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How Science Is Changing What We Eat

From about the time our ancestors traded the nomadic lifestyle for more urban settings, agriculture has been important.

It’s no coincidence either — selective breeding and domestication of crops made civilization possible. And in an era when the capacity for cultivating the primary grain and vegetable crops of the world is being stretched to its limits by overpopulation, farmers are still innovating in their breeding schemes.

And today, the cutting-edge tools of innovation in biology lie in the hands of geneticists and the farmers they collaborate with. It’s in that spirit that the recent book Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food was written by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchack (Amazon US/UK). Ronald, a plant geneticist at UC Davis, and Adamchack, and organic farmer, contribute several chapters each on their separate specialties in casual, friendly writing styles.

In it, they cover a wide breadth of the the subject matter (genetically-modified and organic agriculture) as it interacts with facets of the farm, the lab, consumers, the environment, patent law, and dinner itself. And they do so honestly, trying to represent alternative viewpoints rather fairly in the form of questions from their students, political issues being raised by people fearful of GMOs, and basic considerations relating to how and why growers and biologists alike use certain crop management strategies.

Their citations are also well-organized, connecting the reader to the source material (and especially scientific studies) wherever possible. Well-studied data is of course the best remedy for the politics of GMOs. For someone like myself reading Tomorrow’s Table for information content, that’s invaluable.

For others, maybe you’re looking for a more casual read. Ronald and Adamchack offer this as well, with their conversational writing styles. Or maybe you’re interested not in the science, but in the culinary uses of good agriculture. They’ve got that too, with a handful of recipes interspersed throughout the book.

Regardless, Ronald and Adamchack come across as making an effort to reach out to the average farmer as well as to the lay consumer. And in that, I think, they do an admirable job explaining the marriage between organic farming and genetic manipulation.

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