Made of corn

By Mir
April 1, 2009

Otto and I went to a fancy-schmancy banquet last night, because he won a fancy-schmancy award. Because he’s kind of a rock star.

Sometimes proper parenting has to take a back seat to free steak, so Monkey was informed that his current behavior was being tabled until tonight, because we already had the sitter lined up for last night. (He did, however, write a very nice apology note to the vice principal after we had a brief discussion, which is sort of going to take all the joy out of grounding him for the rest of FOREVER when we talk, tonight.)

(The sitter, by the way, was someone who came on recommendation from a friend of a friend (thanks, Foodie!), and marks the first time I’ve left the children with someone I’ve never met. I still can’t decide if this marks growth on my part or just the worn-down-ed-ness of old age.) Chickadee, in particular, was very excited about the whole thing.

“What do you think she’ll BE LIKE?” she kept asking, as she dangled her legs from my bathroom counter. She was alternating between leaning over to dig through my drawers for hair pretties and watching me, agape, as I straightened my hair with the Magical Straightening Iron Of Extreme Voodoo And Shiny Straightness.

“I have no idea, honey. She’s a college student. She likes kids. She sounded really nice on the phone. SHE WILL NOT FALL FOR YOUR LITTLE MIND GAMES.” For some reason, this did not seem to be the answer my daughter had in mind.

“In the Babysitter’s Club books there are all sorts of rules,” she remarked. “Like, it says you should always tell the mom she looks pretty. Why is that?”

“The sitter is supposed to?” I asked. She nodded, and I laughed. “I guess it’s because usually the sitter is there because the mom is going out, and maybe the sitter gets a better tip if she pays her a compliment.” I finished straightening my hair and moved on to make-up. (Have I mentioned lately that it’s exhausting, being a girl? There are very good reasons for my working from home in my pajamas. I don’t have time for this crap every single day.)

I had one eye done when the sitter arrived, and Otto let her in and I heard Monkey jabbering away at her in the other room. When I finished the other eye, I took Chickadee out to say hello, even though my make-up was half done and I hadn’t found my shoes, yet.

“Hi, Kristi, I’m Mir. It’s nice to meet you!” I know you can’t tell much from appearances, but she was pretty and sweet-looking, and the kids were obviously smitten with her on first sight.

“Hi, Mir, nice to meet you!” She answered, with a big smile. “Wow, you look really nice!” she added.

Chickadee burst out laughing.

I ran off to finish getting ready, and before long we’d bid everyone goodbye and were on our way. A night of being grown-ups! And eating someone else’s cooking!

Well, it turned out that there were about a gazillion people at this thing, and Otto knew exactly three of them. And that would’ve been fine, but those three people all knew lots of other people, so before we knew it, we were left to fend for ourselves.

A nice young foreign couple came along and the man immediately tried to strike up a conversation with Otto. Unfortunately, he was heavily accented, his wife appeared to be completely mute, and it became apparent in approximately fifteen seconds that we had absolutely nothing in common. After a few “I am going to tell you all about how I came to work here in Georgia. Now I have told you. How about you?” kinds of conversational prompts from the poor guy, they wandered away. Otto and I were relieved, and scampered into the dining area to sit down and hopefully avoid talking to anyone else.

Another couple happened along by our table, and as they seated themselves we all did introductions and this time it appeared that at the very least, we’d be able to converse. We chatted for a while, and then one of the three people Otto knew came and sat down as well.

So. Otto was on my left, his coworker—let’s call her Sally—was on my right, and then on her other side was the woman from this other couple—let’s call her Sue—who, as we’d discovered through some conversation, works at a plant lab where they alter the molecular structure of things like corn.

You know what happened, right? I mean, you really can’t take me anywhere.

“So, Sue,” I said, trying to talk past Sally as politely as possible, “explain this to me. You’re altering edible plants, yes?”

“Oh, yes!” she answered, and went off on a long monologue about how people in third world countries who eat almost nothing but white rice tend to have a vitamin A deficiency, and then something called golden rice was developed and that has vitamin A actually put back into the genome, and it’s so wonderful that this groundbreaking research is allowing us to do things like this, and at her lab they’re modifying corn and soybeans in different ways, and it’s all just so fascinating and remarkable.

“Soooo… wait. Isn’t GMO corn supposed to be really bad for you?” I asked.

