Ask Rocco 11/03/15

The truth about your ‘natural’ diet

By Rocco Castellano

When people hear the term GMO I’m not sure they understand what an actual GMO is. For years, a certain segment of the population has been on a terror streak to stop what they call “Frankenfood.” For the most part, I’m with them when it comes to genetically modifying foods to resist pesticides or modifying a fruit or vegetable for longer shelf life, but we have been genetically modifying food since ancient times. Almost all the fruits and vegetables in the produce section of your local supermarket are pretty much “man-made” or genetically modified to produce that certain fruit or vegetable.

The biggest distinction between man-made food and GMOs is that scientists mess with the DNA of a particular plant, introducing characteristics and traits through controversial techniques such as using a viral carrier to change the DNA. Basically, they use a virus to infest the food and replicate the trait within its DNA. Another technique is using a bacteria carrier to infiltrate the food and attach the new DNA characteristic to the food. I personally don’t like the unknown…but if DNA didn’t change or wasn’t mixed up every once in a while, we wouldn’t have some awesome looking people and fun and tasty foods.

Whether the DNA is being changed through breeding (cultivation) or through a petri dish is an argument for the ages. But through the means of cross pollination and grafting, we have been able to change the DNA of some “wild” plants with some really cool fruits and veggies—which have been nourishing us for centuries. Here are just some of them:

Broccoli is the result of selective breeding and was cultivated by Italian farmers way back in the sixth century B.C. Yep, nearly 1,000 years ago. Broccoli was named for the Italian word “broccolo,” which described the flowering tops of the wild cabbage. Kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and collard greens all come from some hybridization of wild cabbage. None of these vegetables are found in the wild… so when vegetarians tell me that they are only things that come from nature, I usually tell them to shut the f–k up.

All the varieties of lettuce actually come from one plant called “wild lettuce” or lactuca virosa, known for its narcotic qualities. Yes, you can eat it or smoke it and get high. Not iceberg lettuce, wild lettuce, idiot. If you walk around eastern England, Pakistan, India or Australia you may see some in the wild. There has been some introduction to the United States in states like California, Alabama, Iowa and, who would have guessed, Washington, D.C. Now that explains a lot.

Carrots look, taste and feel very different to its wild ancestors. The first carrots as root vegetables were cultivated in Afghanistan about 1,100 years ago, but there is evidence that they may have grown as far back as 5,000 years. These carrots were nothing like the straight orange colored ones with greens growing out the top. Ancient carrots where very thin, white or purple and tasted more bitter than sweet. It wasn’t until the 16th century when some Dutch botanists turned the purple carrot into the bright orange carrot we know and love today. An added fun fact:

Carrots actually don’t give you better eyesight. It’s an urban legend derived from a lie spread by British troops to cover up the advancement in ally radar technology. The Brits spread a lie that all their soldiers ate massive amounts of carrots so they could see better at night. The urban legend still survives today.

What I think is hilarious is that tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, red bell peppers and cayenne peppers all came from a hybrid of selective breeding while cultivating a plant called wild nightshade, which has a little controversy of its own. Some botanists say it’s poisonous. Others say, “Ahhh, maybe not.”

One of my favorite fruits looks nothing like its wild counterpart—and I mean nothing. The domesticated banana aka the “Cavendish” banana is actually a sterile plant and cannot be grown without the help of humans. The wild banana is much smaller, green and has seeds the size of pomegranate seeds. From the outside, it looks more like a shiny squash than a yummy big yellow banana.

Grapefruits also are a very new fruit, created from marrying an orange and a pummelo. For all of you that never visited South East Asia, a pummelo or pomelo is a green pear-shaped citrus plant indigenous to the area. But it doesn’t stop there. The orange that was bred with the pummelo is actually a hybrid of a mandarin and a pummelo… so obviously there is an incestuous relationship between many of the citrus fruits. There are only four known wild citrus fruits: pummelo, mandarin, citron and papeda. Everything else came from a hybridization of these four. Now here is where it gets a little dicey. Those Ruby Reds or Star Rubies are that way because scientists bombarded them with gamma rays and x-rays—just instead of turning green like the Hulk, it turned them a lovely pink.

Marketing and science has changed our whole food system. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that much of what we think we know is usually wrong.


The views and opinions expressed in Ask Rocco are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

Rocco Castellano is the author of “askROCCO Uncensored v1,” a speaker and a controversial fitness personality who has won an Emmy for his fitness training role in MTV’s Made. For more information, please visit

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Rocco Castellano is the author of “askROCCO Uncensored v1,” a speaker and a controversial fitness personality who has won an Emmy for his fitness training role in MTV’s Made. For more information, please visit

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