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Waiting for Sapote

Waiting for Sapote

white sapote tree

white sapote tree

Nestled in the southeastern corner of the not so Secret Garden on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus is a sole sleepy sapote, a white sapote tree. I was on campus for a number of years before I first found it. It offered an odd connection to a past I had recently left behind. My undergraduate degree had begun with an interest in anything Mayan or Aztec. 2012, the accepted end to the Mayan calendar was right in front of us and with all the romantic – or cataclysmic – ideals being floated around at the time that interest easily took on legs of its own and morphed into something more. I was desperately trying to get out of the IT business and into something different. I had become stagnant. I used to feel my ideas were flexible and malleable, as is often needed in this ever-changing world, but my ideals had become stale and uninspired. I was tired and looking for a cure. I began exploring the historical ritual and medicinal use of the Central America food-ways and how that had evolved into the modern treatment seeking behaviors people now implored. As a graduate student I began looking specifically at cannabis as a food or medicine throughout history. I was curious what had made a people decide to abandon a plant. One that had shown such positive results and received so many accolades over the last few millennia for its efficacy in pain relief management. I wondered what had made us so adamant that what was once good for us was now so wrong it had become illegal and unavailable. Following that I decided a little diversity was in order and chose to pursue an interdisciplinary Masters degree focused on sustainability and hemp while enrolled in an environmental humanities program that was more humanities based. In my first semester I took an environmental creative nonfiction class and was tasked with writing a lengthy paper on a “place”. The focus was the 5 senses.

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The class was challenging and it left me with a continued appreciation for life few other classes have; I still find myself stopping, being still, finding my present and my presence, and just focusing on a detail, a thing of the mundane, something I wouldn’t normally pay attention during the everyday hustle and bustle. The sounds behind the silent hallway. The smells that aren’t part of food or flora around you. How does the ground really feel under your feet? Do you feel the vibration of the plates beneath your feet? I will never see the world the same again. I felt like I had lived my entire life with only a taste of things that surrounded me. Working on the sense of taste paper is what brought me to the white sapote.Roblox Robux Hack 2017

ASU hosts a Farmer’s Market[1] during each full semester on the Tempe campus; I go primarily for the tamale, but I have also learned a thing or two from the various presentations that have been given, chatting with the vendors, or just hanging out with other lunch goers. Among other things I learned that Arizona State University was established as an arboretum[2] by then University President Lattie Coor in the early 90s and that we are a prime supplier of Sour Seville Oranges to the valley and a huge producer of dates; those are primarily grown out on the Polytechnics campus. During my research I was able to get a list of edible plants on campus. Armed with that I started looking for new things to taste. Seeing how neither dates nor oranges would have been a new experience for me I looked for something else. Japanese persimmons, European olives, quince, even some jujubes are available for the willing consumer. I, somewhat haphazardly, chose the white sapote first.

The white sapote is a large evergreen tree. It is a native to eastern Mexico, Central America, and Costa Rica. Sapotes produces an edible apple sized fruit that ripens in October. There are a number of varieties of this fruit bearing tree, the most common form being the “white” variety. The dull glossiness of the white sapote leaves have a deep emerald hue that contrasts nicely the pale, light green skinned fruit it bears. The fruits I have handled range from 1-2” inches in diameter to a full 5-6” across. The outer skin, or exocarp, has the texture and feel similar to an apple. It can be peeled much the same if the fruit is still firm and has not reached peak ripeness. The mesocarp, or the delectable edible inner fleshy part shares some anatomical likeness to the peach, but has a creamy apple custard consistency. Depending on the level of ripeness this area can have a flavor profile that lies somewhere between the blandness of a pear and the juicy sweetness of a banana. The ones I am have access to tend to resemble firm mangoes in both texture and taste. In their native regions, to our south, the flesh is cut up and used as an additive to fruit cups, mixed into drinks, or just scooped out and eaten with a spoon. If you have ever been to Latin American countries it is not uncommon to see children eating mangoes in the same fashion (Spurrier).