“Oh! Well, don’t worry, none of the projects we do are actually for human consumption. Humans will never eat the plants we modify, so no worries there! No, what we do is modify the plants in certain ways to enhance certain characteristics of OTHER organisms when THEY eat them! So, for example, did you know that most farmed fish has color added to it? Well, we’ll modify soybeans to have the things in it that make salmon pink, and then they’ll be ground up and fed to farmed salmon! It’s much more natural, that way!”

I looked over at Otto, who was busy talking to the person seated to his left.

All I could think of was those horrible high fructose corn syrup commercials, where someone says “That’s got high fructose corn syrup!” and the other person gives them a DUH sort of look and says “So?” And then the first person says “Well YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY about that!” and the DUH person responds, “That it’s made of CORN?”

Sally was entranced by Sue’s explanation, and they began talking about other applications of this research. I muttered to no one in particular, “I don’t think soybeans are the salmon’s natural diet.”

Some time passed, and I sat there sipping my water and eating my salad, and finally I could stand it no longer. When there was a lull in their discussion, I leaned across Sally to Sue, again.

“So, Sue,” I started. “Would you eat fish that was fed those modified feeds?” Sue blinked at me. “I’m just curious,” I added. “Would you feel comfortable consuming fish that had been fed genetically modified soybeans?”

“Well…” she started, shooting her husband a look that clearly said she thought I might be an angry vegan, or worse, “We, uh, lived on the coast for years and years. And you pretty much can’t get any decent fish here, so I really don’t buy fish at all.” Now it was my turn to blink at her. “But I WOULD,” she continued, lamely, “I mean, I wouldn’t be concerned about it being unsafe, or anything. I just happen to think the fish here doesn’t taste very good.”

“I… see,” I said. Sally started in again on whatever they’d been talking about, before, and I went back to my salad.

Dinner was surf and turf—a slab of salmon, a slab of steak. It was delicious. I tried really hard not to think about where it came from or what it might have eaten. I did notice that miss “I never eat fish here because it’s awful” ate hers, though. Huh.

After that, I stuck to sipping my wine (and later, my coffee) and only talking to Otto. That just seemed safer. Also, after we came home I decided to start my own farm and only eat things I’ve grown myself. Oh, wait. No I didn’t. I just took off my nice clothes, got into my pajamas, washed my face, and begged Otto to please not make me go schmooze with people again for another year.


  1. Megan

    Congratulations to Otto – who is already a total rock star thanks to his continuing role on WouldaShoulda.

    Aaaand… not going to touch GMO ’cause I honestly don’t know enough about it any which way!

  2. Aimee

    Heh. You were like Mir, Girl Reporter. I tend to shy from confrontation, although I find that tendency melting away as I get older. Good for you for pressing her on it.

  3. B

    Hmmmm….I’m going to one of those award dinners tomorrow night for my (profesor) husband. Ok, it’s not for him specifically…it’s just for his department or something. So far, I’m thankful to report that I haven’t had any controversial conversations with anyone at any of these type of things. Whew! So glad he’s not teaching at the Univ of Michigan anymore. That was always a great place for me to step in a pile of you know what without hardly trying.

  4. Amanda

    That just icks me right out.

  5. Lylah

    If we’re ever both at a fancy schmancy dinner I am totally sitting next to you.

  6. Scottsdale Girl

    Mir: those things are for snarking on people’s fashion choices, not controversial conversation.

    Really. :)

  7. Debbi

    LOL!! My husband would have removed me from the table as soon as “sue” said what she did for a living! OMG…I give you credit for being so quiet! Good for you. That had to be such a long night!!!

  8. ailo

    Wait, why are all GMO foods bad? Are people just icked out by science having a direct role in their food production?

    Why aren’t people icked out by corn and apple varieties that have been bred for hundreds of years to achieve specific characteristics?

    What about GMO plants that are altered to have specific disease resistances but where the changes have no expression in the fruit that we consume?

  9. nil zed

    I’really glad at my husband’s university in California they celebrate these things ‘in-house’ generally, instead of me having to go along. While he’s been on leave of absence there to come teach here in England, we’ve been to a handful of bring your spouse type events. at the last one, there was assigned seating, not with your spouse naturally. Then the gentlemen had to switch to another seat for the second course, which caused all the mayhem you can imagine considering most of the men were the professors who could not possibly be expected to handle the complexity of turning their placecard over to indicate the name of the person who should come claim their chair, then take their drink & napkin with them when hunting for their new placecard. Plus, nobody warned the waitstaff at the delightful country pub that half their guest would be switching seats, losing track of their drinks & wanting fresh silverware & napkins.

