Also, What If We're Attacked By Beets? What Then?

Guest blog by Mateo Burtch.


Dear Ms. Doctor Ronald--

I recently had the opportunity to read Simplicity Today, the magazine of the University of Reed alumni association, and its article on you (or someone who looks like you and has the same name as you and is apparently you). I found it to be fascinating and educational in the extreme, so extreme that I actually burned myself on it. I also found it very easy to read, once I mastered the "trick" of holding the magazine rightside-up.

Although, because of time constraints, I was only able to skim a few of the shorter paragraphs, I believe I got the gist of the article, which was, if I'm not mistaken, science.

Now, I am very pro-science. I believe that science is our future, along with bean-bag chairs and radio. I feel that that every child in America, or wherever they live in the US, should be exposed to science, although only for brief periods and only while wearing a protective lead suit. I also believe that carrots are not our friends. This last point is, admittedly, of only tangential relevance to the matter at hand, but I feel that I should express all my beliefs at once.


Despite my fervently pro-science stance, much of what I nearly read in that article causes me great concern. As a small farmer (4'9") struggling to compete in the cutthroat world of agriculture, I am very concerned about genetically modified orgasms (GMOs). I believe that any artificial tampering with sexual function, other than using margarine on the upper torso, is likely to ... wait a moment. I see by further skimming that I have made a small mistake here. Evidently the correct term is "organism."

Never mind, then.

Dr. Ronald, I work very hard at farming. In my case, I raise bacteria, mostly E. coli, in my stomach, and sell them at farmers' markets. It is a niche enterprise, as the only farmers' markets that cater to this enterprise are very small--very small, indeed. (Most of my buyers are larger bacteria.) Now, it is not the thought of "monster genes" that worries me. Frankly, I wish scientists would take much less care in this area, because I am hoping someday that someone will accidentally invent a hot dog with wings that will fly right into your mouth. No, it is the notion of corporate control of GMOs (organisms) that causes me distress. I am not referring so much to companies like Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland, because I am pretty sure that these firms will either sink through their own avarice and venality, or from being hit by asteroids, but other corporations. I am thinking specifically of Toys 'R' Us. Dr. Ronald, have you and your organic husband never stopped to think what might transpire if Toys 'R' Us gets hold of the gene?

Perhaps the thought of a genetically modified Slinky doesn't bother you. Perhaps you don't care if Mattel creates a pesticide-resistant Barbie that CANNOT BE KILLED. Perhaps you welcome the day that Hasbro markets a Lite Brite that contain genes from a Big Wheel.

Well, I don't, Dr. Ronald, and that's why I will continue to raise my stomach bacteria the old-fashioned way . . . on manure from farm animals and rich, loamy deposits of night soil. Yes, it means extra effort, and, yes, my yields may not be as impressive as those of the big, factory-style bacterial farms that double as agribusiness cattle ranches, but I believe that the old ways are the best ways. (Of course, there is always room for progress. Which is why I put a steering wheel on my horse.) If this means that I will miss out on the coming revolution in food-based toys, well, then so be it. That's a small price to pay for piece of mind, although it's rather a high price to pay for, say, shoe inserts.

Thank you.

Mateo Burtch
has been working as a tech writer since slightly before Deuteronomy was penned, but his real ambition is to invent a self-folding pillow.
(reposted from Tomorrow's Table August 25, 2009)


Portrait of the artist as a young space cadet.

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Dear Dr. Burtch

I appreciate your taking time to skim a paragraph or two of the article in Reed magazine and then providing an in-depth highly analytical response based on your previous entrenched opinion of the issues. You are not alone in your concerns on food safety. I receive numerous letters from people like you who are strongly supportive of science and who also have time to read the internet to learn what scientists are plotting. Such letters are invaluable in helping bench scientists like me understand the workings of the mind of average Americans. As my new found hero Barney Frank would say, 'What planet are you from?"

Although I do not personally work on toys, I do understand that glow-in-the-dark zebra fish are for sale and quite popular. I suggest you buy some, put them in your tank (Please add water, they will do better) and stare at them for a long time. This will give face to gill time with GMOs and will further your scientific training. As is true with all Zen practices, you will have much less time to read the internet and write letters but it will provide peace of mind to you and those you would normally correspond with.

All the best,
Ms Doctor