Is Monsanto Evil? (+ How I Got Paid in Veggies, not Bucks)

Is Monsanto Evil? (+ How I Got Paid in Veggies, not Bucks)

10 years ago, when I was still in Greece doing my undergrad in engineering, I had actually heard of an american company called Monsanto. I didn’t really know what it was doing. But I knew one thing: Monsanto was evil.

The reputation was that Monsanto was creating evil technology and that they were “buying” people to support their cause. Fast forward 10 years, I now have some experience with Monsanto’s “buying” people practices. I visited their facilities in a #meetveggies event for writers and I was also paid: in #shillveggies and a car rental reimbursement.

Is Monsanto Evil?

Now 10 years ago I didn’t really care about the subject so I didn’t pay attention to the “Monsanto evil” claims. But those claims would show up again – and they were not just against Monsanto. They were also against me.

A few months ago I decided I’d stop relying on other people to give me the answers on what I should eat. I had the (fascinating) idea that maybe science, not individual “experts,” would have the answers!

So as I started digging in for my new What Should We Really Be Eating? series I was bound to come across genetic engineering. Even though some consider GMOs to be a controversial issue, in reality they are not. GM crops are as safe as non-engineered crops, says scientific consensus from labs all over the world.

I got fascinated with the technology and what it can do for us – from world hunger to climate change we can use genetic engineering to our advantage and benefit our kids and grandkids. And that’s how I wrote an article called “10 reasons to eat GMOs and feel grateful for it.”

Monsanto shill
Just one of the attacks over at the Credible Hulk’s page.

And that’s when it happened! Apparently I was getting paid to write that article. Apparently noone can support genetic engineering if they’re not receiving money from evil Monsanto or some other company. I now have a “shill logic” album on Facebook showcasing just some of the absurdity.

It’s one thing seeing this happen to others and totally another to have it happen to you. Considering I didn’t even know a single Monsanto employee at the time, this was all quite peculiar to me.

So imagine my intrigue when Monsanto did actually reach out to me and asked me to visit one of their facilities  in Woodland California for their #meetveggies event. I said “yes!”

  • First, I’d get to visit one of the most pioneering companies in the world in biotech.
  • Second, I’d actually get to meet some employees of this “evil company” and get a first-hand experience on what they’re doing.

The arrangement was straightforward: Monsanto would pay for my rental car and I’d get to spend a day at their farm, tasting vegetables, and talking with plant-breeders.

Count me in!

But before I tell you all about the event let me get one thing straight:

Monsanto does NOT pay bloggers to support them or write about them.

Monsanto is notorious for paying trolls and bloggers to support its agenda. But that could not be further from the truth. I got to discuss this with Janice Person, the Online Engagement Director of Monsanto, when I visited their farm in Woodland, CA.

(Notice the mentions to Food Inc and Stonyfield Organic.)

Monsanto does not pay bloggers or sponsor articles. It does not play people to comment on other people’s sites. Not that doing so would necessarily be wrong – plenty of companies actually do compensate writers for their efforts. This is just not a practice that Monsanto in engaged in.

So how did I get “paid?” Here’s the full list. Monsanto:

  • Reimbursed my travel expenses to attend the event (car rental, gas)
  • Let me pick vegetables at their farm
  • Gave me a bag to put in the veggies I was picking
  • Gifted me and everyone else a watermelon knife
  • Gifted me a Monsanto-branded water bottle
  • Gave us a Monsanto booklet on how food is grown.
  • Let me eat (free) lunch together with the Monsanto employees at lunch time
  • And of course, free coffee! And water. And I could use their bathroom for free too. Nobody asked me to pay to visit the restroom!

And here’s a picture of what I brought home.

Monsanto goodies
What I brought home that day: Shillveggies I picked at the farm!

Monsanto also made it very clear I had to comply with the FTC rules. I’m not allowed to write anything, good or bad, about the event without mentioning #travelpaid.

So no, they are not sponsoring this article. And no they did not sponsor the article I wrote about GMOs (but hey Monsanto, if you’re reading this, and want to “tip” me for my past writing efforts, let’s discuss.)

A day at a Monsanto (evil) farm

Our day was split in two: First, spend time at the farm discussing with plant-breeders about different vegetables (and pick some too!) Second, return back to the building, have lunch, and do blind tasting. Here are a few pictures from the event.

Before we went to the farm, we gathered in a conference room in the first floor. We spoke with a plant breeder. We learned that it takes 10-15 years to develop a new variety. We develop new varieties to create better flavors or textures, or make plants resistant to plant diseases, or help plants thrive in conditions they wouldn’t normally thrive. 