Sapote, or tzapotl, means “sweet soft fruit” in the Nahuatl language. The white sapote is specifically known as cochitzapotl, a combination of cochi and tzapotl, or more specifically, “sleepy sapote”, due to its soporific effect (Siméon). The continued use of the original Aztec or Nahuatl name, or as translated to sapote, has created some confusion as the name sapote refers to any and all “sweet soft fruit”, but this does not adequately describe the variety with the sapote family. For instance, the white sapote is a member of the citrus family, but the black sapote is not. It is actually a persimmon, which is morphologically a berry. Where the white sapote has what one would consider to be a taste and texture akin to a pear or an apple, the black sapote has a taste and texture more like chocolate pudding (Spurrier). I had been told by a number of people that the white sapote I was nibbling from on campus was supposed to come close to this same consistency and a super sweet sugariness, when fully ripe. However, mine were always firm with a sweet blandness.

White sapote exploded, October 2014

White sapote exploded, October 2014

While the trees are native to regions to our south they were originally migrated north by the colonizing Franciscan monks who brought the two most commonly recognized varieties up into the California region in the early 1800s; 200 years later they can still be found scattered across the lower warmer regions of the state as abandoned “empty lot” plants that have randomly sprouted from scattered seed or past plantings. Those two most common varieties are the green skinned white flesh variant, which is what can be found on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, and the golden skin, yellow flesh version. The golden skin variety of the tree is said to be sweeter but they have a shorter shelf life than their green colored brethren, although both last merely days. This shelf life is the main reason the tasty fruit doesn’t have from a more prolific role as grocery store staple. Both fruits tend to ripen quickly and are easily bruised. Their fragility is so high that on a number of recent occasions I have found ripe fruit that has fallen of its own accord, but exploded on impact with the hardpan below.

It is the delicate nature of the fruit that protects it from the industrialized uniformity of mass production that has befallen such worldwide favorites as the banana and the apple. The sapote fruit are at their most vulnerable when ripe and ready to be eaten. However, it is not easy to look at a hanging fruit and know if it is ripe. Unlike most fruits, the white sapote does not determine its readiness and maturity internally. Therefore it does not physically show itself to be ready when ripe. There are a number of external stimuli that identify or trigger the ripening, such as damage to the outer skin or falling from its tree. When any damage is done to the exocarp, even at the earliest stages, it results in a darkening of the area. The fruit underneath will decay and become watery and bitter. The preferred method to achieve ripeness is to just be patient and let the stem fall off on its own. As the fruits begin to mature they can be snipped or snapped off a few inches above the fruit on the attaching stem and then carefully placed aside. When the fruit has become ripe and ready to eat, the stem will fall off. If the stem is given a sharp twisted and removed early the fruit should be eaten soon as possible as the area will proceed to blacken and the bruising will spread out from this focal point. You can imagine the effort that it would take to harvest and transport a fruit of this delicate nature to market intact, in an acceptable and eye appealing fashion. If they are shipped, each fruit is individually hand wrapped once ripe and then packaged in an insulated and refrigerated crate for travel. An almost herculean effort for a bit of nature’s sugar. The only real efficient way to enjoy this wonderful treasure is to gain access to a local grower’s harvest or directly to a tree itself as I have done.

White sapote fruit, September 2014

White sapote fruit, September 2014

A curious aspect of the tree’s organic propagation is the remarkable variety that comes from planting seeds. They behave very similar to the apple in regards to its unpredictability. If you plant a handful of seeds in the backyard a significant portion will not take root at all and of those that do they can be of almost any variety, from short and bushy to tall and lean. You just never know what become of what you have planted until it happens. Due to this, most cultivators expand and renew their crops through grafting. Grafting is the process in which one plant is merged with another through physical means by making a slit in the new parent and placing a slice of the new sprout into that location and letting the two plants become one. This has been the primary method for growing apples in this country ever since we made the switch from growing apples for cider production, which doesn’t necessarily care what variant you feed it, to edible grafted apples for human consumption as grown, not processed (Pollan). A new example of innovation in this vein is the work of Sam Van Aken of Syracuse University. He has created a tree capable of bearing 40 different fruit through the “old ways”, without genetic engineering. It is called the “Tree of 40 Fruit”. Sam is not a scientist, he is an artist, a humanist (NPR Staff).

