The Rodale.com GMO-Free Challenge
Thanks to everyone who followed our GMO-free efforts in October. You can review our progress, and share your own experiences, below. Officially, we're off the GMO-free diet, but we'll keep trying to avoid food with GMO ingredients when possible. Stick with Rodale.com for more news about GMOs, and about healthy living on a healthy planet.
|For more about GMO foods, see:
How Common is Genetically Altered Food?
GMOs in Your Food: Hidden Ingredients, Unknown Consequences
Genetically Modified DNA Contaminates Ancient Mexican Maize
What's the Big Deal about GMOs Anyway?
And check out our GMO topic page.
Share your own thoughts on GMOs in the comment field at the bottom of this page.
WEEK 4: Dana Blinder, Digital Coordinator
11/2/10 I am officially done with my week-long GMO-free diet. This means, I can indulge in all the chemically grown and produced food I want. The fried chicken place across town? Check. Big bag of leftover Halloween candy I might have already dipped into? It’s all mine.
I can eat all the conventional food, that has been proven to cause diabetes and a slew of other nasty health effects, that I want. What a delight!
Honestly, I liked eating GMO-free. I like knowing what I’m paying for, what’s sitting in my kitchen and what’s going into my body. It’s sadly so much easier to be blind about what you eat, though. Chemically processed food is all around us. I found that for me, being a conscious, careful consumer meant giving up on convenience. No grabbing a bite real quick on the ride home, everything had to be packed, planned and scheduled.
In some ways I’ll keep up eating GMO-free. For instance, organic spinach looks and tastes better to me, organic meat is far less frightening looking and tasting and I know better than to buy conventional strawberries (http://www.rodale.com/methyl-iodide).
One thing’s for sure- I’ll never look at my neighborhood grocery store the same again.
10/29/10 You know what’s tough? Being crunchy.
“Crunchy” is the phrase organic/raw food enthusiasts in California have given to themselves to describe their lifestyle. It’s very much how I feel this week on my GMO-free diet. Since my kitchen isn’t all organic, it’s much easier for me to make it on this diet by going raw as much as possible. I have been steaming veggies and eating them as is pretty often, which although is plain, is quite tasty. I’m embracing the crunchiness.
I was pretty proud of the GMO-free meal I threw together after my run last night. I quickly fluffed up some whole wheat organic couscous, and while warm stirred in half a can of black beans, a handful (or 3) of spinach. I crumbled in a little feta cheese for the heck of it. It was all organic, all GMO-free and pretty tasty. I liked that I could look down at the bowl in front of me and tell you every single ingredient in there with confidence.
But later that night while out with a friend, my stomach began to grumble. While away from home, my food restrictions were glaring. Forget about exploring the fried chicken place with bright neon lights in town, throw away dreams of movie theater popcorn and best close your eyes in the drugstore snack food aisle. I was getting hungrier and hungrier and no matter where I turned chemical laced food was popping up more and more.
When the night ended, I raced home to the leftover couscous mixture. A few spoonfuls of tiny grains were not going to keep me content. Having just finished the last of my organic fruit, I realized if I wanted to stay GMO-free I was going to have to bust out the pots and pans and cook. That’s when I remembered the Halloween candy I had stashed in a closet. It was meant to be out of sight and out of mind, but at that moment, it was the only thing on my mind. I slipped off the no GMO train and landed face first into a few fun-sized treats. The only thing crunchy about my night was the crunch of a Kit Kat bar snapping in half.
Had I beefed up my dinner with more protein after my run, I likely wouldn’t have felt so ravenous later. I have been feeling better on the no-GMO plan. Last night I didn’t NEED the chemicals, the junk food, any of it. But I didn’t plan ahead well and I needed food at an inconvenient time. GMO options are not easily available, so I gave in later on.
Sigh. It’s okay; today has been a new and successfully crunchy GMO-free day.
10/27/10 Hear that? It’s the wonderful, yet strange sound of silence. I’ve always had a finicky stomach. Gurgles, groans and aches are a regular part of my day. But three days into my GMO-free diet and the stomach symphony has calmed. Be it a physical or psychological, I feel better eating GMO-free.
I do miss my sauces, dips and dressings. There are a few simple pasta sauces and salad dressings I make at home that can pass the GMO test, but many are multi ingredient creations I whip up from whatever’s around. I know they won’t float on my diet.
