Can eating genetically modified corn lead to murder? That’s the premise behind bestselling author Michael Palmer’s latest book, Oath of Office. Palmer, a physician who has formally worked in internal and emergency medicine, has found massive mainstream success with a string of 17 medical thrillers. And he says the plotline of his latest was inspired by repeated viewings of Food, Inc. Yep, you read that right—Palmer’s watched our parent company’s powerful food documentary four times, and says he often invites friends over to screen the film. We caught up with him to talk about the wild plot twists in the new novel and how Food, Inc. forever changed the way he looks at food.
TakePart: So you contacted us to say you saw Food, Inc?
Michael Palmer: Only four times.
TP: Wow, really?
M: No, I did. It was the beginning of my trying to get ready to write my novel. It’s just an amazingly powerful documentary.
TP: Can you take me through your thought process as you watched it?
M: When I write about medicine, some of the most effective villains that I’ve used have been big pharma, big business, big hospitals—anything that pressures politicians and the public to change the way they live or the way they work. It’s very easy for me to sympathize with animals that are raised in an unpleasant or unhealthy environment.
So that was what initially affected me so. But, I already wasn’t eating veal. When I saw those sections of the film I was very moved. But I was especially moved and angered when I started to watch over and over again the stuff about Monsanto.
TP: Did you immediately start to think of using genetically modified food in a plotline?
M: I went back to the sections about farmers being pressured to use Monsanto seeds. I was interested in the idea that they would genetically modify the soybeans and other crops to resist the pesticides that they’re putting on there to begin with.
I kept thinking that something had to be wrong with this. And that’s when I began to focus in on how I might be able to present the issues as a thriller. That’s where all that came from. My next step was bringing friends over to see it.
TP: Wow, you were serious!
M: I would go to the kitchen when parts came on that I knew by heart. And I’d come back into the room, and their jaws would be dropped. Everyone who’s ever seen it in my world has been tremendously affected by the film.