Ugly Teeth

Little kids have no filter in what they will say about things.  My five year old, Katelyn, always reminds me of that daily.  A few days ago she told me that she wanted to become a dentist and fix people’s teeth.  I asked her why she wanted to do that.

She sat and pondered for a brief moment then stated that she wanted more people to have nice teeth.  She went on to tell me that she wanted to fix her papa’s teeth because they didn’t look very nice.  She sat and thought for a bit, then asked me why was his teeth so ugly.

I told her that her papa, my dad, grew up very poor.  As a kid, going to the dentist meant money being spent.  The only time they went to the dentist was if they absolutely needed it.  She was totally shocked that he didn’t go every so often like she does when he was her age.  Katelyn was very surprised.  My kids have never known poverty.

I went on to tell her how he spent time with his dad combing the dump to find metal scraps and parts to be reused.  She couldn’t believe that he did that as a kid.  I told her that without money, you had to use things that people no longer wanted.  There was no Home Depots around to buy hardware or other building supplies.  She couldn’t believe there were no shopping malls either.

I asked her if she knew how papa got food as a kid.  She stated confidently, “A market!” I said nope, not a market.  My grandparents raised their own food from chickens, pigs, and dairy cows.  Eating chicken meant killing the bird and cleaning it.  She pondered it a bit and asked about the feathers and the blood, to which I confirmed that it was messy.

I asked if she knew how papa got milk.  She didn’t know so I told her that papa’s mom would milk the cows and then boil it before serving it.  They didn’t have a refrigerator back then so milk had to be made daily.

I even told her how my dad didn’t need a toy box either.  Everything he played with was homemade.  He’d even use bits of aluminum foil to make something to play with.  Used tin cans also made a toys too.  Some rope and a bunch of banana stumps could form a raft.  There was no TV or computers back then.

Katelyn was simply amazed to learn about my dad’s childhood.  I asked her if she wanted to live like he did and she said no way.  I asked her why.  Her reply was that she liked having a nice dentist, toys, and a refrigerator.  

It’s funny that little kids can grasp the concept of how hard life was back in the old days.  Too many adults can’t even understand that when life back then was tough and yet is romanticized that it was better.  We have life pretty easy thanks to the hard work of those farmers who are so efficient.  Katelyn, a five year old, got that and even said she felt lucky.  

We are lucky and one would think we would be grateful for it.  Maybe that is a lesson that hasn’t been learned by the people behind the anti-agriculture movement.  What happened to showing thankfulness for what we have?

If the adults can’t model gratitude, what example does that set for the next generation?

Cop Out Mentality

I have three kids with two in grade school.  I love them dearly but I do go a little crazy when it comes to doing homework.  Actually, I feel like tearing my hair out much of the time.

Why? The new learning style of reading and writing means letting the child use phonetics to write the word out and not correct them.  It’s pretty frustrating when your kids wants you to tell them all the letters instead of doing the sounding out part, which is tedious and very time consuming.  It also means less playtime on the IPod or outside.  A lot of brainpower is needed and parental patience is needed throughout this ordeal.

As I sit to do this homework with my daughter, she is quick to demand that I simply tell her the letter.  She will tell me, “It’s too hard for me! Just tell me how to spell the words!”  I always have to remind her about the guidelines that was given to allow the child to put down what they think and correct it above the sentence.  It teaches them how to apply the phonetics to reading and writing.

My second daughter is a perfectionist that wants all the right letters and gets really ornery about it.  “Just tell me Momma!” She’ll scream this over and over.  I’ll stand my ground and remind her to try so that she can learn.  I sometimes feel like my head will explode at times listening to this.

As I watched her throw a hissy fit, I was reminded about the Just Label It and US Right to Know campaigns with their catchy slogans.  They tell their followers to demand their right and demand mandatory labeling.  There is no mention about learning the science behind ag technology or the issues farmers face.  These groups don’t even educate people about how organic crops are grown and the bugs or the inputs needed.  Nothing of the sort is ever mentioned in any of their literature or websites.  They demand transparency of others but don’t even practice what they preach.