For the crafty chef, this isn’t too much trouble. If you stock your shelves with everything organic and GMO free, you can mix and mash to your heart’s content. But my kitchen ISN’T all organic, and sometimes I just want store bought, pre-made, chemically loaded orange marmalade glaze on my salmon, dangit!
I’m feeling Rick’s pain from his 10/22 post when he made a pasta sauce mostly GMO free save a drizzle of olive oil.
The truth is, chemicals are a staple in our supermarkets. Nothing makes you realize that faster than trying to go GMO-free. My local grocery store had some produce plus one aisle dedicated to organic food. I skipped 80% of the store and still spent a bit above my typical average shopping trip for less food.
My wallet may be thin, but my stomach is quiet; and for this, I’m happy.
10/25/10 I’m officially on day two (non-officially on day one) of my GMO-free diet. I took the reigns over from Rick, who is now likely crackling on Pop Rocks and munching on other drugstore candy in delight.
Much like the tribulations my co-workers faced, I too faced a bump in the road- right from the start. My diet start date also marked the last day of my weekend vacation out of state with my family.
We’re well known as being healthy eaters in at home, but eating enough veggies and eating chemical free while similar, are as different as a fork and knife. I poked through the fridge with my mom who was determined to point out all the healthy goodies she was sure I would still be able to eat.
I could at least eat eggs! Not unless they were organic and the birds spared from chemically tainted feed.
My struggles didn’t end here. Homemade chocolate truffles courtesy of my brother were lingering in the freezer and leftover pizza from the night before was calling to me. When it came to dinner, passing up anything my dad cooks up is a straight sin.
Sorry to say, I spent the first day of my GMO-free diet happily wolfing down chemically laced meals. But the experience did make me realize just how big of a battle skipping GMOs would be. A diet decision like this is a personal battle, but to succeed living and cooking with others it has to be team effort. Even if I did run to the store to buy organic chicken and veggies for dinner, I had no time, nor money to transform my dad’s specialty soy sauce collection to a chemically free wonder-pantry.
In all, day one was a mega fail. Stick around for a recap on my improvements come day two. No where to go but up!
WEEK 3: Rick Chillot, Senior Online Editor
|GMO-free sauce...I think.||10-22: As I come to the end of my non-GMO week, I can't decide if avoiding GMOs is easy or hard. As an example, last night I made one of my most common dinners, a big batch of pasta with whatever vegetables are lying around. I usually use crushed tomatoes from Bionature--it even comes in a glass bottle, no BPA-lined can--so no GMO problem there. I thought I'd try Bionature's whole wheat pasta, too, since it scored well in Maria Rodale's organic pasta taste test.
Vegetables are organic, including some great mushrooms and garlic I got at Healthy Alternatives (see 10-17 post). By the way, has anyone tried the Paulie from Goodfellas system of slicing the garlic with a razor blade? I can never get that to work. Maybe it's because I'm not connected.
Spices, organic (Simply Organic makes a nice Italian seasoning mix that I use when I don't feel like adding individual spices); a few last tomatoes from the garden, OK. I've got all that stuff.
But then, while everything's cooking, I suddenly realize that I didn't use organic olive oil. Here's my beef with that: the only organic olive oil I can find is extra-virgin, which I don't cook with because the cooking eliminates any taste benefits of using extra-virgin oil, so it's a waste. But nobody around here seems to sell an organic version of plain old cooking-grade olive oil. There are other kinds of olive oil besides extra-virgin, people! But while I'm stirring the sauce--much like Henry's brother was towards the end of Goodfellas--I also realize that I don't know if there are GMO olives or not. I didn't see olives listed on the Non-GMO Project's pamphlet and according to my cheat sheet they should be at least in the "eat with caution" category. But on the other hand, olive oil is such a staple that some people somewhere must be working on a GMO version, or maybe they've already snuck it into the field. Right? Or maybe I'm getting paranoid, like Henry Hill when he had to hide his illicit activities from the cops AND his mob boss. Of course, he was right to be paranoid...they really were out to get him.
|10-21I went to a movie yesterday, and here's a list of all the non-GMO snacks that were available:_________. Which is probably good, because we all know how overpriced the food is at movie theaters (though I don't mind paying it at those locally-owned, second-run or art-house places). Which is the reason that before the movie, my friends and I went to a nearby candy story to get snacks to sneak into the theater. Here's a list of all the non-GMO candy that was available:_______.