    I got stuck first with a grumpy, long-winded boring guy, then a professor emeritus with hearing problems, also long-winded, which was just as well I suppose

  10. meghann

    “I don’t think soybeans are the salmon’s natural diet.”

    I am SO glad I wasn’t drinking anything right then.

  11. bob

    it’s interesting that she didn’t have any concrete defense of her work. she could have at least admitted to the controversy surrounding it. maybe she just doesn’t respond well to what she may have seen as confrontation.

  12. exile on mom street

    Glad you had fun (sort of, kind of, maybe?), but I wanted to hear about Monkey’s shrimp getting fried!

    Or whatever it was we all decided to call REALLY BIG TROUBLE.

  13. Dawn

    Salmon don’t eat soy? You never know. They could be vegan salmon.

    *boom tish*

    I just LOVE talking to academics. I have a bunch of friends who are professors who seem to have developed workable social skills over the years, but some of their colleagues? Conversations normal with not so good. It makes parties interesting at times. I always want to start a lottery to bet on whose head is going to explode first from the effort of making conversation with someone who doesn’t specialize in whichever infinitesimal area of the subject they spend their life examining. “Why YES! I WOULD like to hear about how shoe colours worn as a child influences a poet’s subject choices.” Good times!

    Congrats to Otto!

  14. mamajama

    Haha, I’m really good at making people feel uncomfortable in these situations too. Like the time I spouted off about spanking to someone I had just met. Yeah. You can’t take me anywhere either. BTW I try not to think about where my food comes from either.

  15. O.G.

    Way to be confrontational…now I know how they get that salmon extra pink – I will stick to line caught from now on.

  16. Sarah

    Those corn syrup commercials squigs me out. I’ve ranted so many times when they come on that my kids have started joining in.

  17. Lady of Perpetual Chaos

    Every time I hear about another food recall on the news I tell my husband that we need to start growing all our own food. He ignores me, for the most part. And, seriously, has she not made the connection that the genetically altered stuff that is not safe for human consumption but is fed to food intended for human consumption is consumed by humans?! I thought scientists were supposed to be the smart ones….

  18. Tracy

    Oh my…what a long night. I understand the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing anyone. I work for a company with over 800 employees and I only know the ones I share the coffee pot with. Congrats, Otto (and Mir for surviving the night in grown up clothes)!

  19. Michelle

    Hmm.. I really don’t like people, either. Me and Josh are going to end up such hermits after we’re married.

  20. Randi

    All I can think of is how Alvin from the last Alvin and the Chipmunks movie sucks in helium and says in a low voice “Major rock stars” LOL.

    Genetically modified salmon. Interesting.

    Next thing you know scientists will be making it so that a woman can carry and deliver eight children she can’t take care of!


  21. dad

    You know, I may have mentioned this before, but sometimes you’re a troublemaker. And not very tolerant. And maybe just a little opinionated. Holy schrimp, the poor woman is trying to make a living. She must be nice. After all she did get invited to the fancy-shmancy ball.

    Fortunately, you’re also very funny. I like you the way you are.

  22. Half Assed Kitchen

    When my kids’ sitter tells me I’m pretty, I give her an extra dollar an hour.

  23. just beaux

    My wife is being inducted into the Hall of Fame tomorrow night at La Caille restaurant. I can never get into these social gatherings because I can never relate to the people. But at a hundred bucks a plate for some free food I’m thinking that will be a nice thing. And it’s my wife. And the Hall of Fame. How cool is that!

  24. MomCat

    Oh wow….that gave me the heebie jeebies. The part about GMO stuff. Want to start a commune? I promise we’ll never have to make small talk. I hate it, too.

  25. Sheila

    I’d like to figure out a way to find Sue’s blog (maybe and read about her encounter with a crazy lady at the awards dinner. I’m thinking it reads somewhat differently than yours, albeit not as funny.

  26. jen

    I think I’m going to grow my own food from now on…maybe soybeans? Shudder…

  27. Flea

    Congrats to Otto!

    Have you seen the new corn plastic? Biodegradable plastic looking cups and whatnot? Bizarre.

  28. Colleen

    Hey, I know a Kristi who goes to UGA and is a great babysitter, too. Hmmm, coincidence? I mean, how many can there be at UGA, really?

  29. jenn

    Mir, I think you behaved yourself admirably. I’m with Debbi, my husband would’ve hustled me out of there the minute the woman said what she did for a living. There is nothing on earth, and I mean nothing, that freaks me out quite like GM Frankenfood.

