We want to know what we’re eating, and more than half of Americans polled say they don’t want food that’s been genetically engineered (GE), popularly referred to as genetically modified (GM). What it means: biotechnicians insert genes from one organism into another, unrelated, organism with which it could not be naturally bred. Example: corn carrying the Bt bacteria gene, which secretes an insecticide. Yum!
GM foods have recently been making news, with two new GM crops, beet sugar and alfalfa, getting the go-ahead from USDA, and fast-growing GM farmed salmon awaiting FDA approval. Already, 86 percent of all U.S. corn and 93 percent of soy are GM. On the bright side, Orchids at the Halekulani, a greenmarket gourmet restaurant in Honolulu, where I live, launched a GMO-free menu today, and Chef Vikram Garg has provided his GMO-free, vegan recipe for risotto. (See Chef Vikram’s Kichidi recipe below.)
But how to avoid GM food, when an estimated 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in grocery stores contain GE ingredients, but are not required by law to be labelled?
There are three easy ways.
1. Choose food labeled USDA certified organic, which forbids GE.
2. Choose food labeled “Non GM” and dairy labeled “cows not given rBGH” (recombinant bovine growth hormone).
3. Weed out processed foods from your diet and eat more fresh, seasonal whole foods–-one of the 12 top green goals in my “This is the Year I’ll...” article in the April issue. With the exception of about 50 percent of Hawaiian papayas, there is no commercialized GM produce here...yet.
Chef Vikram, whom I met for a taste of his GMO-free menu, told me he sources non-GM foods by choosing organic ingredients, or foods from local farmers who can prove that their crops or animal products are GE-free. Fresh and minimally processed is this chef’s rule of thumb. He also selects organic and completely grass-fed animal products, since conventional animal feed is likely to contain GM corn, soy and, now, alfalfa–and dairy cows are given growth hormones.
Why Avoid GM Foods?
Reasons you might not want GMOs in your body—or the environment in general—include:
Personal health. Synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbgh, also known as rbst), produced by splicing cattle and bacteria genes has higher levels of, insulin-like growth factor 1, linked to several cancers. There is also concern that an increase in food allergies may be partly due to the spread of GE
Protecting Biodiversity and Organic Crops. Contamination and shrinking crop diversity are very real risks.
Ethics. Vegetarians do not want to consume foods with animal genes inserted in them.
Chef Vikram's Kichidi Recipe
What matters most to Chef Vikram is the superior taste of the fresh, sustainably produced local foods that are the focus of his GMO-free menu. “Some people think that you can’t have a GM-free dish that tastes like this,” Garg says. “On the contrary, you get the best flavors.”
This is pure comfort food, with a delicate, light texture and taste.“We call it kichidi, and this is my mom’s recipe; when I go home to India this is always my first dinner,” he says, noting that his parents raised him on a meat-free, seasonal diet.
Mung Bean and Brown Rice Risotto
1. Rinse 1 cup organic mung beans and 1 cup organic brown rice until water is clear.
2. Add 3 to 5 cups of water, 2 cloves, 1 bay leaf, 8 ounces of chopped organic tomato, and 1/4 tsp turmeric. Simmer until the rice and beans are cooked.
3. Heat 4 Tbsp. organic olive oil in a pan and add a pinch of cumin seeds. When it starts to crackle, add a pinch of asafetida and one chopped garlic clove. Combine with the rice and bean risotto.
4. Serve with a salad of thinly sliced cucumber, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt.
For more information:
The Center for Food Safety’s excellent True Food Shopper’s Guide lists products to choose and avoid. You can also join the Organic Consumers Association's campaign to require labeling of GE ingredients in food, tell your Congressional representatives that you're opposed to GE salmon, and join the campaign asking major candy manufacturers not to use GE sugar beets.
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s “Econundrums” columnist. See her answers to reader questions and ask your own here. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.