As with apple and many other fruits the white sapote can also be consumed as a beverage. The Aztecs of Central America were one of the earliest known consumers of the plant and probably drank it as both part of their nutrition plan and for ritualistic occasions due to the natural euphoria the fruit would induce. Based on our understanding of material goods uncovered, it is suspected that the fruit was steeped for its euphoric effects and the seeds brewed into a tea for their poisonous qualities. Understanding some of the more deadly Aztec rituals, the ceremonial be-headings and ritualistic displays of power, makes it easy to imagine that they could have used the doping effects to help make their indentured and imprisoned more susceptible to their desires and will. There is a lot of speculative writings on the true depths of knowledge concerning the fruits historical euphoric use and and the threat level of the poison in the seeds. It is hard to find any concrete support for the poison use other than some mildly anecdotal evidence and some of the plant’s folklore. However, the sleep inducing euphoria became well supported by science in the late 1800s and has been routinely confirmed a number of times since then. When a large supply was sent for study in 1900 to Germany it was found that “both the fruit and the seeds possessed sleep-inducing principles but without the undesirable after-effects of opium” (Morton). There have been further studies on the fruits effects on blood pressure in dogs and even more recently zapotin, an extract from the fruit, has had some isolated success with colon cancer cells (Luisport). With its rich and mysterious history, the wide variety of uses; from medicinal to therapeutic and the more ominous ones, and its delicious edibility, the white sapote is definitely a life overlooked here in Tempe.

Now, let’s not kid each other. The opportunity to eat from a relatively safe plant that had even a hearsay’s notion of historical, especially pre-historical, mind and life altering qualities, or – at the very least – some medicinal or spiritual value, is beyond my ability to resist. They are said to have a fairly wide range of flavors, but the tree I eat from has a mild, almost tasteless, pear or apple profile at the beginning of its ripeness, but I have learned that if you wait, if you have the patience, you will be rewarded. The size, shape, and texture creates an expectation of what you will be biting and ultimately, regardless of its ripeness, the expectation rings true with mine. My lack of enthusiasm for either a pear or apple flavor may be what has elicited my “mostly tasteless” response when eating from these during the early stages and most of my friends have agreed or just said it tasted bad. I do believe they set their own expectations poorly. There might have been some coercion involved. I brought a knife and a number of napkins with me that first day and looked around until I found a fruit that looked to have fallen recently. A number were crushed from falling, or being trampled on, nearby and looked very unappealing but I found one still intact on the floor. I made two vertical slices towards the core of the fruit and pulled out a wedge shaped slice of meat. The inside flesh was firm and pale. The poisonous seeds they harbor inside were large enough to easily cut out and avoid. There were 4 of them. I took the obligatory picture for the social networks; posting such typical trite as “What is this? …before I bite.” and bit. I really am very conservative when it comes to risking my life, regardless of what you may have heard. I chewed and I swallowed. I sat and smoked a cigarette. I had yet to quit. It had yet to be outlawed on campus. I waited. I had another bite. I finished my coffee and my cigarette. Nothing. I was disappointed. The last time I ate anything labelled as potentially soporific on a college campus was more than 20 years ago, but from what I recall I was well aware my senses had been otherwise engaged pretty quickly. Back then it had been a creeping sensation that slowly overtook me, but I remember being relaxed, a little giddy, and overall a mild euphoria and warmth through my body. I was hoping for something similar. Not so with this morsel. Bummer.

