‘Tomorrow’s Table’ today: Ronald to speak on genetically modified foods



Pamela C. Ronald is “absolutely essential for this week” at Chautauqua Institution, said Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

“She is an expert on genetically modified foods,” Babcock said. “That is a subject that is too difficult to say ‘I’m for it’ or ‘I’m against it,’ and it’s actually a really complex set of circumstances.”

Ronald, author of Tomorrow’s Table, will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater on the role of genetically modified foods in today’s world.

Babcock hopes that Ronald’s talk will get people to begin thinking about both how food impacts them on a personal scale and how it affects the world at large. Babcock said that, in the United States, we have less problems with food shortages than the rest of the world, but it’s still an important topic to begin thinking about because it’s becoming more and more relevant.

Ronald’s lecture on genetically modified foods is part of the larger theme of Week Two, which is “Feeding a Hungry Planet.”

“Not only do I think that she is a really important person, but the topic — we’re talking about feeding the world — you really have to talk about genetically modified foods,” Babcock said. “You might decide you’re completely against it, but you still need to talk about it. And that’s why she’s critical for this week.”

Ronald’s research has focused on the science of food and the ever-increasing importance of its role in the world. She currently works as a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. 

In addition, she serves as the director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute. Her book, Tomorrow’s Table, explores the idea that combining genetic engineering and organic farming is essential to feeding the world and its expanding population.

It’s an area that Ronald has both professional and personal experience with. Her husband, Raoul Adamchak, is an organic farmer and co-authored Tomorrow’s Table with Ronald.

This firsthand experience gives her a unique position on the issue.

In an interview with the North Carolina School of Science and Math, Ronald said that she and Adamchak “really believe we have the tools and the knowhow to greatly enhance sustainable agriculture, but we really need everyone at the table, including consumers and farmers and educators… students that are interested in agriculture, philanthropists and government organizations as well.”

Ronald is passionate about making others more informed about genetically modified foods, something she spoke about in a presentation at The Long Now Foundation Seminars about Long-term Thinking.

“I don’t like the term ‘GMO,’ because it’s genetically modified organism, and of course, everything we eat is genetically improved, so that didn’t work for me either,” Ronald said at the presentation. “What I feel would be really nice would be if we could have complete information.”

Babcock said that, as she sees it, there are two very different positions on genetically modified foods.

“Some people say that if we don’t have genetic modification for things like drought resistance, insect resistance and some ability to modify plants to get more per plant, that we don’t have a way of feeding the planet,” Babcock said. “And others say that genetic modification has chemicals that we don’t want, or some surprising outcomes that we don’t want, and it might affect our health. Those are two fairly distinct positions, and they really don’t listen to each other.”

Babcock believes Ronald’s unique stance will help Chautauquans get a fuller grasp on the issue of genetically modified foods, one that Babcock said can be “completely puzzling.”

“As I understand, Pamela Ronald has a view of both,” Babcock said. “She will present a position that shows there are some things that you can do that will help the food supply and help world hunger and won’t damage people’s health.”