by those we admire, but then those decisions are someone else’s, and they never do grow to fit quite right.
I want to make my own decisions. They might not fit someone else or fit someone else’s life just right, but they fit me right.
Thanks to newfound sensitivities, I’m being forced to decide, and I’m grateful for that.
Yeah, I’m sensitive to everything. Yeah, it kinda sucks. But, wouldn’t you know it? I’m glad for it, too. I’m glad for how I feel better by the hour, and for the prospect I might feel better than ever two or three months down the road.
This, my friends, is the kind of thing I think about while I am shopping: God/evolution, food, flying monkeys, and the burden of proof.
How about you?