Part One: The Monsanto (evil) farm.

We started off with a visit to the pepper plant breeder.

Monsanto evil
Monsanto, evil, pepper plant-breeder showing us all sorts of different pepper varieties!

Meg from thebeefjar.com and I posing with the “pepper guy.”

monsanto evil farm
Don’t think for a second that we were having fun. We were NOT. I repeat. We were NOT.

Then we got to check out their squash varieties.

water conservation
Notice that the ground is wet only under the squash plant and not in-between? That’s to conserve water.

Who loves watermelons?

Monsanto evil watermelon
Seedless watermelons, huge long watermelons, circular watermelons, yellow watermelons. I love them ALL!

I’m Greek. I love the classic Greek salad with tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, and feta cheese. Those tomatoes were one of the highlights of my day.

Monsanto evil tomatoes
Those are not the tasteless tomatoes you get at the store. Those are some of the most flavorful tomatoes ever!

Part Two: Back at their building.

After exploring the farm we went back to their building. We had lunch and then were led to a conference room upstairs. We were up for a surprise because this is what we found on our table:

Monsanto evil experiment
“Please wait for instruction before tasting?” Who’s evil enough to to do this type of torture and not let us eat!

We had to try each sample and rate it with a scale from 1 to 9. Apparently it was melon in the boxes.

Monsanto vegetable
See the “dislike moderately?” That’s me. Melon happens to be the one fruit I don’t like. Bummer!

But then I got to try something super-tasty. I just didn’t know what it was.

Monsanto mystery
What’s in there?

 

Monsanto evil liquid
Blue liquid? Seriously?

I had to guess: Melon, Grape, Apple, etc?

Monsanto seed
I voted for apple. It ended up being watermelon. Don’t ask!

In my defense we were told that guessing this particular flavor would be really hard. Indeed only one of us guessed it right. The other 9 just got it wrong.

Then we went back to the first floor for a quick Q&A session and once that was over, we were then “allowed” to go.

So I drove 2.5 hours. Reached home. And thought it’d be an excellent idea at the time to shoot a video showcasing exactly what I brought home from the farm and also discuss my first impression. Did I mention I had woken up at 6 am on that day to make sure I was at their facilities by 9?

Overall, everyone was super-nice and the culture was “chill.”

I needed to visit the restroom. The restroom was behind double doors that you needed a Monsanto badge to go through. The receptionist just gave me her badge to go through the doors, alone, and search for the restroom. No big deal.

I cannot imagine this happening in another big company. For example at LinkedIn, the receptionist takes all your info, gives you a badge, and then the person who’s signing you up as a guest is supposed to be with you at all times. You can’t just walk around on your own. Let alone walk around using someone else’s badge!

When I visited a friend at Facebook HQ the situation was pretty similar to LinkedIn’s. Plus, you “sign in” at their building with guess what – Facebook! So Monsanto’s chill attitude definitely made an impression.

Monsanto employees are super-friendly.

At least the ones I met were super-nice. Super-friendly. Eager to talk. We briefly talked about the hate against the company. I was actually really curious about that. Why people hate Monsanto so much? And why don’t they hate its competitors as much as they hate Monsanto?

People hate Monsanto because they hate genetic engineering.

Monsanto has come to represent genetic engineering. So people who hate the technology, hate Monsanto. I don’t want to discuss GMOs in this article, but I do want to get one thing straight.

Just because someone is supporting genetic engineering that doesn’t mean they’re getting paid by Monsanto or any other company. If you’re against genetic engineering, are you getting paid to oppose it? Think twice before you accuse people just because you don’t like what they say or what they support.

And with that said, here are some GMO resources:

  • I strongly recommend GMOanswers to help you better understand the technology. By the way, if you believe that foods “contain GMOs” then you definitely misunderstand the technology and need to do some reading.
  • If you were influenced by Gwyneth Paltrow’s anti-GMO stance, here’s why you shouldn’t be listening to her. That includes getting influenced about trying vagina steaming too.
  • If you understand the technology and want to for a second feel lucky that this amazing tool is now available, check out my GMO article on why I love them!
  • If you’re furious reading this article and are about to post a Mercola or a Natural News article in the comments, please avoid embarrassment by reading this first. It’ll help you understand difference between what is a credible source and what is not.

And now let’s get this back to you: Is Monsanto evil? What do you think?

