Sunday has become a major cooking day in our household. Since moving back to the United States I’ve become extremely conscious of the types and quality of the food that we eat. Even with all the choices available here I still find that I need to prepare a lot of things myself. So on Sundays I do things like bake bread and make roasts in the slow cooker. I’m so fussy that I won’t even let my husband take packaged deli meat or sliced bread from the supermarket for his lunches. He’s on a low-sodium diet for his arm lymphedema and I noticed that if I found a reduced sodium deli meat, it had nitrates. The nitrate-free meats, on the other hand, have too much salt. I’m happy with the taste of one popular brand of gluten-free bread, but not so happy with the canola oil and corn syrup solids I see listed on the ingredients label.

homemade bread

Welcome to my world of food fastidiousness. There’s a battle going on right now in the state of Washington over the genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling Initiative 522. Everyone who cares about the future of our food supply should be watching this debate, whether you live up there or not. Those who care about having information about what goes into our food products are fighting entrenched corporations who have donated millions of dollars to fight the initiative. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) was sued by the Washington Attorney General for failing to disclose the identity of its contributing members. And if the health consequences of GMO food don’t scare you, the economic ones should. A report released this week from the Alliance For Natural Health USA shows that not labeling GMO food in Washington could cost the state 130,000 jobs along with huge financial losses due to food not being able to be exported.

Sadly, however, I feel like there is a lot of complacency by the public on these issues. Maybe people are too distracted and haven’t thought about just how crucial it is to screen and be aware of what we put in and on our bodies. We lack vigilance as a society and if we aren’t careful, things are going to get a lot worse than they already are. Personally, I do not consume GMO food. I am aware that much of what we eat has been genetically modified for many years now and I am also aware of some of the beneficial crops for people in developing countries. If a genetically modified product has undergone rigorous testing by independent scientists then I will accept it. The major companies who are producing the GM food have not, however, earned my trust yet. Therefore I stay away. I am all in favor of good science and if incontrovertible evidence is presented to me, I will accept it. This is, however, still the United States and I expect to have a choice regarding what I consume. I want it labeled, or at least an explanation of what transgenic engineering was performed and by who. I do not expect to be bullied into consuming it.

Since we like to talk about genetics on this site, consider the way GMO food alters the beneficial gut flora of a human being. If GMO food has already made people sick, what are the long-term effects on the human species of ingesting them? I recommend a watch of this documentary series if you don’t know anything about this subject:

Curious to see if any of my favorite brands are in the portfolios of those companies being so sneaky about their fight against I-522, I checked out the published list of contributors. Thankfully I had very few of their products in my cabinets – and the ones I did have are going straight back to the store. I know it might seem like a pain to change consumption habits, but when you consider the gastrointestinal distress and inflammation caused by GMO food, you might want to reconsider. As we MTHFR people know, very few things are as important as gut health when it comes to preventative health care. I always hear how expensive it is to shop organic but if you look at the brands represented on the list of companies against I-522 you’ll see that these aren’t cheap brands! I can think of at least one local grocery store that carries all of these products and another that carries none of them. Once you adjust your mindset and start thinking about the long-term health effects of what you eat, it’s very easy to change habits and patterns.

To be clear, I am not only concerned about the avoidance of GMO food. I also look for organic food and, as much as possible, local food. Do you really want to be ingesting pesticides along with all the other toxic chemicals we are now exposed to every day? Take the average baby, for example. Newborns already have 200 chemicals in their systems – that’s before they even get their start in life. If you want to live a healthy life and have a healthy body you have to keep your environment, food, beverages and personal care products as organic as possible. Supporting the people in your local area who are trying to keep things small, organic and sustainable is all part of this equation. The fresher your food, the more nutrients are preserved. Read more about the benefits of buying local here.

Where I live we have at least two wonderful options for obtaining farm fresh produce and products. One is a local co-op where customers can purchase weekly “shares” for pickup at various meeting spots around town. Another is an organic delivery service that allows me to order online up to twice a week. I know what local farm our Thanksgiving turkey is coming from, for example, as we reserved ours last week. Another option is to find farms that sell to the public in your local area and make arrangements with them to buy your food direct. My relatives in Australia do this and I always enjoy the taste of the fresh, organic food when we visit. Making staple foods at home is another great option, allowing you to know exactly what ingredients are going into each recipe. This is also helpful for people dealing with food allergies.

greenling local box

Ideally families would grow their own food. Unfortunately we live in a rented house at the moment and we cannot modify the property for a garden. You might have the same constraints so farm fresh is the next best thing. But we have to evaluate our entire diet. If you’re concerned about optimal health you should already be minimizing the amount of processed food you eat (that’s anything in a package) and ingesting only vegetables and natural protein. And some people can’t swing the costs of organic food. If this is the case, where possible be sure that any items you are consuming from the “Dirty Dozen” are organic. If you need to cut costs, go for conventional “Clean 15” foods. Try to buy food from small, independent companies and who are part of the Non-GMO project. Along with their site and clear labeling, this handy shopping guide will also alert you to which brands are safe.

Of course, here we and the farmers who provide for us face another threat. The passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), originally intended to regulate huge factory farms and uninspected imports that were responsible for disease outbreaks, has ensnared safe local and organic farmers. These small producers are in danger of being crushed in what seems to be simply a chance for big corporations to remove the competition. The Cornucopia Institute has issued a whitepaper on this, which discusses how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is using its powers to create an unbalanced regulatory environment that disproportionately burdens small farmers while potentially letting the largest offenders off the hook. Here is another opportunity for vigilance against the destruction of our food choices in the United States.

Sometimes we feel small in this huge world where corporate interests weigh heavily against the average individual. But the choices we make every day do matter. If everyone who is opposed to GMO food, for example, chose not to purchase products from companies refusing to label these ingredients, it would make a dent in their profits. The more awareness is spread about these issues and the more people who stand up against those who try to manipulate our food supply without full disclosure, the better things are going to be.

What are your tips for affording healthy, organic food? What food issues do you care about?

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