In my frustration I did the only reasonable thing: totally went off the no-GMO wagon and bought a ton of candy, more candy that I would normally buy, just because if you break a rule you might as well BREAK it. Among other things, I bought some Pop Rocks, which I haven't had since I was twelve and my friend's cousin's brother's neighbor's head exploded after he mixed them with soda.
I'm not sure Pop Rocks are even food...you just put them on your tongue and they kind of dissolve into the air. But they sure ain't GMO-free. In fact, they're pretty bad even setting aside the GMO angle. According to the label they contain three kinds of sugar--"sugar," lactose, and corn syrup. Artificial flavor, artificial color. And carbon dioxide, of course. That's it. Sugar and chemicals, and a greenhouse gas. Plus they're made in Spain. Spain! Energy expended and pollution released to transport Pop Rocks across the ocean! It boggles the mind.
But the truth is, we humans love to put stupid things in our mouths. If that wasn't the case we probably wouldn't have come up with half the great things we have now: beer and wine, chocolate, cheese, ice cream, coffee, tea. None of these things exist in nature in an appetizing state, so somebody had to accidentally or on purpose create them and be the first to try what probably seemed like a weird, inedible concoction. If we want a world full of organic, fairly traded, GMO-free food, there has to be room for stupid, goofy, weird food too. Somebody get cracking on GMO-free Pop Rocks!
|The bread was GMO-free...almost.||10-20: It's really astonishing how pervasive GMO ingredients have become in our food system; I guess it happened while most of us weren't looking. Earlier this week I decided to try out a homemade bread recipe from our recipe finder. I've never made bread before, except using a packaged mix where all you have to do is throw it all together and add water (also those dinner rolls that come in a cardboard tube...but God knows what kind of weird chemicals are in those things.) Anyway, I was surprised that making bread was pretty easy, but I realized afterward that despite my best efforts, I couldn't call my bread completely GMO free. All the flour was organic, but the yeast I used wasn't. And the honey came from a local beekeeper, but there's no guarantee that those bees didn't pick up some GMO pollen in their travels. The bread's all been eaten already, but next time I'll have to hunt for more GMO-free ingredients.
On the other hand, looking for food without GMOs can lead you to some great finds. Yesterday I sampled some great organic chocolate from Natural Products Expo East, and if I hadn't been avoiding GMOs I might not have tried it. (Well, probably I would have anyway).
Hey, be sure to check out Maria Rodale's blog today for 10 important ways to keep GMOs off your table.
10-18: Trying to avoid all food with GMO ingredients really teaches you to appreciate the USDA Organic label. I've been consistently surprised, over the last year or so, how much organic food is cropping up in our local supermarkets. I'm not talking about upscale markets with gourmet food aisles, but the bluest of blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes supermarkets, where provolone is considered an exotic cheese and crunchy peanut butter is eyed with suspicion. True, the organic options are only a small fraction of the inventory, but it's a lot easier to find something organic—and therefore free of GMOs as well as toxic agrochemicals and soil-destroying farming methods—than to sniff out something designated GMO-free.
On the other hand, every time I do find something that's organic, I'm tempted to buy it even if I don't need it or even like it…because, what if I get hungry? Usually I get along just fine without any chips or crackers in the house, but I almost bought a bag of artichoke-spinach tortilla chips just because they're organic. Any other week, I'd never be able to imagine a scenario in which I'd want to eat artichoke-spinach tortilla chips, but there I was clutching them like a Chilean miner who'd just received a package from the surface world.
|I made this cheat sheet to help me figure out what's GMO-free and what's off-limits. Here's a full-size PDF version; I can't guarantee it's error-free, but I've found it helpful. The Non-GMO project's more thorough pamphlet is here.|
10-17 (evening): My first GMO-free day had its ups and downs. I was driving around doing some errands when I decided to stop somewhere for a sandwich…only to realize that THERE'S NOWHERE TO GO TO GET A GMO-FREE SANDWICH. Also, I accidentally ate some weird-looking yogurt that I bought last week without really reading the label. It seemed healthy enough, and had all sorts of claims on the label about grass-fed cows and such. But it wasn't organic and I couldn't tell where the sugar came from. Since both corn and sugar beets are among the most genetically modified crops, according to the Non-GMO project, anything with sugar in it stands a good chance of being GMO unless otherwise stated. Sugar is in pretty much everything these days. If you're going to mess around with altered genes, wouldn't it make sense to try it first in something that isn't being consumed by everybody every day? Just in case there are unexpected consequences?