Virginia Piper Writing Center

Virginia Piper Writing Center

After gathering the requisite refill of coffee, and nibbling down the rest of the sapote, I ended up in one of the big rocking chairs that sit outside the Virginia Piper’s Writer’s House[3]. It was the first of many mornings there; whether it be studying or working it was a quiet place to spend the early hours before campus became populated with the others. The sapote wasn’t a total disappointment, I did eventually feel mildly lethargic. It could have been the rocking chairs. A stark contrast of where the coffee should have brought me. A nap was sounding really nice after a while.

Western culture is obsessed with taming the human body. Control is the name of the game. We drink coffee to wake up. We munch on energy bars during the day. We drink energy drinks alongside our new fad diets to stay fit. We have more choices for sleeping aids than the average restaurant offers in carbonated beverages. Recent information from WebMD’s insomnia center provides a smorgasbord of options: Ambien will help put you to sleep but won’t keep you there, Belsomra artificially regulates your sleep-wake cycle by interfering with how your brain reacts to naturally occurring orexins, Lunesta helps you fall asleep and keeps you there so don’t take it unless you can stay in bed for 8 hours – the FDA has cut the starting dosage down due to next day impairment, Rozerem is another that targets the sleep-wake cycle and the first to list “no evidence of abuse” in its description, Sonata is the shortest lasting of the cocktails and doesn’t leave you drowsy, and Silenor is for those people that can’t stay asleep, but again there are warnings about next day impairment – after that, we quit calling them by names and jump right into the families of Benzodiazepines and Antidepressants or take a stroll through the formal over the counter options such as Sleep Aid, Unisom, and Mel-O-Chew. These last options are typically antihistamine or melatonin products[4].

In and of itself having a plethora of sleep aid choices would seem like a good thing. Everyone knows how important a good night’s sleep is for a healthy body. But at what cost? Why are we in such a hurry to get some rest that we need a pill to bring it on quicker? Are we that impatient these days? What are the downstream effects of the control we have managed to impose on the human body?

“A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000 found measurable amounts of one or more medications in 80% of the water samples drawn from a network of 139 streams in 30 states” states a 2011 Harvard report on Drugs in the Water. The same report cited a California study from 2007 estimated that over half of all medications are discarded (Harvard University).

Fourteen years later the EPA’s list of over 90 different contaminates that water must be tested for still does not include any drug or pharmaceutical[5]. If we have identified a palpable problem with the addition of pharmaceutical in our water system it might make one question why we do not seem to do anything to rectify the situation. In fact, based on the contaminant list of the EPA, I would assert that we seem to prefer to bury our heads on the subject as a collective, but that doesn’t mean we have to as individuals. The primary source of pharmaceutical contaminants are due to improperly disposed of medications or the unprocessed expelled waste after ingestion. None of these are necessary. There are a multitude of other choices and if we would concentrated on looking at our roots or those roots of others that came before us we may find even more options in the canopy above or the carpeted woodland or desert landscapes.

Maybe we should do as others have suggested and begin a dialogue with the plants. Maybe if we paid a little better attention, if we immersed ourselves in the present, in the now, we could learn something from our flora brethren. Both Stephen Buhner in his book, The Lost Language of Plants, and Michael Pollan in his book, The Botany of Desire, believe that plants have something to say if we just listen. Michael Pollan believes that some plants have directed humans over time and have some sort of natural tenacity to survive and get us to help them. He makes a convincing case for apples, potatoes, tulips, and cannabis. What he illustrates through his book is an intimacy with plants that we no longer even recognize, the relationship and the shared impact that it creates for both plant and human is absentmindedly overlooked (Pollan). They are so much an ingrained part of our lives and culture we simple don’t notice even as we work together to achieve successes.

