Author Caitlyn Shetterly discusses the future of our food

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17


Caitlyn Shetterly, author of “Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future,” spoke at Mount Holyoke College on Sept. 26. The event was co-sponsored by the Odyssey Bookstore and the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, and was attended by dozens of community members and Mount Holyoke students. 

Shetterly is also the author of memoir “Made for You and Me,” and edited a collection of short stories surrounding the theme of divorce, called “Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce.” Shetterly was prompted to write “Modified” when she discovered that the cause of her and her son’s illness was the genetically modified corn they were ingesting through their food. Indeed, there are currently 85,000 chemicals used commercially in the United States. Additionally, rates of cancer and endocrine disorders are increasing rapidly in agricultural areas. 

“Modified” began as an article by Shetterly in Elle, published in 2013, entitled “The Bad Seed,” on the agricultural and biotechnical industries. The article went viral, and as Shetterly told the audience at her appearance at Mount Holyoke, biotechnical companies attacked her in response to the article, stating that a woman could not write a credible article on a scientific subject. For “Modified, “Shetterly met with Rick Goodman, a seed scientist who “wasn’t particularly pleased about my portrayal of GMOs and he felt that I should have put more about the positives … This topic is so inflammatory and there is so much money to be made and lost … Probably the most powerful thing you can do on the planet is control the world’s food supply,”she said.

Shetterly noted that her appearance at Mount Holyoke coincided with the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. She said, “It’s also great we’re here on a debate night. But the interesting thing is that this is probably the most important thing in the election that nobody’s talking about.” 

The most often cited advantages of GMOs are that the crops are better resistant to pest outbreaks, thus reducing the danger of crop failure, increasing the nutritional value of crops through the insertion of genes, and the possibility of growing more food with less land.

For “Modified,” Shetterly traveled through Europe with beekeepers, where she says she learned “about the power of trade alliances.” Shetterly also shadowed a beekeeping friend, who, she noted, felt terrible every time she killed a bee (conversely, another beekeeper Shetterly encountered loves the particular sound of the death of a bee). Shetterly recounted how her friend instructed her to move as if she was doing tai chi in order to avoid being stung. Shetterly continuously returned to the fragile, essential relationship between people and nature.

She returned to this relationship when asked by an audience member whether she had any ideas as to how to divert the upcoming generations from the temptations of technology and encourage them to commune with nature. Shetterly responded, “I’m having a hard time as a mom these days because I’m trying to teach my kids to honor and love the natural world… and also that it’s dying… I can’t protect my children from what’s coming at us.” She added, “Everything from a butterfly to a blade of grass is special… Connecting with the earth is so important because that’s the only way today’s children will have something to fight for.”