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17 responses to “Is Monsanto Evil? (+ How I Got Paid in Veggies, not Bucks)”

  1. Thanks again for making that long drive! I know the day was a really long one. Hope you made some yummy meals with those tomatoes, peppers, etc!

    • Maria B. says:

      Thank you Janice! Thanks again for the invite! Tomatoes made for a delicious bean salad. Zucchini was used in this amazing dish with potatoes, olive oil, and feta cheese.

  2. Nutrition prof says:

    great article-I’m giving it to my paranoid students (who I tell I still await my shill check)(they never come, do they?)
    Are you familiar with Kevin Folta?

  3. Megha says:

    I think its telling that your article only got 2 comments.

    • Maria B. says:

      And 400 shares. And lots of comments on Facebook.

      Do you have a specific point to make or are you here to spread negativity?

    • Megha says:

      I enjoyed listening to your interviews on ZTL and was drawn to your persona and your website. However, this article made me sorely disappointed. I think its a completely lose-lose piece. You not only not get money from Monsanto but also lose faith/voice with many readers without making any valid claims about why Monsanto is not “evil” A civil and fun treatment to a fitness blogger/author in a controlled environment over a morning isn’t sufficient ammunition to all the claims against the company. And the guest blogger on your site who uses celebrity names in their post title is equally guilty of grabbing traffic by using the celebrity’s name as is celebrity who used her status to make (allegedly) un-backed claims.

    • Megha says:

      Hi Maria,

      I am sorry for the dis-respectful comment on your blog. Regardless of my personal opinion, it was not the right tone to take.

      I actually think its quite good that you are transparent about your positions. This way your readers can make a well-informed decision about becoming your clients.

      Personally, it was a big disappointment for me to come to your site and read your position on this issue. I had been expecting someone very different. But that’s my problem.

      Apologies for the un-warranted ill will that my comment generated. I hope you will understand that it stemmed more from disappointment than contempt. Not justifying the insensitive comment, just explaining where it came from.

    • Aaron says:

      She made her point. You remind of a passive aggressive. Ignorant people like yourself have to die off so that humanity can continue learn and grow with our planet.

  4. ItsTurtleTime says:

    My issue with Monsanto was never GMOs but their practise of patenting seeds, then attempting to sue farmers who re-use the seeds in the next season. You didn’t even address that!

  5. Pepper Culpepper says:

    Where does food grow? Out of the ground? Or in a lab? Where did food grow for hundreds of thousands of years before scientists decided to start telling people was a need for GMO food? That’s right. It wasn’t in a lab. There isn’t a fuel shortage and there isn’t a food shortage, there are only gullible folks who believe science has the answers to the problems humans have created. And how many times has science gotten it wrong? Ancel Keys’ Lipid Hypothesis comes to mind. What about when “they” told us we should avoid eggs? Oops, turns out pastured eggs are great for you. Human beings got on just fine without industrial agriculture for 190,000 years. Now, all of a sudden, we’re all suffering from ADD, depression, schizophrenia, addiction, alcoholism, autism, heart disease, cancer, and on and on. And I’m supposed to believe it’s not diet related? Give me a break.

  6. Kevin EarthSoul says:

    Hi Maria,

    I found your site through discovering your ExerciseBliss website, and I’ve just been browsing the rest of your work.

    As someone who is studying Permaculture and Sustainability, I have my issues with GMF (Genetically Modified Foods), but they aren’t what so many others are concerned about. Mainly, what concerns me are the underlying assumptions behind “why we need GMFs”. There are several fallacies here, which Monsanto is quick to promote: first is that we NEED GMFs to feed the world. In fact, we already produce far more food than is needed to feed all 7 Billion people on the planet. We can easily produce enough to feed 10 Billion. The main issues with poverty, food availability, and production are economic, not agricultural. Monsanto’s model is based on the large-scale industrialized, mechanized farming model which now controls most of the Agricultural market in the developed world. They, in fact, overproduce. They produce so much that much of our production is GIVEN away, undercutting prices of local farmers. It drives down prices below which more traditional farmers can compete, driving them out of business. Monsanto then arrives on the scene, offering their seeds. But the farmers, who are accustomed to saving seed from one crop to the next are forbidden from doing that, and are obliged to buy these seeds year after year from Monsanto (and other GE seed companies like them). It forces farmers into the agro-chem business model, requiring them to also buy the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers needed to grow these GMO monocrops, and often going into debt to do so. It’s a business model from which they have no escape, except suicide– which many are doing every day now, as their lives are ruined by this economic model.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers%27_suicides_in_India

    Furthermore, we have to examine just how the foods are being modified and for what reason. Many of these crops are being modified to resist pesticides and herbicides which are highly toxic (just look at the equipment needed by the farmers when they apply the stuff). While the genetic modifications themselves may be benign, are the chemicals benign which are designed to be applied to them? Monsanto was, before they were a seed company, a chemical company, producing herbicides (they have since spun off the division that was responsible for producing Agent Orange in Vietnam, but they still share that pedigree).