10-17: If there's one thing I learned from reading X-Men comic books growing up, it's that DNA is not itself evil, but what people do with it can be. So even if there's some potential benefit to modifying an organism's genetic material--like, say, giving me the ability to control the weather with my mind--the upside is moot if the technology is not in responsible, trustworthy hands. Can the food conglomerates that gave us trans-fatty acids, high-fructose corn syrup, factory farms, and the Twinkie be trusted to make sure GMOs won't wreak the environment, bankrupt farmers, screw up our health and wipe out traditional crop varieties? (By the way, Devil Dogs are much tastier than Twinkies, I can't understand why they're not more popular.)
I picked the third week of our non-GMO challenge so I could see what Emily and Leah did, and so I won't have to turn down any Halloween candy that comes my way in week 4. I perused the Non-GMO Project's handy shopping guide and realized I'd have to to a whole week without a Snicker's bar, or any M&Ms. Sugar stands a high risk of being derived from GMO crops if it's not certified organic or GMO free, which I hadn't realized. I hope Leah is bringing us back some chocolate from her junket at Natural Products Expo East. (Scroll down this page to see some of her favorite GMO-free foods from the Expo).
But the good news is I have a secret weapon: Healthy Alternatives, a small but mighty locally-owned emporium of all things healthy and organic. So I stopped there on Friday to stock up for the week. They were one step a head of me, with helpful signs identifying all sorts of GMO-free options. I snagged some organic vegetables, a frozen pizza from Amy's Foods, a bunch of organic bananas, some wild-caught Alaska salmon (don't think there's a GMO issue there, but the best choice from an environmental and health standpoint) and sundry other things. But what if you don't live near a place like that? Later this week I'll see what I can find in a more typical supermarket.
WEEK 2: Leah Zerbe, Online Editor
10/16: Lots of great news to report…after the typical hotel non-GMO breakfast—fresh fruit and nuts—we headed to the Natural Products Expo East floor to test out new food. SO many were not only GMO-free, but also absolutely delicious.
Here are some GMO-free products we really liked:
Purely Elizabeth organic cookie mix from whole food sources; no refined flours or sugars. Simply delicious!
Mini Pops, popped sorghum, looked surprisingly like popcorn, but boosts more iron and protein. You also don't get of those annoying hulls stuck in your teeth.
Flavorganics offers a line of certified organic natural flavors for your coffee and lattes…free of the nasty stuff that most syrups contain, like high fructose corn syrup, which likely contains GMOs.
Theo Chocolate (We kind of stalked this stand, but with so many funky and traditional flavors, we had to try them all!)
Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats offer the ultimate cheap and easy breakfast, full of cholesterol zapping powers. For about $3, you'll get 15 servings. For an added health bang for your buck, sprinkle a bit of flax meal from Bob's Red Mill, or organic chia seed from Salba for plant-based omega-3s.
Later, I found myself in a pickle while trying to order lunch in the typical Irish-pub-inside-the-hotel restaurant, and had to order a portabella mushroom sandwich sans the mozzarella cheese and mayo sauce typically included. So I wound up with a mushroom slab on top of lettuce. Healthy, but at this point, I am CRAVING something that is warm…
Needless to say, after eating so many random things, I was grateful for the non-GMO VerMints Rodale digital coordinator Dana Blinder snagged during the show.
Sooooooooo…I screwed up the non-GMO diet a bit at dinner. We ate at Wagamama, and I was safe on the GMO-free diet eating seaweed salad, sweet potato fries, and hot peppers, but with everyone around me slurping down noodles, I had to give in. I ordered a whole-wheat noodle plate packed with vitamin-D-rich shiitake mushrooms and peppers, but the dish also contained egg, and the chicken that laid it probably ate GMO corn in its grain. Ok, I also tried a few edamame pods, which the manager could not guarantee were non-GMO. (Luckily, we found a brand that is now marketing garbanzo bean edamame…it's still packs that fresh, clean punch that soy edamame offers, but is definitely non-GMO!)
|Fresh fruit, no alien genes.||10/14, 7 am: Yesterday was a rough day on the No GMO diet, proving it is really hard to travel and eat on the go without going hungry if you're trying to avoid GMO ingredients. I lived off of two KIND bars (see entry below) and sunflower seeds, and was able to order a salad and grilled veggies at the hotel.
