Shopping for a GMO free meal

Posted on November 16, 2010 by Lana Lile

As the genetically modified food debate continues, I thought I would add my two cents through a bit of an everyday experiment. Yesterday, I went to the grocery store in search of a GMO free meal. I wondered how hard it would be to find these foods, how expensive they would be and what I would discover along the way. A lot of food crops in the United States are genetically modified. Corn, soy, canola and cotton top the list. You may not normally think of cotton in relation to your food, but check many candy bar labels and you’ll find cottonseed oil. I tried my hardest to not buy any foods with ingredients like “malodextrin” (usually a corn product), because I couldn’t guarantee that it didn’t come from a genetically modified plant. Perhaps this sounds a bit overboard, but it was my intention to be thorough!

I started with two main assumptions. 1: Organic foods are not genetically modified. I looked this up through the USDA Organic web site. According to their National Agricultural Library, “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” 2: Foods in the USA do not require genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such.

So off I went!

I pulled in to a big chain grocery store, grabbed my reusable shopping bags and headed in. Before I left I decided what I wanted to eat that night. I thought that if I had a goal in mind, I would be better prepared to get serious about my ingredients. I started in the produce aisle. Shopping list here: greens for salad and two pears. Admittedly, this wasn’t that difficult. I grabbed some organic Spring Mix for salad and a couple of organic pears, stopped at the nut display for some organic walnuts (who knew you could buy organic nuts??), checked out the refrigerated salad dressing and moved on. To the non-refrigerated salad dressing aisle I went.

My goal was vinaigrette, either raspberry or balsamic. Admittedly, I had no idea if these were really worth worrying about when it came to GMOs. What I found were ingredient battles like corn syrup vs. evaporated cane juice and salt vs. sea salt. There weren’t any balsamic vinaigrette options with an organic label. I thought that was good, all organic might be boring. I ended up with a roasted hazelnut and extra virgin artisan vinaigrette. I was sold by the sea salt, evaporated cane juice, lack of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, and blaring capitalized word “VEGAN” on the back label. Although there were those two ominous ingredients that I couldn’t verify…who knows what “natural flavor” means and I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of GMOs in the canola oil. Well, we can’t be perfect.

On to chicken! It took awhile but I finally found the organic chicken. Why, you might ask is this important to my GMO free meal? Well, it’s really more about what the chickens ate than anything else (that and my will to eat meats without added hormones and antibiotics.) The label on this meat said, “100% organic vegetarian fed diet.” Okay, no, I’m not a farmer and yes, I know that chickens are technically omnivores, but in this case my goal of no GMOs continued – none in the chicken feed, none in my chicken!

Next, brown sugar. Although I already had sugar at home, I wanted to make sure that every little part of my meal had been scrutinized. So, for my candied walnuts, I thought I should start comparing sugars. Once again, I ran into the issue of my limited knowledge…are GMOs an issue with sugar? I decided not to take any chances. I bought an organic store brand of light brown sugar that clearly said on the label, “…made from organic sugar cane grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or genetic modification.” Bingo! Two more ingredients and I would be ready to start cooking; bread (or rolls) and gorgonzola cheese.

I thought bread was going to be tough. Rumors abound about GM wheat crops. So I searched high and low to find some super organic bread. It had all sorts of reassuring ingredients, down to the organic soybean oil (and that one is rather important as 89% of soybean crops in the US are genetically modified). So far, however, all of my online research claims that there is no genetically modified wheat currently being grown for sale anywhere in the world. Very good to know!

Last, but not least was the cheese. I ended up with Amish blue cheese. Yum!

Dinner!

What did I learn? First off, that there are a lot of ingredients in the food that we commonly eat. I ended up with foods containing fewer ingredients nearly all of which I could pronounce. Second, there were unexpected ingredients that I didn’t anticipate having to think about. For instance, I didn’t anticipate the need to check out the soybean oil in bread. Third, I noticed that sea salt, organic cane sugar and vegan labels were common place on much of the food I bought, whether or not it was labeled “organic.” Also, the organic brown sugar I used to candy the walnuts smelled rich like molasses, amazing! While it took me longer to shop, as I read the labels so thoroughly, and was more expensive than conventionally grown foods, for me, it was worth it.

In the end I had a very scrumptious dinner that also felt great to eat. It was full of color, somewhat low on the food chain and involved all of the food groups.

And that is my experience shopping for a GMO free dinner. Also, if you haven’t deduced my meal yet it was a lovely mixed green salad with blue cheese, pear slices, candied walnuts, chicken and a slice of bread with a little extra blue cheese on top.

Thanks for reading!

~Lana

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