NonGMO Project GMO food verification logo orange

Winter is upon us. If you're tucked away in the Pacific Northwest corner of the States like I am, that means another 4-5 months of soup season. Days are short, rain is steady, and the bright, fruit-forward flavors of summer have faded into a distant, sultry memory. It’s the season of donning our waterproof shells and thick wooly socks. And, if you’re of the gardening variety, you’re in for a wholesome winter harvest of chicory, endives, radishes, swiss chard, rutabaga, mustard greens and leeks. 

As winter deepens, our food preferences naturally and psychologically change with it. The human body is miraculously hardwired to crave and eat foods that keep us warm and full during colder months. With the outdoor grill turned off, we find ourselves gravitating towards our indoor crockpots and ovens. Our bodies are asking us, telling us, to eat with the seasons. To fuel up during the winter months, regulating our internal temperature with foods that warm and nourish us. 

The key to local + seasonal

Tuning into the seasons allows us to engage with food in a deeper, richer way. This awareness also invites a rooted sense of place, where we become aware of and even celebrate the foods local to our geographic environments. And when you combine what’s seasonal with what’s local, you get the freshest flavor. This means a guarantee that your food didn’t take a cross-continental road trip (bolstered with preservatives) to arrive at your grocery store. It also means that your food bears witness to where you live, telling the story of local farmers and growers who are dedicated towards offering you the region’s hallmark, most natural flavors.

The garden’s ripest and brightest

Kitchen counter: A cutting board with figs quartered, dark purple grapes and a bowl covered in muslin and flowers in the background

It wasn’t until I booked a one-way ticket to Europe this past summer that I truly understood the significance of eating locally and seasonally. After months of exploring Swiss, Austrian, German, Dutch and Danish flavors, I spent September living with two vegan chefs in the heart of Tuscany’s Arezzo region. That's where I witnessed hyper-local and seasonally-expressive cuisine on display. We passed the early autumn days harvesting food from the garden, mushroom hunting and cooking meals that touted Tuscany’s best. The ripest and brightest ingredients were main characters in our shared meals, and whatever the garden lacked we sourced from local producers. It was a slow, intentional practice of place-ful eating. I learned to curb my cravings for non-regional foods, and enjoyed the (almost meditative) practice of eating what was available, seasonal, and true to the region.

Bold, regional flavor

The local-centric, seasonal lifestyle around food I witnessed in Tuscany (and a number of other European countries) struck a chord in me. I wanted to understand what made freshness the key ingredient to so many of the dishes and homemade meals I enjoyed, specifically in Italy. What I witnessed and learned is that authentic Italian cuisine involves simple ingredients, largely dictated by climate and natural landscape. The flavors emblematic of Italian food culture pay homage to regional accessibility and seasonal availability. You won’t find an Italian snacking on fresh tomato bruschetta in January, or cooking up zuppa di castagne e ceci (chestnut and chickpea soup) in July. When your main ingredients boast bold regional flavor, it’s about maximizing those ingredients and letting the food speak for itself. 

Location laws and unruly food additives

Location plays such a critical role in Italian food production that Italy has passed a number of laws to protect the authenticity of products made in particular regions. And, speaking of laws, according to the New World Report, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) doesn’t allow additives in food production unless they’ve been proven to be unharmful to human consumption. The FDA has taken a different, more reactive approach in the States, where food additives are allowed into food production until they’re proven to be directly harmful to consumption. This means that food in the U.S. is not only likely to contain GMOs, but also foods rich in growth hormones and chemical preservatives to ensure a long shelf-life for our out-of-season eating habits and cravings. Not so in the larger European narrative around food, where (generally speaking) seasonal rhythms and locality play critical roles in the enjoyment of food closer to its origin and peak freshness. 

Take it from the Italians – Eat local and seasonal foods

On one hand, prioritizing local and seasonal food products allows you to bypass highly processed foods that tend to be low in nutritional density. When food products are engineered to withstand time and travel, you can bet that nutritional saliency takes a hit. According to the Center for Food Safety, about 70-80% of processed foods in the U.S. contain GMOs. So, eating seasonally and buying locally-produced food as much as possible helps you shop with confidence, knowing that your food was made as nature intended, not bioengineered in a lab. You’re also reducing environmental impacts by choosing organic, non-GMO and local products. Less food transportation = lower carbon footprint. And, you’re keeping money in your local community by supporting producers and growers in your area. Finally, farm-fresh, locally grown food picked at peak ripeness is JAM-packed with flavor. 

A white dinner plate on an outdoor table. The meal is couscous, stewed meat, potatoes and carrots, garnished with parsley and flowers.