There’s no mention about learning why or how the organic industry’s history or information on how they produce their crops.  Not a shred of transparency about how many pounds of pesticides are used per acre or the estimated energy expenditure is required for this method.  Nothing of this sort is ever mentioned.  It’s all about THEIR rights and no one else’s.  Protest, protest about your rights and forget the consequences it may have on others because it’s all about ME, ME, ME and MY FOOD! As I look at this, they are angry adults who are refusing to learn and trying to put the onus on everyone else’s expense and inconvenience.

I see this as human behavior to turn emotional to take the easy route.  Giving my daughter the letters would save me a nice hour of no frustration but it does her no favors.  It teaches her that if she makes enough noise and whining, she’ll get her way.  In truth, it handicaps her in the future.  She won’t have the perseverance and know how to figure something out when I’m not around.  It also absolves her from being responsible for her own actions to face the hard work of critically thinking and navigating her own world.  

This is no different then simply giving a package of food or a papaya a GMO label.  There’s no learning involved to know what it took to get that product.  That little sticker will make these smug food elitists happy but then it just rewards all the protests and encourages no learning and dialogue about this technology.  That’s the consequence I see as a result to caving to demands and handing them an inch. We will only to find that they’ll take a mile and then seek a ban or tell the poor that GM foods are dangerous because it’s labeled.

As a mother, I know that I can’t be there to dig my child out of every difficult moment.  My child should have the necessary tools to be successful no matter where is is and that’s the most powerful lesson I can give her.  My parents instilled that in me the love of learning and discovery.

Imagine if the Big Island GM ban had been upheld and dengue fever ravaged the island.  The GM mosquito that could have been used would be a pipe dream because we listened to the angry voices who never considered the consequences.  It is no different for the banana crops being hit by disease and the Babes Against Biotech trying to block research that could save our farmers.  The loudest voices doesn’t mean that they are right and we should demand that they present evidence based information to back their stance.  Simply listening to a loud voice isn’t going to save lives or help anyone.  It’s time for dialogue and those who are ready to participate should be invited.

While the legislature is starting their session, we have to remember that they are leaders of the land.  They can give the public cop outs with considering bills that lack any urgency or necessity, or they can do the hard work by setting the example by actually setting priorities and use our resources wisely. We have a lot of pressing needs ahead of us that need good foresight to determine the best decision and planning.  What we do now affects our keiki’s future.

In a time when farmers are calling it quits and the next generation is struggling to carry on legacies, I hope that the 2016 Hawaii State Legislature does what is Pono to malama the people.

That is aloha.


Where’s the food among the weeds?

The Peace of Food

This morning as I was sitting in traffic, the song playing on the radio was, “Do they know it’s Christmas?” I’ve always hummed the tune but this time I really paid attention to the lyrics.

This year, this song has a completely different meaning for me.  It’s easy for us to get caught up in the gift buying and holiday madness.  That is completely trivial to me when I know that some of the new friends I made in the Cornell Alliance for Science fellowship live where many people don’t even have the basics of food, shelter, and clean water.  I feel really selfish wanting things I really don’t need.

The original BandAid song was played over 30 years ago and one of the key phrases in in that song is, “Feed the World.” We were all singing these words some 3 decades ago but not really grasping what it meant.  I have seen so many anti-biotech activists saying that the feed the world message is “multinational agrochemical company propaganda” and completely dismiss it.  30 years ago the trend was not farmer bashing of shouting out Monsanto.  It was a different time.

Fast forward to the present and I discovered that there is an updated version of the same song.

The message is still the same.  There are so many others who aren’t as lucky as us in well fed, wealthy countries.  Even in my own state there are people who don’t have much, including children.  We don’t have to drive far to see the homeless living on the streets, under bridges, and on the beaches.