This morning has been much healthier and easier to deal with. Lesson learned: If you're in a hotel, order the fresh fruit and ask for a side of plain walnuts, pecans, or almonds for a quick and easy GMO-free breakfast.
The only point of suffering occurring when I could not put cream in my coffee because it was not organic (non-organic cows likely are fed genetically engineered corn and/or soy). Hopefully the rest of the day runs this smoothly as I test out non-GMO food at Natural Products Expo East in Boston!
Update: The afternoon sampling around Expo West went really well! This year it seems more and more products are certified organic, making it much easier for consumers to find non-GMO food! To top it all off, Organic Gardening magazine hosted an organic cocktail party at Sam's on the waterfront in Boston, so yes, finally, I could enjoy an organic drink at the end of the day! The drink of choice was Cap Rock organic vodka infused with organic hot peppers, acai liqueur, and organic agave nectar. Yum!
|Made with non-GMO glucose!!||10/13, 1:11 pm: Starvin' at the Station.
Poor planning and a morning of rushing around landed me in an unsatisfactory situation at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
In about a half hour, I'm boarding Amtrak for Boston to cover Natural Products Expo East, but since I'm on the No GMO diet this week and didn't pre-pack something to eat, I'm having serious trouble finding food with no-GMO ingredients.
My stomach is screaming at me.
Rounding the corner of the station news shop, I thought I found the mother load of healthy snacks: A whole wall full of Sunbird Snacks—pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts. Plus, I appreciated the cool rooster logo (I have 11 roosters on my farm.) But lo and behold, every single snack contained canola oil, a dead giveaway the products contains GMOs. (Stay away from non-organic canola, corn, soy, and cottonseed ingredients unless it's certified by the Non-GMO project.)
I had to settle for plain salted sunflower seeds (no idea where I'm going to spit the seeds on the train) and a Kind Plus cranberry and almond bar. Glucose could contain GMOs, but this product specifies the glucose is non-GMO. It does, however, contain ascorbic acid, which could contain GMOs, but hey, a girl has got to eat! I give myself an A for effort, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Expo East is loaded with organic, non-GMO food to sample! (As for what to eat at the hotel…well, that should be interesting. I'm foreseeing lots of salads with olive oil and vinegar dressing.)
|Vandana Shiva||10/12: There are many places you can go to learn how GMOs contaminate our food system, our bodies, and the environment. But there’s just something about the way Vandana Shiva, PhD, explains this blight that leaves you feeling enlightened and even hopeful. Shiva is a world-renowned environmental activist and physicist from India who is leading the charge to keep GMOs out of India’s food supply—and it’s working! (They are currently fighting GMO eggplant.) Rodale.com had the chance to talk with Shiva before her lecture Tuesday night at Moravian College in Eastern Pennsylvania. Here are some highlights from our interview and the speech she gave before a packed auditorium.|
-She calls producing GMO crops “genetic warfare,” partially because scientists have to use a gene gun or infect a plant with cancer to move genes.
-“I think the most exciting work is working with the Earth. She’s also the most generous.”
-“Gardening is the most important thing we can do at this point of our evolution.”
-Indian farmers are forced to use 13 times more pesticides since Monsanto’s GMO crops have been introduced because weeds and pests have grown resistant to chemicals
-In Argentina, where pretty much only GMO cash crops are grown, chemical drift from the fields are killing kitchen gardens, and half the country stands in soup kitchen lines now.
-Shiva thinks America yogurt is “creepy” because it’s so slimy. Homemade Indian yogurt is chunky.
-Michelle Obama boasts an organic White House garden, while President Barack Obama has not thrown out policy that allows GMO-fueled agribusiness (that’s failing!) to flourish. She thinks they should talk “so that the garden starts to shape policy, and isn’t just a curiosity.”
-GMO crops have replaced 8,000 varieties we used to eat, yet the system is failing and doesn’t work. (Weeds and pests resistant, farmers going into debt—200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide because of debt taken on after GMO cotton seeds introduced there.
10/11: There's something I'm noticing about being on the No! GMO diet—I'm hungry! Not the starving type, but the good type of faint hunger, the kind you should feel a bit in between meals and snacks. I think I've been in a state of "over-snacking" for the last few months, so this is a good thing, and I feel like I'm eating healthier than I have in quite some time.
