Today marks exactly one week since I got home from my fellowship at Cornell.  I am so grateful for being given that experience.  I’m hopeful too that through it, we fellows can indeed make change and inspire others to make a better world.

As I reflect on my experience, it still feels like a dream almost.  From the lab job that I thought would lead me no where, it actually has had a lasting impact on my life.  The experience of seeing the start of biotech in saving my dad’s farm has really enabled me to help educate others about this powerful tool that can help so many in the world. 

The many years of hard work growing up on the farm has also given me a huge sense of appreciation of what it means to put food on the table.  I’m lucky to have been raised a farm kid despite missing all the Saturday morning cartoons and being able to sleep in.  I’ve had my hands in the dirt and in the fields to know that it’s easy to talk farming but doing it is a whole different story.

I’m glad I had tough but loving parents who kept me focused on getting educated.  They are also fostering that in my kids by helping me while I studied up at Cornell.  They exposed me to the university experience as a young 7 year old.  My two daughters also got to see what it is like to be on a prestigious university like Cornell.  My older daughter said that she’d want to study there one day.

I’ve really had an experience of a lifetime.  I’ve met a whole new alliance of others who want the same future for their families and communities.  I am truly grateful for the experience and hope that we will change things for a brighter future.

I am blessed.  I am lucky.  We are all lucky to have the life we’ve been granted.  Move forward in appreciation and share it with others.

Happy Thanksgiving all!



Why Saying GMOs Are Safe isn’t Helping

Last weekend, I finally had some free time in my fellowship to take my mom and kids sightseeing around Ithaca.  I decided to take them to the Cayuga Nature Center.

The nature center is a small museum of sorts but mainly an outdoor series of trails that you can explore.  The first thing I wanted to take my kids to was the Tree Tops House.  From the start of the trail, you can’t see this treehouse at all.  As we walked further into the woods, this neat hidden structure almost magically comes into view.  

My two daughters screamed in delight when they saw this 6 story treehouse.  It stands on several stumps and blends right into the woods.  The local high school student came together to build this for the community.  It’s just a thrill for any kid.

After they had plenty of time to play in the house, we decided to look for the pioneer house.  At the start of that trail, there was a warning sign about Lyme disease and a picture of a tick.  It just said to beware of ticks and the risk of getting this disease.  My eldest looked at it and not knowing what the issue really was, she proceeded to freak out.  

She adamantly refused to walk on the leaf covered path.  She said that the sign says there’s danger and that she won’t go.  I explained to her what Lyme disease really was and that it wasn’t as bad as she thought since it was colder and the excessive grasses that ticks cling onto were gone.  I had to physically show her how it wasn’t as risky as she thought.  After much reassurance and explanation about the actual risk, she reluctantly agreed.  However, she was remained cautious which limited her ability to fully partake in the experience.  

My youngest daughter on the other hand, had a completely different reaction.  She looked at the sign and stopped to think about it, then quickly ran off into the woods.  She really didn’t care about Lyme disease or the ticks after I told her she just had to check her clothes when we were done.  She fully enjoyed frolicking in the freshly fallen leaves without a care in the world. 

Here I have two children raised in the same environment but with completely different reactions.  It made me think that this is exactly what is happening about the issue of science communication.  For too long, we allowed others to use fear about farming and technology.  There wasn’t enough informing happening and fear besieged the public.  The results are apparent when a prominent scientist is attacked with mob like mentality for attempting to educate on the basic construct of life, DNA.

It is evident to me that the general public is not well informed enough and is a goldmine for hucksters trying to use the lack of knowledge to part people from their hard earned dollars.  Like my older daughter freaking out about the warning sign, the poorly informed consumers have the same reaction to something considered biotech derived.  Just the idea of three letters will make people willingly spend some 30% or more on groceries all in the name of fear. Constant fear and no desire for education leads to angry people who lash out when confronted with facts.  Sadly, the real education remains elusive and is threatening to a shallow set of beliefs.

