Posts tagged Organic

GMO’s and the Future of Food

I recently went to a friend’s birthday celebration and ran into a bunch of old chums from high school.  Conversation ensued and we found ourselves talking about food, which probably happened for two reasons.  First, we were surrounded by food, as most people are at large social gatherings (which tells us what about our special relationship to the things we eat?) and, second, because one of our friends has also been working on an organic farm.

He told us about the work he has been doing as a farm hand on a small organic farm just south of Olympia, Washington.  This is Shane’s third year working on the farm, which is a “vocational horticulture therapy program for people of all abilities.” As he told us more and more about the farm he works on, another one of our friends chimed in and started telling us about his parents’ piece of property outside of Oregon City and how they want to make it into a more successful hobby farm.  The only problem?  Time.  His parents both work in the city and lack the time to tend to the Earth.  He practically implored us to go out and farm their small plot of land, something which I must say resonated within me.  I must say that I, too, lack the time myself, but after getting my fingers dirty with my summer garden there is this urge, which feels rather ancient, to grow my own food.

Our varied conversations about food jumped around from subject to subject: the clay rich soil beneath areas in the NW, how much farmers’ markets are getting for organic eggs, the ease with which a salad can be made from one’s garden, and on and on.  At one point Shane and I split off from the others and started talking about the cost of land in the area.  We talked about how expensive acreage can be and how our region’s burgeoning wine industry is probably the reason for most of that costliness.

Then, and I cannot recall how it happened, we changed subject to genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  Shane asked if I had seen the film, The Future of Food, and when I told him that I had not, he recommended I watch it on Hulu.  Martha and I recently sat down and watched the film, which I am recommending you do as well.  It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but, to paraphrase what Joel Salatin said in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it doesn’t make sense that people spend all this time finding the right contractor to build their house or fix their plumbing but never think to ask, “Where does my food come from?”

When Martha and I finished the film we hopped online to try and find a list of GMO-Free Foods.  We found a Non-GMO Shopping Guide, which lists brands of food that are known to not contain genetic modifications.  I was shocked to discover that the majority of corn, soy, canola and cotton are all genetically modified.  I scribbled down a number of notes throughout the film, but two questions in particular have really stuck with me this morning.

First, if genetically modified organisms are not labeled as such, nor are they labeled with what genes may have been inserted into the plant, then how are people with severe food allergies to know if their food is safe and that their ear of corn hasn’t been genetically modified with a peanut gene because it enhances the corn product’s shelf life?

Second, if caterpillars die after eating corn that has been genetically modified to produce its own pesticide, and if the USDA and FDA have never really conducted extensive research on the effects of GMO’s on human beings, then how much genetically modified corn must I eat before I have my chromosomes damaged or die?

Discuss.

– Jacob S.

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A Critical Reading of Food Labels

“Organic!”  “Fresh!”  “Naturally raised beef!”

What do these labels mean to you, the consumer?  What do these labels mean to the FDA?  What do they mean to the food producer?  Do they mean the same thing to different people, or are the powers of interpretation at work?

The other day I went to Chipotle to get a burrito.  As I looked at the menu I started to wonder, “What do they mean by ‘naturally raised beef’?”  Curious, I scribbled down a reminder and ordered a vegetarian burrito.  (Yum, just thinking about it now makes me hungry.)

When I came home I started my investigation, visiting the Chipotle website.  I jumped around, exploring what really is a fancy site, until I found the “ingredients” section.  From there, I clicked on their steak, revealing more information than any reasonable menu could ever carry.  While I applaud Chipotle for using beef that has not been given growth hormones and antibiotics, I continued to be curious about these “naturally raised” cows and their “vegetarian” diet.

Doing a quick Google search, I found the website of the company that provides Chipotle with their beef.  Again, I feel I must recognize the efforts of Meyer Natural Angus and the extent to which they go to raise healthy cattle, but their producer’s promise ultimately exposes a contradiction:  The cows are fed a true vegetarian diet, eating things which they would naturally eat should they ever find themselves roaming outside of some cattle farm, but then they are “finished on a corn-based diet for true corn-fed flavor.”  As Hamlet once said, “aye, there’s the rub.”

Cows do not naturally eat corn.

So, by definition, is the steak served by Chipotle really raised “naturally”?  Or is the labeling an honest reflection of how the cow is raised?  Or is it mislabeling and an effort to sell more burritos, all while making the consumer feel like they are doing their part to be a little bit more sustainable?

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