By Derek Ratcliffe, husband, father, cook, grower of vegetables, healthy food provider.
Our Reality: GMO Country
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are unfortunately in so much of the food we see in grocery stores these days, especially in North America. If you want to eat these food products, stop reading here and go about your day. However, if you’d like to avoid them, there are steps you can take in order to know what is and what isn’t a GMO. All it takes is learning how to read food labels so you can avoid these products. It’s really just that simple.
GMOs are always in our information spheres. Germany and Scotland are recent additions to a growing list of countries that are banning GMO crops from being grown or imported. Our situation in Canada is not so simple because the companies that manufacture these products are already well imbedded into Canadian Agriculture.
Labelling of GMOs in food products is a discussion that’s happening at consumer levels. Huge companies are lobbying hard against having this regulation forced upon them. This article from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network goes into a lot more detail on this growing topic. As of right now, it’s our right as Canadians to look for foods labeled as GMO free. For foods that haven’t been labeled one way or another, if you know what to look for on the ingredients labels, you can learn to identify what may or may not contain genetically modified components.
Being Informed: Reading Food Labels
So how do you recognize GMOs? There are only eight main crops that are currently allowed in Canada from GMO sources. The crops that are allowed to be cultivated are canola, soy, corn and sugar beet. Additionally, there may be ingredients that have been imported that are genetically modified such as GE papaya, squash, cottonseed oil and milk products from rBGH.*
So that’s good news right? Wrong. These products combined are in approximately 70% of processed foods. That’s right, 70% of the foods we may find ready made on store shelves or restaurants contain GMOs in some form or another. For example, if fructose is listed as an ingredient but is not 100% certified organic or does not have a NO GMO label, it is more than likely high fructose corn syrup, produced from GMO corn.
The point is you have to change your behaviour. Read every single label. If you want to remove toxins from your food, it can be as simple as reading the labels on the products you are buying from the grocery store.
So how do you recognize these things? When it comes to produce, any number on the produce sticker (Product Lookup Unit – PLU) that starts with an 8 is GMO, however if it starts with a 9 it’s Organic. For packaged foods, a great place to start is by learning to recognize what ingredients the foods you are buying are made from. Not sure how to read the labels yourself? There are a number of downloadable apps for your smartphone that allow you to scan the barcode of various products in order to reveal the sources of the ingredients. Additionally, you can carry GMO cheat sheets when you go to the grocery store (i.e., to the point regarding fructose, or the GMO crops that are grown in Canada), or even better, learn how to make your own homemade versions of processed items you used to buy at the store. Not only will your food taste better but by choosing your own ingredients you can remove harmful toxins. Tasty.recipes is another great place to start, as we as a community aim to use organic, healthy ingredients wherever possible, that are free from preservatives, hormones, artificial colours, sweeteners, and GMO sources.
Making a Change: Home Cooking
Restaurants are also a problem because there are no food labels on the menu. Unfortunately in most cases, restaurant goers have no idea where that restaurant sourced their products, and whether or not they have preservatives or other artificial ingredients that I for one don’t want in my food. Cheap food is made with cheap ingredients – if you’re paying $1 for prepared food, how can it possibly be healthy. In many cases, restaurants have little consideration for quality and a larger concentration on the price or shelf life. Look for restaurants that source food from reliable and sustainable sources.
I have a philosophy about how I manage my kitchen. If I did not make it then I don’t know what’s in it. I seek to improve my skills and repertoire of recipes so I can always make new and exciting foods. That means I cook a lot from scratch and in sufficient volume to get a few meals from each cooking segment. Though it may seem like more work, food made at home can be cheaper, taste better and use better quality ingredients consistently if your willing to put in the upfront time to make it.
I put forth a conscious effort to help produce change in the marketplace by running two businesses that supply organic food and help others learn about their food systems. I want to get people excited about food again, so I write recipes to inspire people to cook at home. Nothing is better than a dish made fresh from scratch with quality ingredients you can actually pronounce. My aim is to help others reduce their reliance on food manufacturers. I vehemently believe change starts with home cooks. Let’s get creative in the kitchen, folks!
Home cooks rule!