Genetically modified food: welcome improvement or risk?
Jacques Pepin is one of America's best-known chefs. He is the author of 24 books, including a best-selling memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. He has also hosted nine public television cooking series, the most recent of which is called More Fast Food My Way. Pepin was born in rural France and his first exposure to cooking was in his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican. He began his formal apprenticeship at the age of thirteen and went on to work in Paris as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He moved to the United States in 1959 and studied at Columbia University. Pepin is a former columnist for The New York Times and now writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine. He received France's highest civilian honor, the French Legion of Honor, in 2004. He lives in Madison, Connecticut.
Question: How has technology changed cooking in the last 50 years?
Jacques Pepin: Well technology certainly has changed a great deal of the cooking. And it’s changing maybe even more so now. There is good and there is bad. Certainly things like the food processor, saran wrap and plastic . . . or rubber spatula are, for me, great innovation of the last 30 years. But it is like this, you know. We always manipulate food. And our ancestors, you know, didn’t have anything to eat. And what we call wheat now was actually a wild . . . a wild weed which through cross-breeding, and changing, and manipulation we end up now with this. I mean not that long ago when I was a child, you could not eat string beans. _________ on one side, and the other side which I tried to do . . . And I had to do a couple of _________ or whatever it was that my mother wanted me to do. My brother and I tried to cut the end of it with a scissor, too, which of course those beans were absolutely uneatable. So now there have always been some manipulation to make it better without the string; or to make the animal fatter, or not as fat, or more tender, or this and that. So those manipulations have existed all the time. Now bio-engineered food is something else, you know, that we get into other areas which have to be controlled. I am not, by definition, opposed to anything. Because I think to feed the world we need that type of improvement. But it has to be extremely controlled, you know? But without any question, if you can do an egg which tastes like an egg for me – as good as an egg – and it has half the amount of cholesterol, why not? You know if you can have a tomato, that because of some manipulation, doesn’t need to be sprayed with an insecticide or pesticide or anything, being resistant to this, why not? That may be a plus. But as I say you have to do that with circumspection. You really have to control it.
Question: Welcome improvement, or risk?
Jacques pepin: It could be an improvement, and it is an improvement in certain part of the world. Certainly in Africa where you can feed more people in much larger yield in what you may do. But it has to be done with an extremely, extremely serious control so that we don’t get out of whack and we end up using fish to put into vegetable, or all kind of genetic manipulation which may destroy the, you know, the world in many ways. So I think you’re . . . I am not an expert on this. And when people talk to me about it, I may be convinced because I have a Nobel Prize of ________. And the day after I will have another Nobel Prize which may know about it, and I will be just as convinced, you know? So I think there is good and bad in those things. What I said is it has to be done with the assent of the public to start with; with the knowledge of the public so they know about it. You cannot change a product in the supermarket without telling people, so we should know about it. And we should . . . and it has to be done under very, very strict control.
Recorded on: 09/04/2007
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