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Author Caitlin Shetterly leads discussion on GMOs

Author Caitlin Shetterly visited the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Theater 1 at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27. As part of the UNH English department’s Writers Series, Shetterly gave a reading of her latest book, “Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future,” which was followed by a discussion.

“The way we work the Writers Series is that members of our faculty request writers in their own genre,” Non-Fiction Writing Associate Professor and Writers Series Director Sue Hertz said.

Hertz said that in Shetterly’s new book, the author “uses a personal story to share a bigger story.”

English Associate Professor Jaed Coffin said that Shetterly is a friend of his and also a fellow writer from Maine. “I just really admire her work and the kind of stories she tells, and I also admire her tenacity as a writer and creative person who doesn’t turn away from difficult material,” he said.

Shetterly has published two other books: “Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce” and “Made for You & Me.” The focus of her Thursday night reading was mostly on her newest book, however.  While reading excerpts, Shetterly paused several times to speak about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticides, a topic she considers to be very personal. Audience members had a chance to ask questions after the reading, and a book signing followed the event.

Shetterly said that her personal journey toward learning about GMOs started when she came down with a terrible illness. “I had headaches and rashes and pain throughout my body. So I went to an immunologist, and he had this theory that people were getting these ‘bucket illnesses’ and he thought they were tied to GMOs,” Shetterly said. “And so he had me go off of GMO corn, and I got better.”

Shetterly said that initially, the story had a very personal focus. “I was looking at how this story affected me or my kids. I wanted to make sure I could best protect my own family from toxins, allergens, what have you. Then, the story became bigger. It was about the planet, the environment. If we continue to grow our food the way we are, we will kill everything in the ecosystem,” she said.

Despite the title’s focus on GMOs, Shetterly said that in writing the book, she learned that pesticides were an even greater danger to the environment.

“The thing that I like to joke about is that I should have called the book ‘It’s the Pesticides, Stupid,’” Shetterly said. “The pesticides are a much bigger issue; and we are saturating our earth, our water and our air with these pesticides. And we are going to eradicate everything in the ecosystem if we are not careful.”

Shetterly said she has great hope for the future, however. “I’m really optimistic about the organic movement. I think that studies have shown that when mothers are asked what they want to feed their children, mothers want organic for their babies. I think the big issue here is that organic is seen as expensive. But I do believe that the incredible movement behind organics is where we need to be,” she said.

Although Shetterly is busy on a book tour, her current plans are lot closer to home.

“I’m working on my children, and its wonderful to just be a mom a little bit right now. I came back from a book tour last week, and for the last five and a half years I’ve been working on this book in one form or another. So for the last week and a half I’ve just been with my two-year-old, being a mom,” Shetterly said.

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