When it comes to winter in a maritime climate, we all need our seasonal survival strategies. Since leaving Tuscany’s warm, Mediterranean embrace and expressively fresh, regional cuisine, I’ve been seeking out ways to enjoy the winter harvest in my Pacific Northwest home climate. Knowing what’s in season has been the simplest way to add more local freshness to my diet. Italy’s winter harvest is actually very similar to that of the United States, with squash, mushrooms, cabbage, lentils, and clementine and mandarins in full bloom. Another method to access local, seasonal foods is through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, where fresh produce is sourced from farmers local to your area. CSAs allow you to learn about fruits and veggies you may not have chosen at the grocery store, expanding your food horizons and palette preferences. And, winter farmers markets offer local and seasonal produce that’s readily available and assuredly delicious.

Escaping winter’s doldrums with fresh flavor

Even during these chilly months, there’s time to begin exploring a varied seasonal diet. Seasonally-bound and locally-based menus have the power to pull us from winter’s doldrums and feel connected to the place we’re in. Specifically in the Northwest, our seasonal rains and comparatively mild winters support cool-season crops even after the first frost. The winter harvest is robust and ready with flavor to nourish, sustain, and delight, even in the chilliest of seasons.   

(Pro tip! Next summer, take a moment to remember the dark, languid days of winter ahead. Flash freeze your summer harvest of blueberries, strawberries, peaches and raspberries. Then, on a cold winter’s night when you need a zing of summer, whip out those frozen berries and make yourself a ripe, tart treat.)

*Photos courtesy of the author


Madi BurkeGuest writer: Madi Burke. As a writer, explorer, and incessantly curious person, Madi Burke has always felt passionate about the natural world, our lived environments, and how to create more equitable systems that bring people closer to the nourishment and quality of life that comes with an integrated relationship to the earth. After receiving her undergraduate degree in sociology and speech communications, Madi went on to lead cycling trips in national parks, support nonprofit development, and now gets to help organizations tell their story as a freelance writer and brand manager.

Here comes the school year! And with it, the creative challenge of what to put in your kids' lunchboxes. Day after day. For the next 10 months, give or take. It's no wonder many caregivers struggle to come up with fresh combos of healthy, tasty meals that travel well without refrigeration.

We've got some fresh ideas and product recommendations to get you started.

Plant-based ideas for back to school

With several initiatives supporting vegan and plant-based choices, it's the perfect time to explore lunchbox options without the usual animal-derived products. For example, the Non-GMO Project is running a September campaign celebrating non-GMO innovations in plant-based foods. We'll outline best practices to avoid GMOs popping up in this category all month — follow our social media channels for handy infographics and future articles!

Meanwhile, the good folks behind Veganuary are in the midst of a back-to-school campaign. They're presenting a wealth of ideas and recipes through the Vegan School Lunch Challenge website to anyone who's curious about plant-based or just plain hungry. 

Guaranteed access to plant-based options in schools has never been more critical. Dairy milk has been a staple of school meals for decades — much to the distress of the many lactose-intolerant kids who receive it. Did you know the ability to comfortably consume dairy is essentially a genetic quirk, common among people with northern European ancestry but rare in communities of color? VegNews recently reported that "up to 80 percent of Black and Latinx people, up to 95 percent of Asian people, and more than 80 percent of Indigenous Americans cannot digest lactose." With health and educational impacts disproportionately impacting children of color, plant-based options are necessary for all school cafeterias.

To build out a plant-based main course, choose from these Non-GMO Project Verified sidekicks.

Sweet treats and salty snacks

The best snacks are both good for your child and tasty enough that they don't get traded away at recess. That's precisely the problem that motivated 180 Snacks founder to launch their own line of wholesome squares and bars. High-energy and high-nutrition tree nuts are combined with dried fruit, seeds and rice for just the right amount of sweetness and crunch. 180 Snacks products are Non-GMO Verified and free from peanuts, gluten and dairy to keep them classroom-friendly and shareable.

For a savory snack, there's a seaweed option your kid will love just as much as chips! SeaSnax Grab n Go Packs boast a delightfully spare ingredient list: Organic seaweed, organic extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. That's it. The only problem is that SeaSnax products are so addictive, they might disappear before school starts.

Choosing a dessert treat is pretty easy in late summer when fresh seasonal fruits are still available. However, once fall settles in and those options become harder to find, that's when YumEarth shines. YumEarth prides itself on using non-GMO ingredients for their allergy-friendly fruit snacks and candy — which means these treats are always welcome in the classroom.

Verified juices

What do you look for in a lunchbox beverage? The Non-GMO Project staff generally prioritize juices with no added sugars. We also (unsurprisingly) look for the Butterfly to ensure the apple juice that's added to many juice formulas comes from non-GMO apples. As always, a combination of Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic is considered the gold standard for clean foods.

We recommend Apple & Eve juice boxes, available in non-GMO and organic lines. Canadian shoppers have another option, Kiju organic juice. From classic apple to antioxidant-rich pomegranate-cherry, Kiju celebrates the many benefits of non-GMO and organic products — better for you, better for farmers and better for the planet!

