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.”
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 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.
Meg from thebeefjar.com and I posing with the “pepper guy.”
Then we got to check out their squash varieties.
Who loves watermelons?
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.
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:
We had to try each sample and rate it with a scale from 1 to 9. Apparently it was melon in the boxes.
But then I got to try something super-tasty. I just didn’t know what it was.
I had to guess: Melon, Grape, Apple, etc?
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?