Food Studies at Brown Welcomes John Lang to Speak on Genetically Modified Food

On Friday, December 2, Food Studies at Brown warmly welcomes John Lang, Associate Professor of Sociology at Occidental College, to speak at Brown University on his recently published book, What’s So Controversial About Genetically Modified Food? All interested parties in the Providence area are warmly invited to attend.

As a sociologist of food who explores the intersection of consumption, culture, and trust, Lang could not have found a more compelling case study. Lang places the debate around genetically modified (GM) food and our current “menu of choice” in social context. He demonstrates how controversies about GM food are but “a proxy debate” that articulates larger issues of social and political power, cultural values, corporate responsibility, intellectual property, democratic practices, science, and technology through concerns regrading risks and benefits, expertise and knowledge, fear and trust.

Lang novelly argues that genetic modification is not only a complex issue, but perhaps one that has misguided our attention and political activism. Going so far as to describe GM food controversies as “largely symbolic in content,” Lang points us to the heart of the issue as he writes:

Time, energy and money have been dedicated to debates about whether GM food has more potential for good or evil, yet these resources might be better spent seeking solutions to known problems in agricultural practices and systems, like contaminated and inadequate water supplies, degraded soil quality, stresses of climate change and persistent distribution problems. That we have become so focused on genetic modification controversies is the biggest problem of all. The scientific tool of genetic modification is not the ultimate problem, but rather a distraction from the persistent problems that plague our international food system.

After spending more than a decade researching this topic, Lang shares, “I hold a relatively neutral position on GM food.” He asserts that rather than narrowly focusing on genetically modified foods or issues like GM labeling, we will be better served by broadly advocating for increased social responsibility and local adaptability throughout the food system. Such a focus seeks to dismantle the links between profit, industry-wide consolidation, scientific hegemony, and intellectual property law—which form the current foundations of genetically modified technology.

In the end, Lang finds inspiration in Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary: The Long Lost Novel; that we can make good use of “the continuing tension between restless idealism and an impending sense of doom” to fuel our search and activism for more just and culturally appropriate solutions within our global food system.

Please Join Food Studies at Brown for:

The Tension Between Idealism and Doom: Our Future with Genetically Modified Food

John Lang | Associate Professor of Sociology, Occidental College

December 2, 2016 | 3:30 pm | Smith-Buonanno 106, 95 Cushing Street (Map)

Warmly open to the public

Co-Sponsored by Brown University American Studies, Science and Society, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Anthropology, and BIOL 0190U: Plant Development, Structure and Function

About Food Studies at Brown

Food Studies at Brown began in spring 2016 and currently involves dozens of faculty members across disciplines such as American Studies, Anthropology, Biology, English, Environmental Studies, Medicine, and Public Health. Courses offered by Food Studies at Brown affiliated faculty explore food, culture, and identity; food systems, agriculture, and sustainability; food policy and issues; nutrition, health, disease, and medicine; and food writing and media; among other topics as well.

Food Studies at Brown approaches food from a broad and interdisciplinary perspective. We examine the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience, including culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts. Across our campus, faculty, students, and staff engage with food in myriad meaningful ways. Food Studies at Brown endeavors to bring food-related research, teaching, projects, activities, and events together in one place so that we can synthesize our efforts across campus and the community.

For more information regarding Food Studies at Brown, contact Emily Contois at emily_contois [AT]

Top image credit: Emily Contois, 2016