A Homeschooling Lesson About GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms)

It all started out very simply. I made homemade popcorn for an after dinner snack. My oldest child, 5 year old Lee, wanted to make sure that it was good to eat. "Right popcorn is healthy, Mommy?"
"Well, uhm..." I hemmed and hawed, not quite sure what to answer.
"But it doesn't have sugar or chemicals in it, right Mommy? So it's healthy?"
I have this rule in my house that I try my best to abide by. I don't lie to my kids. I answer any question my kid asks at a level that they're able to understand, even if it isn't necessarily something that other parents would chose to tell their kids.
But if I have mixed feelings about something, especially from a health perspective, I'll let my kids know. I won't just pretend that it's a clear black and white issue. And I don't shy away from difficult topics...

So, the popcorn issue.
I guess now's the time to maybe approach the topic with him, I thought to myself... But I had mixed feelings myself, because I find the topic somewhat scary/upsetting for me as well.

"Lee, are you sure you want to know whether popcorn is healthy or not? Because the answer is something that's a little bit scary, even for adults."
"Yes, Mommy, I want to know. I won't be scared."

Hey, I guess, why not.
A little impromptu homeschooling lesson. Science. Biology. Genetics. Health. Politics. Etc...

 photo 100_6460_zpsffb58633.jpgI took out my clipboard and started to draw and teach. Lee is already familiar with the concept of cells from various science themed videos he's seen, so I reviewed the concept that everything that is alive is made up of lots and lots and lots of tiny building blocks called cells, like teeny tiny Lego, that you can only see through a microscope.

I explained that just as we have a brain that controls the different parts in our body, each cell, then, is like its own little body, with different "body parts" (organelles, though I didn't use that term) being controlled by the nucleus, like the brain of the cell. Each nucleus is filled with a twisty ladder type thing called DNA.
I explained how the DNA is made of lots of even tinier building blocks than the cells, and that each half rung on the ladder is called a gene, and the gene tells the body what the person or animal or plant will be like. I explained to Lee how there are genes that make his eyes brown, genes that make him smart, genes that give him hair like his Daddy's, etc... and that we get the genes we have from our parents.

I explained to Lee that scientists figured out how to tak he out one gene from the twisty ladder (DNA) and take another gene out of another twisty ladder from something else, and put that gene in the first twisty ladder. The example I have was taking a gene from a fish or a monkey and putting it into a potato gene. I said scientists are able to then take that cell with that messed with DNA, and make seeds from it, so that each potato that grows from that gene would have a little bit of fish or monkey in it, and that this was called GMO.
Lee thought that was revolting. "Monkeys or fish inside your food? EWWWW!"
The problem with that, I explained, is that for a long time we didn't know if it would be dangerous or not to eat this GMO food, because no one did experiments to see if it was safe, and on top of that, it was put in our foods before we knew if it was safe, and the companies that put GMOs in their foods didn't have to tell us that their food was GMO, so that way we were part of this big experiment, whether or not we wanted to.
I explained to him that recently, though, they got the results of a study, and it showed that rats that ate genetically modified foods got very sick and died, which makes it much more likely that its not just that "something unknown might happen if we eat GMO foods", but rather, that GMO's have been proven to be harmful in certain animals, which means its very possible that its dangerous in humans as well. There are also other studies that show that GMOs mess up your digestive system.
I then told Lee that most of the corn that is grown today is genetically modified, and has stuff in its genes that wasn't how nature made it, which can possibly make people very sick. And since no companies that use GMOs tell us that they're using it, we have to assume that any corn we're eating is genetically modified. Which means that it isn't quite so healthy after all.

That was supposed to be the end of my lesson.

Except I didn't realize how riled up Lee would be about the topic.

"But Mommy, why do they grow GMO stuff if they're dangerous?"
"Because the companies that sell them the seeds tell them that if they grow them, they'll be able to grow more food because the bugs won't eat their crops. But the bugs don't want to eat it because they know this food is terrible for them... but then they want to sell it to us so we can eat it."

"Mommy, why do the companies sell GMO's then if they're so bad?"
"Because they want to make money."

"Why don't people just go to the companies and tell them "No! Don't do this! Its bad!"?"
"People are doing that, Lee. That's what I'm doing, and that's what you're going to do, and that's what many other people are doing, and hopefully if there are enough people, they'll be forced to stop. But in the meantime, there aren't enough people, so the companies aren't taking us seriously and stopping."

