The event “Ask Me Anything About GMOs” last September 10 organized by the Alliance for Science of Cornell University to celebrate Science Week was an experience I will never forget.
First, because in my entire life as a priest of 16 years from the Philippines, it was my first time to do the task to co-moderate in a forum in the United States. As a priest, of course I have stood and spoken in front of many people not only to give a homily during Mass but in many other forms of gatherings. But always in my own country and in the company of my people. That was why, even before the event started and as it continued on, I did not stop praying that everything will happen smoothly and I will not say or do anything that may spoil the evening.
As the Unitarian Church in Ithaca started to fill up with people, my own anxiety started to rise as well. The event was about GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms and I knew that this topic is a highly debated and oftentimes emotionally charged issue in America. So I was anticipating that people from all sides of the GMO issue would come to the event to ask and be enlightened.
Enlightened indeed I was.
The event that was organized to answer questions from the “curious” turned out to be more than just a “question and answer” session. It may have been my unfamiliarity with American culture and ways but as hands rose to be recognized for the questions that were to be answered by five highly respected scientists, all experts in their own field of competence, I realized that several people who were at this event came not to “ask” and be enlightened but to voice out accusations against anyone involved with GMOs and insist on what they know as true.
It was indeed a “baptism of fire” for me to co-moderate an event that was so charged with emotions and deep passion that I thought sometimes bordered on the ridiculous or irrational. In the end, I was the one who was truly enlightened. And I felt sad.
My enlightenment made me realize the huge gap between the rich America and my poor country the Philippines. That night, I realized how rich countries, in their abundance on material things and food would be very focused on how their agricultural produce are made and marketed while my own would be concerned about whether food would be sufficient for all. That event, “Ask Me Anything About GMOs” made me feel how truly fortunate are the American people because while their concern is about what food to buy or eat, will it be GMO food or non-GMO, in my country, the only simple concern of many of my countrymen is whether there will be food on the table today or none at all.
I felt sad for my country and my people. I am happy for America and the American people. God bless America.
photos by Shailee Shah
Click here to see a video of the #AMOgmo event.