Whether the issue is the GM label or pesticides, as humans we want easy ways to protect ourselves and operate.  We make thousands of decisions each day and as a result, we need a quick and easy way to do that.  It’s one of the reasons why the anti-GMO/anti-pesticide messages are so effective.  Like the GMO label warns the uninformed people of a perceived danger,  some think that the organic non-GMO label is supposedly healthier.  The same applies to how the idea that the terms chemicals, synthetic, and toxins are used for those fear mongering messages.  We simply are looking for ways to avoid dangers and decrease our risk. 

Complex problems are never solved by simple solutions.  It’s the same with any issue in our lives, it takes more than a quick and easy solution to solve an issue.  Simply saying that going to organic farming is a panacea for reducing pesticides and changing our food system is a shortsighted solution for a multifaceted problem.  Putting a label on GMOs as a way to decrease obesity is a weak solution to this growing problem.  Even with a nutritional label, there has been no sign that obesity is going down.

Like my daughter freaking out over the tick sign, the concept of GMOs equates to pesticides and Monsanto is a clear indicator of human behavior to simplify the subject of biotechnology.  Those who tout this message cleverly repeat it over and over.  The science side then tries to enlist facts to counter the misinformation and it doesn’t change minds or hearts.

There’s farmers telling their stories and pouring their hearts out to consumers for their support while scientists risking careers trying to provide factual information to the masses.  It’s been happening for years and have we gotten anywhere? Apparently not if I’m still penning my thoughts about this issue.

I have a decent following on my blog and science communication is great, but it has to go further than that.  We have to stop using our own heuristics to try and simplify what biotech really is.  I have to go back to my graduate school training where we learned problem based learning to establish critical thinking again.

Yes, we live in a world of problems and who is going to solve it and what are we going to do about it? It’s not going be millions of moms or millions against Monsanto making a loud noise on the social media who will really impact on problems.  It’s going to take someone well studied and trained in the field to figure out the potential options.  Politicians have a duty and responsibility to foster an environment to address these issues also but thinking about it holistically for the greater good.  

When we are faced with a problem, who will be there to study the issue and determine the best path?  When we are ill, we don’t go to a plumber to get treated.  We go to those who are knowledgeable t will be a scientist using evidence to guide us.  It will be the farmer who feed us to meet our maximal potential for a better society for the future generations.

Thousands of farms across America are right beside corn fields . This has existed for some 20 years with no case brought to court proving harm from living near a farm. Shouldn’t evidence be applied to imposing laws upon our farmers?


Everyone Gets A Trophy

I come from the generation where one had to learn how to take criticism and feedback in order to become better.  If one didn’t make the cut, it meant working harder to get more skilled or attaining more education. My success was dependent upon what I put into the effort.  If I failed, it was my fault for not persevering.  

In this day and age, it seems that those lessons are gone. It’s not about working hard to attain a goal. It’s been said many times that the millenials are behind the anti-GMO movement.  This is the same generation that wants their bosses to give them everything in their workplace and that the work has to fit to their standards.  It’s not about giving it your best shot either or taking the initiative to do something more than what’s ask.  Do only what you must and that’s it is the attitude.

A friend of mine, who is a millenial herself, even recognizes this attitude shift.  She aptly calls it the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality.  It doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you try, you’ll get something.  Then no one should ever face criticism either because feelings will be hurt.

This was a feedback form given at the Waimea Center for Food Safety’s Pesticides in Paradise “educational” meeting a few weeks ago.  If you read the rating criteria, there is clearly no room to give critical feedback of Ms. Lukens’ presentation.  It’s almost laughable that the scale is clearly not made accordingly to social science ratings and is at the extreme end of the spectrum.  Essential the rating scale goes from you’re good to you’re super good.  

What does this mean? You have to completely buy their cherry picked “data” and mounds of “information” without any critical assessment of it.  There is no room for questioning what radical environmental groups tout.  That’s why to them, it’s their way or no way and no potential for working together ever.  