Stephen Buhner discusses a similar idea in regards to our intimacy with plants and his concept of biophilia. Biophilia, as identified and defined by Buhner is “a deep fondness for, connection to, and love for life forms and living things” or more specifically our loss of that – is our biggest problem according to him (Buhner). Buhner believes it is the loss of this inner sense, this essence of our soul, is the primary dilemma we face now. Too much television, too many drugs in the water, in our food, we fought the good fight and the distorting of nature won, I get it. Buhner has a 2 step program as the real goal as biognosis – “to know life through, the deeper spiritual and intuitive faculties of the mind…” – and to get there you have to get have biophilia first. Without that our innate connection and earth wise spirituality seems to be lacking.

Spontaneous, event driven, and innately nurtured activities are among the possible avenues to this 1st stage of enlightenment, but Buhner’s message is clear: It doesn’t matter how you get there, it is just important you do, for everyone’s sake. The techniques offered are great for allowing new and potentially life changing perspectives, but only in quick flashes; as a regular path it’s a fairly inaccessible idea between the “college, job, family” system we live in. So beyond a history lesson of how we got here and some stretching exercises are we giving up or will there be a sequel? If we listen and pay attention can we create a future world where that which has been overlooked is no longer? Can nature save us if we listen and nurture that nature? Or do we continue to ignore it in a race to accomplish?

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In a world concerned with the future of our food-ways the genetic modification purveyors have created a burgeoning industry. The white sapote tree currently sits outside their grip, but I believe the important possibilities represented by the white sapote tree offer a good illustration of some of the pitfalls and potentialities of that industry. When you are able to create and manipulate a food source for your own specific benefit the pull to do so may eventually become too much to resist. However, we too often rush forward in pursuit of superior production yields, bacterial resistance, or other some other benefits perceived as “worth it” without weighing the consequences. What if we were able to find a way to modify the white sapote for purposes we could truly benefit from. A new and natural fruit sugar substitute. Something that could get us to stop suckling the teat of corn and help those with corn allergies by providing a new alternative. What if we were able to engineer a white sapote to provide a higher level of zapotin that was not only effective against colon cancer, but eradicated it and other cancerous forms. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? It might even help people have a new positive perspectives on GMOs and their ability to enhance our future. The potential is there. We just need to get the mad scientists out of the lab and add some compassion, creativity, and vision to the discussion. Diversity. We need polymaths. Humanists. People that look for imaginative outcomes. People that imaginatively create the outcomes we would like to see and even those we would regret. Then everyone can discuss them. We need thinkers that are trained to take in the whole of human conscious when they plot their stories. Maybe if we did that we would make less mistakes. At the very least we would have more people ready to solve the big problems as we encountered them rather than the post event defensive posture we take now. If not, there are dark places along the path. What if we mutated and modified a plant that had the cure for colon cancer just to provide a little longer shelf life? That would be catastrophic. I admit its a less likely scenario than many other consequences, but we are talking what ifs here. We need to understand what consequences lie in our wake before we must solve them. One of those consequences we are already witnessing now, the consolidation of the food chain is very much upon us.

“Whoever owns the seeds, owns the marketplace” (Future of Food 2004). This is a daunting statement from the 2004 documentary “Future of Food” that focused on genetically engineered foodstuff.  This statement succinctly explains how the genetically engineered food industry has recently begun to dominate the production of a number of staple crops in our country. It is important that we have an understanding of the consequences of consuming genetically engineered products (often referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMO) because the future may not allow us that choice, or resemblance of our former control of our food-ways. As a consumer it is vital to have an adequate sharing of knowledge in order to make informed decisions on the products that have, and will continue to become, our daily bread.

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Genetic engineering is categorized as biotechnology. Biotechnology, according to Frederick Rock in his 2010 report, Redesigning Life: The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering, “adopts the method of using cellular and bimolecular processes to solve problems or make useful products”.  Rock mentions how some forms of biotechnology have been used for thousands of years by humans to produce necessary food and textile; agriculture and the choosing of specific plants and their breeds are biotechnology at its basest form. Rock states that, “In recent years, however, the term ‘biotechnology’ has come to mean the use of genetic engineering and its associated techniques” (Rock).