    What we need is to completely reexamine food production. Giant agro-chem destroys soils, desertifies environments, toxifies river systems, and is unsustainable (particularly as weeds and pests become resistant to their products). It’s a brute-force paradigm of overpowering nature to make it conform to the most profitable business model, not the most productive or healthiest business model. Am I against all genetic modification of foods? Of course not! But the whys and hows leave much to be skeptical about and suspicious of.

  7. GoTeamNZ says:

    I’ve just discovered you. Read a few articles. And it seems like you subtly advocate for corporations. Something seems fishy here. Also telling readers that Monsanto doesn’t pay you, doesn’t mean that they don’t.
    Oh wait look the next article is that supplements don’t work! But let me guess big pharma meds are all we need? Don’t think I need to read anymore.

  8. Jose Alberto Rodriguez says:

    My really concenr is not GMO, but mainly there is a lot of farms with valid complains on the increase of bugs or bacterias on their crops since Monsanto crops are in the area, of course is an indicator but not a probe of causal, however is a strong point, maybe they should clear that in a valid level.

    After all GMO’s have help us a lot, but the monsanto company has earn bad reputation not only for the GMO’s but the way you have to pay or maintain the crops, theres papers saying the crops have to be re-purchase too many times wich is a bit logical when you change the crop, but for old fashion farmers and farmers who actually had to make a profit sounds really hard.

  9. mrggfep says:

    evil is not limited to genetic engineering, their legal team is evil for making farmers pay royalties when the monsanto genetics were spread by airborne pollen, their marketing practice is evil for banning farmers from seed saving, they are evil for encouraging the use of roundup prior to harvest and claiming that roundup is safe for human consumption… they are evil for putting dollars before being decent global citizens, even if we don’t talk about GMO they can be labeled evil for may other reasons…..

  10. Roary Batt says:

    Interesting article…. I respect that you have gone to the trouble to do some detective work to try and clear the air on this highly controversial topic. There are, however a few red flags that need to be highlighted.

    If Monsanto were completely transparent about the safety of their crops then why have they lobbied for GMO’s to be sold unlabelled? If they had any respect for the rights of consumers and absolute safety of their products on human health, they would allow the population to make INFORMED decisions about what they would like to purchase…..ominous.

    Scientific proof is the ruling arbitrator when it comes to forming public perceptions. While this proves to be a very effective means of validating or nullifying suggested hypothesis, it is susceptible to manipulation when an interested party has access to very large sums of money, the right connections (FDA) and is highly motivated to make further profits. In these cases statistical analyses can be very easily ‘tweaked’ in order for the data to be skewed in favour of validating the hypothesis, or in some cases the null hypothesis.

    There is very little evidence of long-term studies conducted on humans. Long term being over 2 months. Why oh why would anything that has not been thoroughly studied by our beloved science be given the all clear to be distributed all over the world, let alone on the very food we need to not just survive, but thrive. There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence* suggesting toxicity, allergenicity and carcinogenesis from the consumption of novel crops. Even if this isn’t in a scientific study, would it not be wise to err on the side of caution when we are talking about our food supply?

    Anecdotal evidence – https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Genetic_Roulette.html?id=RXlFAQAAIAAJ

    We are told that the main motives for genetic engineering are to cater for a growing global population and to address world hunger – a motive which seems very pure and one that a lot of people could get behind. Significant increases in yields can be expected when farmers are taught sustainable practices** so why neglect these resources if they also provide a host of environmental and social benefits* that come with them?

    *ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/meeting/012/ah952e.pdf
    *http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/55/7/573.full
    *http://www.stopogm.net/sites/stopogm.net/files/Orgsupply.pdf

    Genetic engineering is not to be feared, it could one day be optimised to be safe but today is not that day. Monsanto is like a child who has found their fathers gun. They are too immature to wield that sort of power and responsibility, in the wrong hands the consequences could be disastrous. Maybe when that child has grown up then the technology will be ready to be integrated into the foods system.

  11. Donna D'Amico says:

    Who knew?….no more spending extra on organic food or milk….thanks for doing all the research

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