    Seriously-we were on the verge of moving to St. Louis a few months ago for hubby’s job, and one of the neighborhoods we looked at had several lovely homes in our price range… however, it literally was within backyard-grown-heirloom-tomato-throwing distance to MONSANTO world headquarters. (Cue the scary theme music.) The job didn’t work out so we really never got as far as that decision, but I just don’t think I could’ve driven past that place every day. Anyway, if I’d been seated next to that woman, she’d have gotten an EARFUL… it would’ve been impossible to shut me up.

    (Does this woman not realize that whatever the food eats-i.e. the salmon-the person that eats it is eating that too?)

  30. Kate

    I just went to listen to Sylvia Earle (famous oceanographer) at a women’s lecture series and she was talking about salmon. She brought up the fact that salmon are one of the few carnivores that we eat (gross if you think about it) and that they are eating all of the pollutants from the smaller fish making them unhealthy for consumption. She brought up the point that people are now eating more and more farm raised salmon to avoid the mercury and pollutants, but aren’t getting what they think that they are. Unless the salmon are being fed their natural diet (smaller fish,) that they don’t have the same omega 3’s. She indicated that all of the fish farms that she was aware of were feeding the salmon vegetation, she specifically mentioned lettuce and soybeans, because feeding them fish is cost prohibitive. More fun food for thought.

    Often a reader, but not often a commenter,

  31. Amy-Go

    BUT…what was Sue WEARING? ;)

  32. Barbara

    I thought soybeans are supposed to be good for us. But not via salmon, I guess?

    Since the food was good, you only missed-out on the expected adult company (Otto excepted).

    My Hubby, the middle school teacher Rock Star was notified he won another award today. Woohoo for being married to a Rock Star! I will set my expectations low for conversational company at the awards ceremony. Thank, Mir!

  33. Flea

    I saw MomCat’s comment about the commune and thought, “Cool! I wanna join a commune!” Then thought, “Wait – maybe they don’t wear clothes in this commune.” I don’t think I want to join your commune anymore, Mir. But to be safe, I’m going over to check out MomCat’s blog.

  34. mama speak

    You crack me up.

    Can I just say Chickie made me laugh. Did she ask the babysitter if she’d read those books? Did the babysiter survive the night?


  35. Heather

    I really like the complete lack of deductive reasoning…like, no no we don’t feed it to people! Just to fish…that people eat. DUrrr.

  36. Mama Bear

    We run a family farm. At the moment it is our only source of income, by choice. GMO is a swear word in our house, better not teach it to Monkey.

  37. Ramblin'Red

    Aaaack! I seriously cannot believe her blindness, Mir! I would have asked her about much, much more if it were me.You behaved quite well imho. Also, I about crapped my pants reading your dad’s comment, thinking “Who the heck does this person think s/he is, being all mean to Mir?” Then I saw it was your daddy-o and was cool with it – I mean, he of all people probably knows, eh?

  38. kim

    I agree the GMO food is questionable. However, I’d be curious if she started grilling you about writing and mommy-blogging. Would you be offended or would you think she had a right to question your profession. I don’t think politeness is always required, but I likely would refrain from completely questioning someone’s chosen profession and an awards banquet. Just sayin’. Please don’t take offense though, I also believe in speaking your mind.

  39. Lori

    First, I appreciate the public service you played by telling Sue to check herself. Feeding GMO soybeans to salmon is totally natural. C’MON!!

    With that said, I used to work for an evil Department Store, let’s call it “Satan’s Lair”, which had a reputation for poor customer service. I dreaded meeting new people and answering the seemingly innocuous “what do you do” question. Because INEVITABLY, they would then launch into some story about the terrible service they received or some such thing. Granted, I didn’t defend Satan’s Lair but nonetheless, those were torturous conversations. So in some small and insignificant way, I feel for Sue.

  40. Michelle

    May I, pretty pretty please, have the name of your magical straightener? Mine is on its last legs, and I could really use a recommendation.

    P.S. You are pretty and funny. And if your sitter is college aged, I guarantee she read The Babysitter’s Club growing up.

  41. MaryP

    Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan? You would LOVE. IT. I highly, highly recommend it.

  42. Lorraine in MN

    What a wonderful story and I loved the great comments! Thanks to all for sharing what you know and/or wonder about. I spent 2 years in the patent department at a major food company and almost got fired for cheering on the Pure Food Campaign protesters outside the building. However, my kids had frozen chicken nuggets from Target last night…

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