White sapote seeds and fruit

White sapote seeds and fruit

Genetic engineering was introduced along with DNA research in the 1970’s.  Genetic engineering emerged from a series of discoveries and developments that concluded by 1974. Although the physical science of altering a plants’ structure did not originate until the early 70s, “the idea of owning or patenting food originated back in 1930” (Future of Food, 2004). According to Stewart Brand, in his book Whole Earth Discipline, the first applications of genetically altered products were meant to be cost effective and a safer way to generate large quantities of insulin for treating diabetes; very admirable goals (Brand). It is possible that honorable intentions could be had with something as benign as the white sapote, but “what are the consequences?” was a question still not asked early and often enough. Following the discovery of manipulating genes, Congress began introducing “restrictive legislation” according to Brand, but a number of them had already been let lose into the wild. During the early days of this scientific revolution scientists were able to manipulate living organisms and their distinctive cell structures to create a different but yet, more desirable product. In order to provide an idea of how powerful the genetically engineered industry has become according to Bailey, and Lappe, “In the mid 1990’s there was virtually no acreage planted with genetically altered plants; by 1996, there were 500,000 acres planted. At the end of 2001, “there were nearly 100 million acres planted globally” (Bailey, Lappe). Brand argues that the manipulating of cells in genetic engineering is not “creating new technologies but more so joining with an old one” (Brand). Brand compares the technology that occurs in genetically engineered products to that which occurs in nature in microbes and which has occurred for billions of years. What Brand does not take into account is that within these scientifically engineered foods high doses of certain bacteria and proteins are instilled into the food which is meant to make the plant virtually indestructible and is later ingested by the consumer. Things that could not happen naturally. Studies of what that does to those consumers is not well researched, but much of the available anecdotal evidence includes discussions around birth defects, early onset of puberty, and an increase in various allergies in our youth should raise some flags. In the beginning stages of genetically altered food, the focus of the industry was to create “herbicide tolerant plants and plants with built in insecticides” (Bailey, Lappe). For these plants that were introduced the creators did not see any harm in using these products; however, environmentalists and consumers did not easily take to these genetically engineered plants. These plants with high levels of herbicides and insecticides have been shown to cause dire effects multiple years later in individuals who consumed them. Later studies indicated that there were negative impacts on both humans and animals that were consumers (Bailey and Lappe).

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The industries that support genetically engineered food believe that these products will enhance the quality of the lives of those who consume them, not harm them. However, genetic modification can also lead to the destruction of entire ecosystems that rely on the natural plants that grow compared to the scientifically engineered seeds that will intermingle with the natural plants. Who does that harm? It was not genetic engineering that caused the potato famine, but the death of diversity in potato breeds ultimately is what caused the famine to be unstoppable. This consolidation was created through agricultural breeding techniques and breeding specificities, the out of the lab, or natural way of GMOing. Writers such as Brand embrace the idea of genetically engineered food because of the positive effects that can occur with the consumption of these products. Brand’s argument centers around the idea that in nature this intermingling of organisms takes place all the time and genetic engineering provides a “precision, speed, and reach” (Brand). The problem that environmentalists and consumers have with this idea is the rate at which these products are produced and the lack of testing before they are released unto the world. “The agencies that have overseen the testing of these products such as the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to date have not found any evidence that these products are causing any public health or environmental concerns that would warrant these agencies to intervene on the distribution of these products”(Bailey and Lappe). But what if a mistake was made at the time of creating these organism and then released into nature where that life would eventually reproduce that same mistake or make new ones? What if those consequences are still unknown? Not finding any evidence “to date” doesn’t give me very many warm fuzzies. Rock states in his report that “human activities can produce unintended, rapid and possibly disastrous genetic change”. You can’t close Pandora’s Box once it has been opened. Everyone knows that. It would seem some patient contemplation may be in order.