Breakfast: Equal Exchange organic coffee with Natural by Nature organic creamer, organic yogurt with fresh fruit, dried cranberries, and almonds (from the Rodale Cafe.)
Lunch: Black-eyed pea salad and great big red-leaf salad with olive oil (from the Rodale Cafe—I'm convinced this is the best workplace cafe in the country, touting all of it's local, organic, healthy, non-GMO food.)
Dinner: Late night at work, so I just reheated some of the curried lentil soup and wild rice/veggie casserole I cooked up Sunday.
Snacks: Organic Valley string cheese, in-shell peanuts. (I had to pass up my Nuts About Granola mix because it contains canola oil, which is likely GMO.)
Mini-meltdown monitor: I.Can't.Live.Without.Olives. When I reached for a jar of green olives at home, I noticed guar gum on the list, and for some reason thought that had something to do with GMOs. I put them back and almost cried. I needed my salt fix! Luckily, the kalamata olives in my fridge contained uncontroversial ingredients, so I ate a few and called it a day. Looking into it, I think I could have eaten the green olives.
Confession: I also had an unreported meltdown last night when I went with my husband to fill up his tank at a gas station. I was hungry and wanted something to eat during the Phillies game, and after scouring Hess for something, anything, to eat, I finally found some in-shell peanuts that only contained peanuts and salt, no funky corn ingredients or MSG. Pulling up to our house, I said, "Where are my peanuts?"
"I thought you grabbed them," he said, knowing I was a bit nutty on the first day of my GMO diet. I walked inside, defeated. He, being a good guy, supporting the no-GMO cause, and trying to keep the peace, drove back and picked up my peanuts. What a guy!
10/10/10! What a beautiful day to kickoff the NO! GMO diet. It also marks the day of 350.org’s 10.10.10 Global Work Party, where thousands of people around the globe took part in work parties to bring attention to, and to help fix at a grassroots level, the climate crisis. (GMOs are largely on the hook for the catastrophe climate destabilization we’re seeing today because the chemical agriculture system is energy intensive, relying on petroleum-based chemicals and lots of fuel.) My 10.10.10 work party was small, consisting of my family picking what’s left of our green peppers and tomatoes in our Pennsylvania farm garden (the nights are getting chilly and tomato season is coming to an end, sadly) and cooking up delicious organic, GMO-free dishes. (All of this, of course, occurred after enjoying a big mug of Birds & Beans coffee with organic milk.)
All of our ingredients came from our organic farm or my favorite little local store, Healthy Habits Natural Market in Orwigsburg, PA.
My niece and I cooked up a double batch of Curried Lentil Soup using the yellow low-acid tomatoes that are still roughing out the cold weather.
We also salvaged two dozen small green peppers that will never grow to full size because it’s cooling down, so we picked them and boiled them a bit to soften them while sautéing onions, garlic, some more of those low acid tomatoes. We added all that with three cups of cooked wild rice in a casserole dish and baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. It was my friend’s idea, and it was delicious and easy!
Snacks for the day: Raw green peppers, organic almonds, and organic popcorn popped on the stovetop, enjoyed as we watched our beloved Philadelphia Phillies sweep the Reds in the National League Division Series. (Did you know the Phillies are the greenest team in Major League Baseball?) Sorry, Cincinnati!
Temptations (I did NOT give in!): A Halls Vitamin C cough drop, non-organic cheese, a glass of non-organic wine because it could have been fermented with GMO yeast, Planter’s peanuts (all sorts of likely GMO corn ingredients, and even MSG!)
WEEK 1: Emily Main, Online Editor
10/10: As you may have noticed, Rodale.com's other online editor, Leah Zerbe, has started her GMO-free week, and while mine is officially over, I thought I'd update you all on how it ended. Friday, I left town to go visit a long-long-long-time friend of mine who lives just outside Kansas City. I knew eating GMO-free on the road would be difficult, but my friend is a pretty healthy eater--she has to be with a four-year-old and a four-month old, so I though this would be a fun experiment.
