Everyone knows that France has some of the best cuisine in the world. French cuisine is usually ranked as one of the top five international cuisines. So how could it be that on Sunday, Aug. 12 2007, I found myself stuck in a McDonald’s joint in Paris—the very hub of this taste-enticing European country—trying to decide between Chicken McNuggets and a Royale Deluxe ? As you can probably imagine, my presence at McDonald’s that day was not by free will. Anyone who has watched Super Size Me knows to think twice before answering to the siren songs of McDonald’s. Being a religious country, France observes Sunday as a day for personal and commercial rest. Consequently, the only food joint that was open on my first Sunday night in France during my year abroad was the well-known American food chain, McDonald’s. Regarding my situation as one of sustenance or starvation, I decided to bite my tongue and tolerate the menacing Royale Deluxe. My expression soon turned from one of apprehension to surprise when I opened up the box that contained my dinner. The burger actually looked good. The meat was well-cooked, the bread was soft, and the vegetables were fresh. How could this be possible? It turns out France produces only organic food and, therefore, McDonald’s is mandated by law to use organic products throughout France. By the end of my time in France, I left with improved French speaking abilities, and a healthier body and mind.
France, Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland are six European countries that have banned genetically-modified (GM) crops or food created using molecular biological techniques. Many other countries across the globe are yet to accept the purported benefits of GM crops and food. As a first-year international student, there are many adjustments that have to be made in order to acclimate oneself with life in the United States. Aside the usual cultural shock, you soon discover what “love-handles” are, and by the time the freshman 15 rears its unwelcome head, you are officially initiated into the American society with your very own pair of love-handles. Your initial fascination for American burgers soon turns to one of disgust when you are rudely notified that your once tolerable periods have metamorphosed into days filled with pain-wrecking cramps. Once the honeymoon is over, you realize that the tempting calls of GM food hold greater implications.
Over the past decade, the global community has seen a shortage of food, particularly in developing countries. The proponents of GM food suggest that it can help avert the deterioration of the already acute food crisis and malnutrition that millions of people face daily. With the high incidence of natural disasters and disease, they argue that GM crops have a greater chance of survival, since they are highly resistant to diseases, pests, drought, and a variety of other conditions. Those against the use of GM foods contend that GM food can cause unintended harm to other organisms, transfer genes to non-target species and increase the possibility of allergic reactions in children. The main concerns, however, lie in the cost involved in producing GM food in low-income developing countries, and the health implications of its consumption.
Many international students here, at Mount Holyoke, have had to deal with the reality of consuming hormone-infused food products while studying in the U.S. The change in nutrition does not only bring about a longing for familiar cuisine, but also brings to question the health implications of eating GM food. Ultimately, the debate about GM food finds its way onto our lovely campus. Some international students have developed survival mechanisms in the hopes of reducing their intake of GM food. While some decide to forgo the hitherto luxury of chewing chicken bones, others have gone all out and have temporarily adopted vegetarian lifestyles. But globally the debate concerning GM foods is one that goes far beyond individual choices. While the U.S. and other pro-GM food countries continue to push for the introduction of GM food across the globe, many international students at Mount Holyoke remain opposed to the idea and look forward to returning home to the welcoming embrace of local cuisine prepared using homegrown organic products.
* This article was written by Jemila Abdulai and published in the MH News
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.