White sapote, ripe and exploded

White sapote, ripe and exploded

Is the white sapote a candidate for GMO inclusion and investigation? Probably not, but shelf life would be gained and the time to market and longevity of sales could turn an empty lot plant into a profitable enterprise. If the evidence pans out that colon cancer can be combated with sapote then there is an even bigger reason to consider it. Or is there? It would seem that reason would be one worthy of consideration; but what if those same genetic manipulations bred out the genetic qualities that could remedy that, or other forms of cancer? What would we do then? Do we trust nature to be our partner or do we manipulate nature to be our servant?

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Why are we always in such a hurry to get somewhere or to accomplish something? Does our perceived need haste for haste override our need for sensibility? This consolidation of the food chain is troublesome. To control an entire food chain is to control its people. Evil, New World Order agendas are spewed endlessly by the opposition, but I believe there are some good intentions and desires driving all this Frankensteining of our food-ways. Maybe just a little restraint and discussion is in order. Stewart Brand makes some valid arguments in his book Whole Earth Discipline concerning ideas about the future state of the Earth and the necessary changes that are need to be embraced by our population as the primary focus for a successful and productive future. Some of the solutions that are offered by Brand simply need to take place in order for us as humans to survive on our planet. His argument for the support of genetically engineered food stems from the informal experiment that took place in 1996 where everyone in North America began consuming large quantities of engineered food crops. His data compares the individuals who did not consume these products in Europe with the individuals in North America and the findings from this experiment indicate that there have been no adverse effects of the individuals who consumed the genetically engineered products. He states, “No difference can be detected between the test and the control group” (Brand, 2009). Peter Raven who contributed to Brand’s argument sums up the results by saying that hundreds of millions of people have consumed these foods and no one has ever gotten sick. Brand suggests that these genetically engineered foods can eliminate world hunger, certain allergies, and create “high yield crops”. It is an interesting factor to keep in mind that the biotech industry has “tried to recast itself as the savior of the world’s hungry” (Tokar).  What these companies do not communicate to consumers is how various relief agencies and other countries where food shortages are being experienced have quickly deflated these claims that genetically engineered products cure world hunger. It is very interesting however to note that many countries other than the U.S. have banned genetically modified foods. Brand’s arguments regarding genetically engineered food do not take into account that only fifteen years has passed since the initial experiment; which for many environmentalists and activists is not a lot of time for something to be studied. The rate at which these products were produced did not allow the proper time for agencies like the FDA to truly examine the longer term effects of these products. There is a lack of research that has been done. There is no due diligence. We have no patience. Thankfully the power of social media has come forward in recent years and the public is much more aware of what GMO can mean to themselves and the future of their loved ones.

White sapote tree, October 2014

White sapote tree, October 2014

I have continued to routinely visit the white sapote and the Secret Garden over the last few years; even after the papers I have mentioned it in have been turned in, even after the friends and coworkers I have shared it with, even after running into hundreds of others hiding in the garden over the years, it still feels like my secret. I feel at peace. It is a quiet place in a world where quiet is hard to be found. For me, it is a place where time stands still. I have watched the cycle of the fruit on the tree and as the fruit has looked ripe I have tasted of it. It has been inedible at times and others it has been just bland and unrewarding. Although I appreciated the soporific effects I found the fruit to be uninspiring. It just left a dull taste in my mouth. There was no life, but I still pushed on. I kept returning for new pictures. The freely provided and needed quiet time. The peace and the patience. My project was a bust. I had learned nothing, there was no deeper message, and my inspired excitement had been trampled to a point of abandonment. Much how I was feeling about my own life.