We can give what we can to help others in our own community and even beyond, in the global community.  You don’t have to have lots of money to make someone’s life better.  You can simply come out in support of something that can help people.

My gift to the world is supporting science for the betterment of improving lives.  That investment to help others can hopefully give a world of peace for my children.  Will you do that for all children?

Wear Someone’s Shoes

Now that I’m home, I’ve noticed all the Christmas music being played on the radio.  One of my favorites is this song:

As an occupational therapist, we are trained on empathy for others.  We go through simulations of what it is like to have a disability.  Sometimes it means spending a day in a wheelchair or using crutches.  Other times it may mean wearing Vaseline covered glasses and stuffing one’s ears with cotton balls to simulate a vision and hearing impairment.  For students, this is temporary and silly in many ways.  We easily forget what it’s like to be permanently affected by these deficits.

As I listen to the song, “The War is Over,” I am reminded of the feelings of compassion and love that the holidays emphasize.  While many holiday songs remind of us of this special times, I have to reflect on whether we are actually living big those emotions in action.

Many of us are thinking about the holidays with shopping and activities, the world news reminds me of the grim reality that others in the world face.  They aren’t as lucky as us.  Some face nothing to eat or no roof over their head.  Young children are living in fear and confusion because of factors beyond their control.  What kind of lasting impact will this have on them?

The research already shows that long term stress on parents and children can have a negative impact on them.  What kind of adults will they become if life has treated these innocent children so poorly? If they have no hope, what can they aspire to become when the world has treated them with discrimination that they don’t even understand?

If I were in the shoes of a Syrian mom, I’d be pleading for compassion for my children.  We all want the best for our children regardless of where we are in this world.  I am deeply saddened by the reactionary social media commentary coming from “leaders” of our land.  The amount of shortsighted thinking about this issue is disheartening.

We all want a world of peace so that our children will avoid facing wars but the knee jerk political decisions being made can be leading us to future battles.  Taking away technology for feeding a growing population can contribute to instability and unrest.  Denying children access to nutritious food can limit their ability to meet their highest functioning capacity to be productive citizens.  Allowing families to be in constant danger and living in fear can create future problems with growing up in an insecure environment.  Are we fostering peace by the stand we are taking or are we further jeopardizing our own future?

The social media encourages quick, impulsive decisions, however, our lives can’t be sustained with constant reactionary stances.  We have to think about the future and the lasting impact what we are asking for entails.  Our children are long term investments of hope for a better future.  What about the children of the world? Don’t they deserve the same?

When your humming those Christmas songs in your car, start listening to the lyrics and ask yourself if you’re living the words you sing.  I want a world of compassion and empathy for others as well as my children.  Isn’t that what we all deserve?


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?


The Future of Hawaii Can’t Rest in a Protest

Once again, the anti-TMT, anti-GMO, anti-everything folks are going to protest yet again.  This time, their groups have united to “protect” Hawaii.  They have decided to “malama the aina” and “protect the mauna” and save agricultural lands.  These folks can stay really busy doing all three.

I can’t help but remember the pleading cries of mothers and others who testified at multiple hearings over the last several years.  They accused the seed farms and farmers of “poisoning” their children and making them sick.  They pleaded with the legislators to protect them by enacting disclosure laws, buffer zones, and bans of biotech farms.  Many of these folks still claim that they are sick and attribute it to farms despite the fact that the evidence doesn’t support it.  The campaign by the anti-groups indeed were successful even without data.

If the “protectors” really care about these folks, why are they so busy fundraising for plane tickets and bail money?  I’ve seen so many gofundme accounts set up to raise money but not a single dime is going towards the alleged sicknesses that they claim of over and over.  They aren’t even funding testing of people either to confirm the source of their health claims.  