I left for the airport early, early Friday morning, with a stomach full of organic yogurt and granola, but by the time I landed in Chicago for a short layover, I was famished (all my good intentions to load up on baby carrots and grapes from home flew out the window when I flew out the door to make my 7:30 flight). But amazingly enough, I actually found an organic/non-GMO free snack! Fortunately, airports are jumping on the healthy food bandwagon and I found a stand selling fresh fruit and certified-organic granola bars. When I landed, my friend and I headed for lunch to Chipotle, that small-but-growing fast-food chain that sells Tex-Mex food made from humanely raised meat, rBGH-free dairy products, and certified-organic black beans. I don't know how much of it is GMO-free, but as far as fast food goes, it's the best a conscious omnivore can get.
I tried as hard as I could to stay GMO-free for the remainder of my week, but all I can say is, I'm glad it ended on Saturday. It was fairly easy to avoid corn-fed meat and dairy products, but my friend wanted to take me to a few of her favorite local restaurants. And without knowing what they put in their dressings, sauces, and other various cooking ingredients, I had no idea if I was getting GMO high fructose corn syrup, GMO vegetable oil, or any of the thousands of GMO ingredients used in processed foods.
And that pretty much sums up what I learned from this whole challenge. Like any other diet, it's easy to stick to when you're cooking at home with whole foods. But when you want a break from cooking or need a night out on the town, it's eat at your own risk!
10/7: Spring is easily my favorite season but fall has the best food, hands down. I love squash, and I had a good recipe for acorn squash stuffed with wild rice and hazelnuts that I wanted to make tonight. So I swung by the store to get my favorite brand of wild rice, which is something I'm kind of a purist about. I found out a few years ago that most wild rice in stores isn't wild at all but cultivated in paddies. Now call me crazy but if something's labeled "wild," shouldn't it be, well, wild? The only true wild rice comes from marshes in Wisconsin, Michigan, northern Minnesota and Canada, and is hand-harvested the traditional way--knocking it off branches into canoes--by native tribes living in the area. Wild rice is also a crop under serious threat of genetic manipulation. Plant scientists have been experimenting with GM wild rice, and their efforts could threaten wild species. The White Earth Land Restoration Project has been working with the Minnesota legislature since 2002 to prevent that from happening, and you can read about their efforts at www.savewildrice.org.
In the meantime, I'm sticking with my truly wild wild rice and leaving all the fake paddy-gown stuff on the shelf. It tastes so good with my squash!
10/6: Perfectly timed for our GMO-Free Month kickoff, I got to go hear Robert Kenner speak tonight. If the name doesn't ring a bell, Kenner directed the documentary Food Inc., which took a hard, and hardly flattering, look at our nation's industrial food supply. I'll be writing more about his speech in the next few days on Rodale.com, but first, back to my experiment. It would seem unfitting if I were to break my GMO-free commitment on the same night as going to hear about the man who so eloquently portrayed how GMO crops, like corn and soy, were destroying the planet and our health, and I was prepared to just grab a quick GMO-free snack from home to last me through his presentation and then eat a few leftovers when I got home. However, when I arrived, I found out that it started an hour later than I thought! Oops. I really need to read these announcements more carefully...
Anyway, I knew my grumbling stomach wouldn't hold out as long as I'd hoped, so I set out in search of dinner. Kenner was speaking at a school in New Hope, PA, which, for those of you not familiar with the town, is a fairly liberal artists' colony on the Delaware River about an hour southeast of Rodale's offices and 40 or so miles north of Philadelphia. I was sure SOME restaurant in such a progressive town would serve organic food. Fortunately, I came across a restaurant that looked like it might, advertising Mediterranean Quinoa on its menu with roasted seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, and onions in an herb sauce. Sounded good enough to me. But when it arrived, it was topped with zucchini and yellow squash! Ack! I found out while writing How Common is Genetically Altered Food? that both have been genetically modified to resist certain viruses and are being grown on about 25,000 acres of land in the US. That's not a huge amount, so fingers crossed that the zucchini I ate last night wasn't GMO!
Then, as if that wasn't upsetting enough, I was finishing the glass of wine I had with dinner, assuming that wine is just grapes, and grapes aren't GMO. Ha! Wrong again. When I got home, I did a quick search online and found this article posted on organicconsumers.org reporting that some vineyards are experimenting with a GMO yeast! Only wines being made in the US could potentially contain the GM yeast, and fortunately, my wine was from Argentina. At least organic wines are a lot better-tasting and much more widely available now than they used to be.
