As part of the Non-GMO Project’s celebration of Earth Month, we asked Sustainable Connections, a local non-profit, to join us in taking the Non-GMO Challenge. Sustainable Connections has been a pioneer in building the local-living economy movement in the United States and Canada. Their work bringing businesses together to transform and model an economy built on sustainable practices seemed a perfect complement to the mission of the Non-GMO Challenge, and the Non-GMO Project overall. In exchange for sharing their first-hand experiences of going non-GMO, we offered the Sustainable Connections team a non-GMO training session, and a Non-GMO Project-hosted luncheon.
During the training, Megan Westgate (Non-GMO Project Executive Director) covered the basics of what GMOs are, what foods are GMO (and how to shop non-GMO), and why people are opting not to eat GMOs. The Non-GMO Project wanted to ensure that the team at Sustainable Connections had the tools they needed to successfully make a non-GMO commitment. A week and a half later, we returned to their office and brought lunch! We shared a meal of potato leek and lentil soups, salad, bread, and deep dish chocolate chip pie–all non-GMO, of course! It was a real pleasure to share a meal together, and learn more about the work that each organization is doing. It was also inspiring to hear how committed the staff at Sustainable Connections were to the Challenge.
Since that time, many of the Sustainable Connections’ staff have maintained their commitment to eating non-GMO. As we wrap-up the Non-GMO Challenge, we’ve asked them to share their stories. Here are some of their experiences:
Mariah Ross, Sustainable Business Development Manager
– Watch a short clip of Mariah talking about her non-GMO commitment
I am a foodie who is already committed to buying local and organic. I try to buy very few packaged products focusing on a diet of local meat, veggies, fruits, nuts and local dairy. I know my meat, fisher and dairy farmers personally & I ask what they feed their animals asking specifically about non-GMO grain. I do like to drink red wine and eat chocolate. So, I feel like I do pretty well in my own kitchen. When I do buy something in the package, I am going to look for the non GMO label. I would say that I eat out fairly regularly and this is where I would like to focus on my commitment – for the next 30 days when I eat out, I am going ask my server if they could point me to any non-GMO items on the menu. I’ll explain that I am taking part in a non-GMO challenge and am trying to consume non-GMO foods. It will be interesting to see what kind of responses I receive. I might ask more targeted questions like…..can you tell me if there is soy product in your salad dressing. I will steer clear of Mexican and Asian food restaurants as I know it would be impossible to eat GMO free there. I’m excited to learn more about what our restaurants know when it comes to GMO & what they are going to help me learn in the process.
Someone in my office is talking about giving up cheap beer…..several of us asked why when beer is a wheat product & that is a low risk item. Cheap beer is usually corn & rice & millet….so is likely a GMO product. I passed the knowledge along to my husband & let him know that good beer is a better choice
Three weeks later….It is almost impossible to eat out and avoid GMOs. However, by asking what is non-GMO at every restaurant I have gone to, I have learned that servers know quite a bit about high allergen items, but nothing about GMOs. Most servers have been very helpful bringing out ingredient lists & are interested to learn right along with me. I am learning so much just by questioning what is in my food. Thank you for creating the challenge!!
Laura Ridenour, Food & Farming Manager
I have changed the way I eat to include mainly meals cooked and prepared at home, no grains, and whole ingredients sourced from farmers using organic practices (including cooking fats like lard and ghee). I almost never eat pre-prepared foods, and when I do, I seek restaurants that make things from scratch and source ingredients directly from the producer so I can verify what’s in the food. Most of the tips offered on the Non-GMO website didn’t relate to me because of the changes, and that was fun to see! Looking at the long list of hidden ingredients that often contain GMOs and GE foods was helpful — I learned that I have limited my exposure to GMOs immensely with this diet.
, Energy Program Assistant
I think for my challenge I want to do sort of an objective exploration for a week. There would be 2 parts to this. One would just involve being more aware and assessing every meal and making changes where possible to cut out GMOs. The second part would be writing a sentence or two every time I make a change, have a question, don’t have enough info to figure out if a food is safe, if I find myself in situations where I can’t avoid it, or other things like that. I think this would just be a cool way to really see how often it comes up and how relatively easy or difficult it is to make informed choices.
Three weeks later…One thing I changed in this process is that I refined my label reading skills….There are so many different facets to this problem but I think for me the most compelling talking point that I bring up when having a conversation about this issue is that GMOs are designed for increased herbicide usage and these chemicals get into the environment and the water and the food system and into everyone so no matter how much an individual cares about eating clean and organic food by using these farming practices we are increasingly taking the option to not be exposed to dangerous chemicals away from everyone. (Not to mention all the craziness with patenting genes and cross pollination… what a mess!)
Sara Southerland, Food & Farming Outreach Coordinator
My Non-GMO challenge is to not have any non-organic beer, corn or soy this month. I know organic doesn’t always ensure Non-GMO contamination, but it’s a good start.
I am a total foodie who makes most of my own food from scratch, buys local foods in season, preserves and is picky about ingredients. But, for some reason when it comes to beer or eating out at say, a Mexican restaurant, many of my usual values are not being matched. Being a part of this challenge will help me to be more aware and to consider GMOs in my diet, finding savvy strategies to avoid them in the busy day-to-day life.
Three weeks later…I discovered GMOs are in more food items than I would have anticipated – it is challenging to eat non-GMO! I also found that it is nearly impossible to eat non-GMO at a restaurant. At one of our local Mexican restaurants, I asked about their corn sourcing in regards to GMO corn. The answer I got was that the blue corn chips were organic and the yellow corn chips were not, but they were not GMO. I’m learning that the perception that if something is not labeled GMO, people’s assumption is that it’s GMO free. I’m glad the Non-GMO project is doing the work to label products that are Non-GMO, it helps! I will definitely be more aware of the products I’m buying, taking a closer look at the ingredients and help to educate others as well.
Alex Ramel, Energy and Policy Manager
I used the opportunity to learn a bit more about the types of products that may be GMO; for example, I was not previously aware that sugar beets, squash and zucchini are at risk. And I have had several conversations with my 10 year old son, Alden, about GMO’s and how to tell which foods are at risk. He has shown a lot of interest in healthy eating lately, and these discussions fit well within the general theme of training him to read the labels.
Martin Selch, Energy Conservation Engineer
When we looked at our pantry, we found that the majority of the food we eat comes from the bulk bins at the Community Food Coop, so our next step is to better educate ourselves about which of those is non-GMO…..We were very happy to see that when we looked more closely, we actually have a number of Non-GMO Project labeled foods in our house!
Learning about the prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. food supply was the last straw for me with regard to eating out. From now on, I’m paying much closer attention to what I order, and asking restaurants whether they have non-GMO options.
Michelle Grandy, Communications and Think Local First Manager
Being gluten free I have a tendency to eat a lot of corn products. It’s always been in the back of my head that I was likely eating a lot of GMO corn. I’ve always been bothered by that but have never taken the time to acknowledge that or figure out the best plan to change it. The Non-GMO Challenge was just the motivator I needed. I’ve started looking at labels in an effort to replace items in my pantry. The great thing is that I’m now more aware in general and have replaced more than just GMO corn products.