"So why doesn't the government stop them?"
"Because the government wants money also. And they get money from these companies as long as they let them keep on selling and growing these GMO stuff. And one of the guys in charge in the government of making sure our food stays safe is a guy who works for the companies who make and sell GMO stuff. (See about Ismail Siddiqui's position and his ties to Monsanto.) So he's not going to stop them! The government isn't doing their job to protect their people; they care more about making money.
"And people tried to get the government to force these companies to write when they are using GMOs, but the GMO companies had more money then the people who were trying to stop them, so it didn't work..."

Lee then asked if he could have my clipboard, and sat down and drew this picture. (His words, not mine.)
 photo 100_6458_zps7ed61715.jpg
He then told me about this picture. The "bad guys" take bits of fish and monkeys (he didn't get that monkeys were just an example- as far as I know, no monkey genes have been spliced into corn... yet...) and put them into corn, and that's really bad, because when I want to go eat corn, I don't want to have bits of monkeys and fish in my corn!
"Why don't they understand that they can have the same amount of money if they just sell normal seeds and not bad fish and monkey seeds?"

I then explained to him what the money making aspects in GMOs are- that there is a patent on these seeds, so that these farmers who grow them have to buy them from the company every single year, and they cant just save the seeds from one year to the next like they would be able to if they just used regular seeds. So the companies make money by selling the seeds to the farmers every year instead of just one time.

He started to understand their motivation behind making GMO's just a bit more, once he saw the money wasn't equal...

But then he went on and drew another picture-
 photo 100_6459_zpsc2c4c1d5.jpg

This is Lee going to the grocery store, and seeing that everything is genetically modified...

That's what he is concerned about what will happen. That one day, it'll be impossible to get any food that hasn't been messed around with.

How right he is...
And I didn't even bring up the topic of GMO salmon who will be released into the wild, and whose genes will eventually contaminate even wild salmon...

We got a new GMO activist on our hands...

GMO's concern me a whole lot.

For many reasons.

Because as much as I'd like to avoid them, we can't afford to buy organic, and organic is the only things, pretty much, guaranteed GMO free.

And because we're gluten free, a lot of our foods that we eat end up being corn based. And I have been trying to cut back on corn, but cutting it out will be too much of a challenge at this point in time. So the fact that its GMO freaks me out...

But we're already somewhat in the "better", because we avoid soy, one of the most common GMOs, we never touch canola, another GMO, we avoid processed sugar, sugar beets being one of the most common GMOs... so the only GMO we eat on a semi regular basis is corn...

But that corn freaks me out.

Now is that popcorn healthy?

Well... if it were organic corn, then maybe.

If not... Well, its Frankenfood. But at least its not Frankenfood mixed with food colorings and other chemicals....

And we got a nice homeschooling lesson on government corruption, genetics, biology, etc...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wonder if I'll get flak for this post.

I probably will.

You might wonder why I bring up the concept of GMOs on a frugality blog.

I do because its we people who are trying to save money that might end up being the most screwed over if GMOs are proven to cause long term health repercussions in humans. Because we usually are the ones who can't afford to buy GMO safe organic alternatives.

My point isn't to convince you that GMO's are terrible and should be avoided.

My stance on them is- GMOs are very suspicious, in my opinion, and I think we have many reasons to be wary of them, and I think its terrible that we are all being required to be the human guinea pigs in this experiment unless we're rich enough to opt out via organics.
If you want to eat them, go right ahead. If you think they'll stop world hunger, go right on believing that.
But at least make the choice that you're fine with eating GMOs.
And other people should have the ability to decide that on their own as well, and not be forced into this science experiment just because they don't have the funds necessary to avoid them.

GMO's absolutely need labeling. I don't want my body to be a science experiment.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I just stumbled across your blog. It's very informational. I am trying to clean up my diet and have started to incorporate (or remove would be the appropriate term...) certain foods. I am not one for cooking so I am buling a plan..but in the mean time - just adding in more whole foods and trying to go plant based.

    Thanks for your blog. I am finding some good info here. ~LF

  2. Late to the table with this comment, but as of right now, there are no GMO popcorns on the market. All popcorn is not genetically modified, whether it's organic or not. In the future, who knows? And last time I checked, white corn was still gmo-free. ~Joy

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