This activism also has its roots in anti-corporate attitudes but they actively make use of those services only provided by the very people they distrust.  The activists decry money and greed but then go out and seek money themselves to fund their cause.


The activists talk about not wanting outside influences having a say in Hawaii but then join with the Washington, DC based Center for Food Safety group.  This group is nothing close to being local at all and has created more wasting of our resources in the name of the malama the aina battle cries.  They can fund plane tickets but sure can’t pay back the counties for the costs of court proceedings on badly written laws.  


Can no one see the inconsistencies of these groups’ messages here?  They talk about this concept of “malama,” which means to care but then their actions show the complete opposite!  Imagine how much jet fuel and gas is used to bring people to Waikiki for a day of protest.  Couldn’t that time and money be better spent by cleaning a beach or helping the homeless?

If they want to keep the Mauna sacred, how about throwing the bail money and plane ticket fares towards the education fund instead? Replace what you plan to take away.  Create a realistic business plan to help stimulate the economy there with all the opportunities that will be lost.  The thousands of dollars used could feed the hungry or buy school books for those needy schools.

Last year, a Hawaiian civic group raised money and used it to purchase school planners for my daughter’s 4th grade class.  That indeed is a worthwhile cause to help educate children and helps the schools out so much.  Why aren’t these groups marching to raise funds for those underserved areas on the Big Island? Where’s the giving spirit for the keiki? Teach them how to care for the aina with education and not transient protests.

If people are really sick from farms, stop paying Vandana Shiva $40k per talk or ask her to donate it to care for these illnesses.  The Center for Food Safety paid a nice sum of money for the misinformation manual they sent out but didn’t donate anything back to the county for any court costs.  If they care so much for people, they’d spend our resources wisely.  

Our leader in Washington can’t even grasp the technology being adopted to help farmers grow food.  Representative Gabbard doesn’t even realize that by bring anti-GMO means she wants farmers around the world to use old, more toxic crop protection products.  She actually is supporting the pesticide companies in developing countries by blocking the adoption of biotech crops as they are separate entities there from the agribusiness companies.  Nor does she even bother to tell her constituents the real name of the law or disclose her political funding from the organic industry.  She fails to educate others that the regulation around GE crops was in the federal level after 3 county laws were invalidated.  Like former State Representative Jessica Wooley, who said there were no regulations on biotech crops, Representative Gabbard also has a hard time with the truth.    

So once again, the battle cries will start up in Waikiki, the center of the Hawaii they don’t want.  Little do they realize that by blocking farms, the land will be paved over and forever changed.  By blocking a telescope, they send a message to the youth that you can’t come back to Hawaii to pursue a careers in science and technology because the loudest minority will squash your dreams.  Our leaders too can’t see the unintended consequences of caving to all of their demands.  

As a parent, I don’t give in to my kids’ hissy fits.  By giving in to these fits, it only encourages more of it and encourages bad behavior.  Kids are prone to bad behavior and have to learn what is and isn’t appropriate.  The issues in Hawaii must be dealt with using a realistic vision and high expectations.  Using emotions to guide policy harms all of us and lowers the expectations.  It’s time for our leaders to demand this of those who want to be an integral part of policymaking.  If our leaders don’t stick to that vision, we stand to all lose.  My kids will never be able to have that bright future in Hawaii if we can’t even have leaders leading us on that path.  

I did notice that they used the Hawaiian proverb, “Pupukahi I Holomua.” It literally means to move together in one direction.  These groups are moving together backwards and not even making an attempt to work with anyone else in any issue which is clear.  It’s about what they want and not about working with anyone else.  They refuse to come to the table unless they get exactly what they want.  

I want our leaders to stick with a vision to make Hawaii better and be brave to make hard decisions in the best interest of everyone. Listening to the squeakiest wheel is distracting us from  becoming a better place.  We need those leaders now to stand up for our island state if we want a real future for our kids.  I’m a mom and that’s what I want.  Who’s listening to me?