Many religions have laws governing ritual purity. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, ruled that under its own laws, a gluten-free wheat wafer cannot be used to confect the Eucharist. Unless you are a canonist or otherwise versed in this sort of thing, please, reader, spare me complaints about this. It is just as parochial to complain about why Jews can’t eat bacon, Muslims can’t drink wine, and so forth. It is what it is, and there are reasons within the various traditions for these taboos. The point is, gluten-free wheat wafers are unacceptable for the Eucharist in Catholic churches, because the Church teaches that they literally cannot be transformed into the Body of Christ by the priest. For Catholics and Orthodox, the bread literally becomes the flesh of God; you can’t just use any old bread, or the ritual will not work. That’s why making sure you have the right elements (e.g., wheat that’s “kosher” for Eucharist) is so important. That’s got The Ochlophobist wondering about whether or not bread made from genetically modified (GMO) wheat can pass these purity laws, both in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Depending on how the various churches rule on the GMO wheat matter, this could be a huge problem, given how quickly GMO crops are becoming the standard in this country.
Once GMO wheat takes over the market, going to the store and getting a non-GMO, unbleached white baking wheat flour is going to cost a lot more than it does today. I suppose even the poorest Orthodox parishes could still afford it, but nonetheless there is something disheartening in having to go to an upscale store or the upscale aisle at your local grocery in order to purchase something which is natural and relatively unmolested. As we see in so many arenas in the late modern American life, what was once a good quotidian human act or experience shared by the many is now only kept for the rich. One pays top dollar today to eat the sorts of foods once eaten by peasants – a simple stew with a couple ounces of pasture fed beef and organic vegetables and grains which have been processed in a traditional manner might cost you $60 at the right place. Purchasing the requisite items at Whole Foods might still cost you $20. Thus unless you are a person of means, you either grow/raise the food yourself or you eat laboratory foods.
By the way, last summer as we drove to Colorado, we passed a Monsanto plant in the Texas panhandle. My wife hissed at it. What’s that about? I asked. “Do you not understand what that company is all about?!” she shot back. And then she proceeded to tell me, chapter and verse, with the approximate vigor of Luther reading out his 95 Theses. This is the kind of thing she’s talking about: in 2003, Monsanto sued a large Maine organic dairy for putting on its milk cartons a statement saying that its milk contains no artificial growth hormones; the agribusiness giant, which manufactures synthetic growth hormone used on milk cattle, said that the statement hurt its business. The dairy settled out of court with Monsanto, under terms that weren’t disclosed. Ochlophobist writes:
When a company with $110 million a year in profits [the Maine dairy] cannot muster a serious fight against Monsanto simply to defend its right to state what it does not put into its milk, you can imagine the intimidation that your local family raw milk farmer feels when facing the prospects of fighting a dairy industry and state bureaucrats controlled by Monsanto who are dead set on keeping raw milk sales, even private sales, illegal.
I showed Julie this entry before I scheduled it to post. She said, “Oh, you haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet. Wait till you see what Monsanto does to people who try to save seed.”