Should we fear?

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
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Jayson Lusk on Food, Technolog... Richard Jones on Transhumanism...

Should we fear the influence of technology on our food supply? If not, can we still celebrate the role of technology while still eating unpalatable test-tube burgers? In this week's episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts chats with agricultural economist Jayson Lusk about his newest book, Unnaturally Delicious: How Science and Technology are Serving Up Superfoods to Save the World.

We all eat, and we all think about what we eat...So let's hear your thoughts. What drives your decisions about what to eat? What do you worry about when you think about the food you consume? Use the prompts below...or pose your own questions...And let's keep the conversation going!

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1. What foods do you not eat, and why? Are your reasons based on morality? Religion? Concern for the environment? Health and wellness?

2. In their discussion of the use of fertilizer, as in other places, Lusk acknowledges that there are some problems...But rather than regulate or outlaw their use, his approach, he says, is to ask, "How can we cut back in a responsible way?" What criteria does he use to adjudicate what is "responsible," and to what extent are you persuaded by his approach?

3. Roberts points to Nassim Taleb as an exemplar of a sort of intermediary position on the relationship between food and technology (and GMOs in particular.) Revisit this past episode with Taleb. How does he use the precautionary principle to justify his own opposition to GMOs. How palatable do you think Lusk's approach would be to Taleb, and why?

4. What should be the primary concern of people in regard to their food supply? Food safety? The potential for environmental degradation? Taste and flavor? Efficiency (caloric, agricultural, or otherwise)? Something else? Explain.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Rose M Lain writes:

Pristine comments are not what we are looking for when we question ammonium hydroxide in the foods. What we want to know is whether some people are allergic; whether it mixes well with other chemicals such as vinegar, without causing harm; whether technology performed on companion foods agree or disagree with ammonium hydroxide in terms of promoting belly fat; gastrointestinal problems(bloat),diabetes and cancer? We just want to know whether the build up of belly fat is due to the body's reaction to all the chemicals mixed up together? We want to know whether the growth hormones fed to pigs, continue to do their work inside of the human body? We want to know what percentage of the eaters react to the chemicals?

Matt writes:

So I don't eat meat on Friday. It is a Catholic thing and I like being Catholic and it is nice to have something to share with others who also enjoy being Catholic. I wish more valued this tradition.

As far as people being concerned about food supply and safety...they shouldn't be concerned! Food shouldn't be a cause for concern. There are ten million things to think about that are way more important than if the lettuce the grocery store was grown, picked, and shipped in one way or another.

People obsess about food because people are naturally religious. Catholics, Muslims, Jews and others recognize food as having a place in their religious traditions and there is a history of being tied to purity and sin. People who go vegan or organic or whole food or whatever are often seeking religious ends disguised in non-religious ideals.

Ultimately these concerns are rooted in purity and an idealized notion of both nature and the human body.

Golabki writes:

3. Roberts points to Nassim Taleb as an exemplar of a sort of intermediary position on the relationship between food and technology (and GMOs in particular.) Revisit this past episode with Taleb. How does he use the precautionary principle to justify his own opposition to GMOs. How palatable do you think Lusk's approach would be to Taleb, and why?

I don't share Nassim Taleb's concern about GMOs, as such. If I create a GMO heard of cattle, I think that's broadly similar to breeding cattle, as has been done since the dawn of civilization and it's generally a good thing.

However, I do share Nassim's concern with how agra-business can encourage homogeneity in the food supply. If I create a new bread of GMO cattle that are used pervasively by the industry, then I've massively increased the fragility of the system.

Revathi Margasagayam writes:

I am a vegetarian. I belong to the puritan Hindu sect and my upbringing had me exposed to all sorts of vegetables, curds, legumes, spices, breads,rice and various other plant by-products - absolutely no meat whatsoever (poultry or sea-food). The more I traveled, I had difficulties in eating a proper balanced meal. So, I started eating eggs - I even tried chicken - but did not like it and couldn't digest it well. Now, I am moderately lactose intolerant (due to severe jaundice few years back) and any form of milk products like ice-creams, cheeses and desserts have an adverse effect on my digestive system.

I do not know whether its the severe use of chemicals in the agro-products over the years in India that has caused a spike in health problems or whether it is lifestyle related - because, 20 years back my parents had never heard of the terms - lactose / gluten intolerance.

But, "organic" products are slowly gaining ground - however, there are no proper standards in the market for differentiating between the regular and organic fresh produce - normally the vendor decides for us :)

So, right now - I cant have any dairy, do not like eating meat and prefer eating a proper Indian spread - purely out of gratifying my taste buds and seeking the familiar.

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