Later on, Robert Kenner summed up the lesson I'd just learned pretty well. Food companies, including restaurants, need to be more forth-coming about what they're serving the public. Who would think that something as seemingly simple as wine could be tainted by GMOs? Or that a healthy dinner of whole grains and vegetables wasn't that "healthy" after all?
Robert Kenner, director of Food Inc., speaking with students at a school in New Hope, PA
10/5: Tonight I came home absolutely famished from a long day at work and a 45-minute swim at the pool. I hoovered the leftover salad I'd made on Sunday night--the one using my hard-to-find organic bottled peppers, and it was pretty filling: organic bulgur with chickpeas, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and roasted red peppers with dill, courtesy of the Epicurious iPhone app (I LOVE that app!!). But was, as I keep repeating, still in need of a good snack. The pears and concord grapes I had just weren't cutting it. So, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered that I had leftover chickpeas (I'm horrible at knowing how many dried beans to soak when I only need a cup or two to cook with and always wind up with leftovers) and my red peppers and thought "hummus!!" So I threw everything together in my food processor, drizzled in a little olive oil and tossed in a few garlic cloves, and 5 minutes later, I had a stick-to-your-ribs dip I could eat with a cucumber that was sitting on my counter about to go bad. The dip wasn't bad! It was my first attempt at making hummus, and admittedly, the chickpeas probably could have used another hour in boiling water, but hey, when you live alone and you're the only one who gets to "enjoy" your creations, your culinary standards aren't that high. (Editor's note: After writing this, I saw the comment below. Thanks for the ideas Sonya123! I'll make sure to stock up on good cheese and baby carrots next time I'm at the store.)
My first attempt at hummus-making. Not bad!
10/4: Probably not surprisingly, it's a lot easier to stick to a GMO-free diet during the week—it's easier to stick to any kind of diet during the week than on the weekend. I'm a creature of habit and eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast during the week: organic yogurt with organic granola topped with organic fruit (whatever's in season). And at the Rodale headquarters cafeteria, we're lucky to have a director of dining services who makes sure to serve as much organic food as possible for lunch. Even so, driving home tonight I fell prey to some "deprivation cravings." Suddenly, when you can't eat GMOs, that picture of bloated chicken cutlets on the side of the passing Tyson chicken truck look pretty tempting. But I shucked the desire to feast on GMO-corn-fed, antibiotic-laced chicken and had an organic sweet potato and a salad for dinner. I just wish I had a really good organic snack. The non-GMO crackers I bought turned out to be, basically, saltines with added flavor. So if anyone has suggestions for good non-GMO or organic snacks, please let me know in the comments section below!
10/3: I hit the grocery store to stock up for the coming week, and it was interesting seeing how many things I would have bought had I not been determined to avoid GMOs. I already belong to a co-op here in Pennsylvania that keeps me flush with organic local produce, so I was basically wandering the packaged food aisles. Reaching for a box of Kashi granola bars, I remembered that they're not organic and the company admits that some of their products may contain some GMOs. So I opted for Nature's Path's fantabulous granola bars instead; they're organic and they participate in the Non-GMO Project certification program. I was also hunting for jarred roasted red peppers for a salad I wanted to make. I know of only one brand that makes organic jarred peppers, Mediterranean Organics, but couldn't find them. Argh. Organic here is important, too, since sweet peppers are one of those crops that are being grown as genetically engineered in small quantities. I want to make sure companies know I don't want any engineered peppers and therefore always opt for organic. After some hunting, I came across a Spanish brand that's certified by a European organic certifier, which means that I could save some gas and avoid driving across town to a store that always has my brand--and what do you know, they even tasted better!
10/2: Today I went on a bit of a GMO bender, knowing that, starting tomorrow, I'd be going GMO-free for an entire week. When our senior editor first proposed the idea of each of us going GMO free for a week, I didn't think it would be that hard. After all, I eat an as-organic-as-possible diet all the time. But then I started thinking back on all the food I ate last week and realized I had about two day's worth of meals that were probably pretty GMO-heavy. So I kicked off my last non-non-GMO day with a chicken biscuit from Chik-Fil-A (the chicken and milk from the buttermilk biscuit were probably from animals fed GMO-corn). Lunch was an iced coffee (with GMO-fed-cow cream) and a pastry from Starbucks (the sugar may have come from GMO sugar beets or sugar cane) and dinner was a burrito (all of the above!). Looking back, it's not only all GMO--it's probably the worst day I've had in a long time, as far as nutritional value goes!