Angela Angel at work on "Free Our Seeds: Seeds Are Free." Photo by Robin David.
was 1985: the era of Madonna, the Reagan administration, and first Millenials.
It was also the year that The US Patent and Trademark Office first passed a
patent allowing seeds and seed-bearing plants to be patentable. The generation born in
that era would be the first to witness the
rise of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), from laboratory to field to the
forward to 2012. Barely two weeks remain before California decides on the
heated Proposition 37, a ballot initiative requiring the labeling of products
containing GMO ingredients. As Hyphen blogger Nancy Wei explained, GMO
critics are concerned about its impacts on health, farmers, agriculture, and
the environment, and insist consumers have the right to make informed food
choices. GMO products currently do not require labeling in the US, although
many developed countries -- including Japan, Taiwan, and the European Union --
matter where people stand on the issue, Prop 37 is significant. It could send a
ripple effect throughout California (called “America’s salad bowl” for the
amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown there), and into the rest
of the country. Given its past, we can be sure that the GMO debate will
continue beyond this initiative, no matter the outcome.
communities are woven deeply in the history of California’s food and
agricultural landscape. So where do our communities stand on GMOs?
up alongside the rise of GMOs is a new generation of Asian/Americans who claim
a voice in the future of food. I spoke with Robin David and Angela Angel, two San Francisco cultural workers whose
politically-infused artwork often touches on issues in the environment. Their most recent, eye-catching series “Free Our Seeds: Seeds Are
Free” focuses on
the danger to seeds, or what Angela calls “the nucleus of life.”
I’m noticing several of your recent pieces
center around food and biotechnology. What inspired this?
Robin: We decided to prioritize food and land in our work. Our
last project was on water, and our work tends to reflect the most pressing
issues of the time. Both of us come from community organizing
backgrounds. With the rising fight against agribusinesses such as Monsanto and
Syngenta, we decided our theme for this latest series would be seeds.
Angela: I've spent time in parts of the world where agribusiness
mortally affects local communities. In India, I stayed with Adivasi
cotton farmers as the farmer suicide rate climbed by the thousands. I
lived in Mexico and witnessed how the rise of corn prices, and the monopoly of
corn produced for ethanol instead of for food, affected tortilla prices. Living
outside of the States helped me see just how these decisions directly affect
What do you see as
your role in connecting people, and in particular, AAPI communities, with
farming and food issues?
peoples came from a land-based society. So everyone should be involved with
food! Food is one of our most intimate relationships in several interconnected
directions. I realized from a very young age that I wanted an intimate
relationship with my food. It's basic, but the world is so fast and
disconnected that this simple relationship has been strained. With our most recent piece about corn, I've realized how
profound the cycle I have with corn is: I grow it. I eat it. I make art
out of it. I fight for it. As the Maya embody: "We are
people of the corn."
My dad grew up in a farm. Many Filipino/Americans like us come from a
lineage of farmers, who tilled the land and produced the food on their plates.
Here in America, where farming is not encouraged, we have lost that intuition,
that labor of love, that control and awareness of where our food really comes
from. I want us to remember that past, and imply that in our present.
GMOs are an especially heated issue right now,
especially in California. If you had just one sentence to express your
feelings about GMO labeling of foods, what would you say?
I want to know what I’m putting in my body!
met this woman working on the Prop 37 campaign and she was wearing the best
shirt. It said: "GMO OMG WTF are we eating?" 'Nuff said.
can find “Free Our Seeds: Seeds Are Free” at Mama’s Art Café, 4754 Mission
Street, San Francisco.
Voices on GMOs and Prop 37 at SAAPISA.
Suzara is a Filipina/American educator, cook, food justice advocate, and
graduate of the U.C. Santa Cruz agroecology apprenticeship. Her writing has appeared
in Earth Island Journal, The Colors of Nature, Growing Up Filipino, and her
blog Kitchen Kwento.