I went back one last time. I had enough pictures. I had spent 5 years here. I had enough notes on the Secret Garden to cover it in two classes, I had. There was nothing left to learn. The garden and I had been through a lot the last few years. We both were still standing. Where it was well grounded, I was still swaying. I had begun to ask myself what really had changed in the last few years; what had changed at all. I was struggling desperately with a chaotic personal life.  I wanted to put this to put this disaster to bed on every front. It was Veteran’s Day, November 11th. Two weekends prior had been Halloween. Halloween was also homecoming at ASU this year. On the ground at the base of the tree was a fallen and exploded sapote fruit. It lay dormant and destroyed in a lump of dirt and juices. “Whatever”, I thought. I looked up and saw that all of the reachable branches had been picked clean. It could have been the Homecoming crowds, or maybe one of the monsoons had slipped over the walls and thrown a party in the garden, who knew. I just knew I had to go back and clean up a poor excuse for a project and find some deeper meaning to put this project, and me, in the done pile.

[testimonials backgroundcolor=”#4c4c4c” textcolor=”#ffffff” class=”” id=””][testimonial name=”” avatar=”male” image=”” company=”” link=”” target=”_self”]”I never thought about change until I spent a little time where time stood still” – Better Days, Uncle Kracker[/testimonial][/testimonials]

I had started smoking again earlier in the year (remember the chaotic personal life? there have been a number of consequences) and while the university had now outlawed it on campus I was in no mood to be restrained by such nonsense. I rolled a smoke and slid back behind the tree. It was a fairly quiet area most days and where I now stood I was out of sight of the majority of the windows that looked to have any activity inside. From my corner I looked around a bit to see if there were any additional pictures I could take. They would at least help fill a few pages here and there. I took a picture of the squashed fruit on the ground. The skin was clean. The exposed fruit had no dirt or bugs on it. The mesocarp, was a brighter and deeper yellow orange than the fruit of previous specimens I had tasted. I had stayed away from exploded fruit in the past when there were others to choose from. The sheen of sun that played down its side had a wetness to it that was undeniable. This was not what I was used and this particular fruit looked not only ripe, but freshly fallen. I immediately imagined the victorious look on Dr. Adamson’s face when I would tell her my deeper message had literally fallen from the sky in the last weeks of class; I just as quickly decide to hold that one back. Sometimes things are better if you wait.

I bent down and picked up the mangled treasure. The fruit gave easily and the juices ran down my hand as I closed my hand around it. I took a bite. Filet mignon. That’s it. My first thought was of steak. But not just any steak. The most prized tip of tenderloin from deep within our sacred cow. The piece that melts in your mouth. The kind of steak you could eat with baby teeth. But this had flavor! Unlike the steak, it was sweet and delicate all on its own. It needed to be devoured. No bacon needed with this morsel. It was best eaten then and now. Mother Nature had provided and she is good. I just had to wait for her.

My unintended patience had been rewarded. Maybe I should apply the lessons I learn about life from others to my own from time to time. Hopefully no one messes with this tree and her riches remain naturally available for many generations ahead. Sometimes good things just take time and sometimes those things don’t need to be shared with everyone. It is true that genetically engineered products can enhance certain qualities in food or possibly qualities of lives in the individuals who consume them, there is still not enough research that has been done to ensure their overall safety or the longer term effects. The absence of evidence does not indicate that no harmful effects are present; it simply means that more long term studies need to be conducted. There is only one life that we have and it is up to us to ensure that our quality and quantity of life is not sacrificed by our lack of due diligence in the important decisions that take place. We must be patient. We must engage diverse audiences and collaborators. We must listen to the trees.

[testimonials backgroundcolor=”#4c4c4c” textcolor=”#ffffff” class=”” id=””][testimonial name=”” avatar=”male” image=”” company=”” link=”” target=”_self”]”We suddenly found ourselves inhabiting a sensuous world that had been waiting, for years, at the very fringe of our awareness, an intimate terrain infused by birdsong, salt spray, and the light of stars.” –  David Abram[/testimonial][/testimonials]

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[1] For a current schedule see

[2] For more on the arboretum please see

[3] For more information on the writing center see

[4] For more on insomnia options from WebMD see

[5] For the current EPA contaminant list see



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