Should we be surprised that Lukens dusted herself off after facing over a hundred Molokai farm workers questioning her “facts?” She couldn’t back her allegations of farms poisoning children so instead of coming clean about the truth, she turns to a new tactic of manipulating people at a children’s hospital with her ideologues.  There is no thought about what is decent behavior which is clear when these groups never call for people to stop calling for crop destruction or vandalism.  I’m starting to think that they cannot see bad behavior and that increases the potential for more bad behavior.  She decries that others are wreckless in their work, yet her full time job promotes disinforming the public about biotechnology and pesticides.   

That’s not how we did things during our small kid time.  Nor is it how communities can thrive with the toxicity that the Center for Food Safety creates across our state.  Finger pointing without evidence at school is called bullying and frowned upon.  However, it’s tolerated and even celebrated by radicals.  I would never encourage my child to ignore bad behavior as that shows acceptance of it.  This is how they want our communities to remain and it’s sad.  Of course, the CFS doesn’t live here so they have little investment in what happens to our islands.  They are almost like a migratory pest that goes from place to place bringing destruction for a short term gain and then leave the place decimated.

Many people don’t understand why I speak out against these attacks against the biotech communities.  I don’t defend them but I defend the tools that they use as my dad’s farm uses it too.  If these activists can take away access from large companies, it’s quite plausible that they will take away the small farmer’s access.  Remember that Earthjustice and the CFS said they weren’t going attack small farmers yet they are intervenors on the Big Island GMO ban being appealed in court.  

The large companies have the financial backing to weather through this but for the long time Hawaii farmer, they stand to take our life that we get from the land. 

The life of the land is in the people. We can’t ever forget that.  Those who are paid to divide communities are finding that they are not going be given a trophy by the local folks.  

The Culture That We Are Not

  Being that it was Halloween tonight, it’s a customary thing for my kids to go trick or treating.  It’s a little different this year since we aren’t at home and are still in Ithaca, New York, while I finish up my Alliance for Science fellowship.

One thing I always teach my kids to be grateful to people who give you a treat, no matter what it is.  The routine was pretty much the same as it is at home but about 40 degrees colder.  It was nice to see so many neighbors passing treats to children big and small.  Many of the elderly neighbor’s sat outside on their porches with their walkers and oxygen tanks too.

After we had visited several homes, we came upon one that had its porch light on so my kids walked up to the door.  A very tall man came out and dropped a candy in my younger daughter’s treat bag then stopped when he saw my eldest.  She told him oh so politely,  “Trick or treat!” 

He stopped for a second and said he couldn’t hear her.  She repeated herself and he asked her to yell it out.  My daughter, being half Asian and half Caucasian, acts very Asian with a meek personality.  He didn’t get why she wouldn’t just yell it at him.

I’ve always taught her to carry herself politely, especially around adults.  Asking her to yell something isn’t in her personality to do.  She was literally stunned that she was being told to yell and shout at an adult.  She absolutely could not do it.

The man started waving his hands in front of her face mocking her for being stunned by his request.  She was in disbelief.  He shouted out, “Who’s responsible for this one?”

I replied that I was and he then lectured me to teach her to yell when told to by an adult.  I jokingly said, “Yeah, sure.” Inside my mind, I too was in disbelief.

This man really has no clue or understanding that some people aren’t raised to be like the way he wanted my daughter to be.  It’s in my upbringing that we are respectful and don’t shout at others even when asked.  It’s just not in us to be like that.  The man clearly doesn’t understand my daughter’s upbringing.

That incident tonight made me realize that this what’s happening in Hawaii.  A lot of mainland transplants come to our state thinking they know our culture but really don’t.  They are yelling at policy makers to make laws against the local folks.  

They mock us locals as having “plantation mentality” as if it’s a bad thing to have our roots in that era.  These folks haven lived those beloved “small kid time” days that many of us reminisce fondly about.

Like the man telling my daughter to yell at him, our policy makers are asking the locals to do the same thing and we are struggling with doing that.  It’s hard for us to find it in us to take this leap but we are trying.

Despite the man literally shocking my daughter, he dropped a treat in her bag.  As she thanked him, he shouted out to me and the others a very disturbing statement.  He yelled out jokingly, “If I was 50 years younger, I’d ask her to marry me!”

Happy Halloween.  The world is full of people hiding behind masks offering a treat but really it’s one about deceit.