Whether your child is trying out Meatless Monday or following a vegetarian lifestyle, you'll find a range of Non-GMO Project Verified options on our website. Plant-based options are growing in popularity — recent initiatives in Illinois, New York and California have expanded access to plant-based foods in school lunches. However, the rise of plant-based means we're also seeing a surge in GMO ingredients made from new genetic engineering techniques. Looking for the Butterfly when sourcing plant-based options for the whole family is more important than ever.

Together, we can protect the legacy of the plant-based movement, encouraging innovation while keeping it true to its roots. 

Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn what the evolution of plant-based means for you!

Did you know the Non-GMO Project verifies food and wellness products for animals as well as products made for people?

It's true! Verified food and treats abound, and dogs and cats are common benefactors. There are also other Verified supplies, including pet wipes, supplements and first aid products designed for creatures great and small. 

Looking for Non-GMO Project Verified products in the pet supply aisle can help us move to a more sustainable, non-GMO supply chain. Acreage that goes non-GMO sees fewer pesticide applications than land planted with GMO crops — whether the end user is human or not. 

Verified food for your four-legged friend

A calico cat looks up at the person kneeling to give it a dish of food.Dogs and cats are by far the most popular pets in North America — and both depend on a meat-based diet for their well-being. They just aren't set up for vegetarianism. Their digestive systems and nutritional needs are best served by consuming animal products. Which is an opportunity for anyone who wants to expand the non-GMO supply chain.

If you use meat or dairy products, choosing Non-GMO Project Verified options is one of the most impactful ways to support a non-GMO supply chain. That's because most GMO crops don't go towards feeding people; they go toward feeding livestock. Genetically modified corn, soy, cotton and alfalfa occupy more than 200 million acres in the U.S., and more than half of U.S. grains are fed to livestock. 

For animal-derived products to be in compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard, the livestock must have received non-GMO feed. That applies to animal-derived products destined for people or their pets. Going non-GMO for food and treats offers the same benefits whether those products are for you or your pet! 

Rover says, 9 out of 10 squirrels prefer non-GMO corn

A fully frown doberman sits in front of a tree to have its portrait taken. The dog is wearing a stylish bandana around its neck to show its support for preserving biodiversity.In 2012, a farmer in South Dakota named Paul Fonder stocked a squirrel feeder with one cob of genetically modified corn and one cob of non-GMO, organically-produced corn. The results were unambiguous: Local squirrels preferred the non-GMO and organic corn. Fonder repeated the experiment several times using different genetically modified and non-GMO corn varieties. Each time, squirrels picked non-GMO corn.

Fonder was inspired by an earlier experiment he'd read about in The Organic and Non-GMO Report — one that went awry in a fascinating way. The earlier experiment was in Illinois in 2007, when Maynard Kropf stashed 10 ears each of non-GMO and GMO corn in his garage, planning to conduct a taste test over the winter with squirrels. But Kropf forgot about the corn, never putting it out. Local mice soon volunteered, chewing through the paper bags to consume every last kernel of the non-GMO corn and leaving the GMO varieties untouched.

Some ranchers have reported improved health outcomes after switching to non-GMO livestock feed, including better fertility and digestive health.

Admittedly, these taste tests were ad hoc affairs. The ranchers' observations are anecdotal, lacking the structure of a formal study. Still, the stories are compelling and underscore the need for rigorous, independent, long-term feeding studies on the effects of GMOs. 

Shoppers like you have many reasons for looking for the Butterfly. Are you looking for the best natural products for your best friend? Would you like to see more acreage converted to non-GMO production? Many reasons apply just as well to products you buy for your pet as to products you buy for yourself — and all of them help move the supply chain toward a non-GMO future.

Non-GMO vanilla
Many of the processed foods that we see on grocery shelves today bear an ingredient label that says “artificially flavored.” Due to the prevalence of artificial additives in the marketplace, one of the questions we are asked most frequently from savvy shoppers is: “Why did I see the word artificial in the ingredients of a Non-GMO Project Verified product?”

Similar to how the word “modified” does not mean genetically modified when referring to modified corn starch or similar products, “artificial” does not inherently mean an ingredient is GMO. “Artificial flavor” is a term used by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to classify flavorings not found in nature or derived from natural elements (plants or animals). Artificial flavors are produced through synthesis in a lab to mimic the taste and chemical makeup of a natural counterpart. They are often used to cut costs for food producers. While this production process can be achieved without any genetic engineering—no GMOs required—some producers do choose to use GMOs.

It’s important to recognize that while artificial does not inherently classify ingredients as a GMO, some artificial ingredients do come from GMOs—especially GMO microorganisms. Those are the types of artificial ingredients that are addressed in the Non-GMO Project Standard.

The best way to avoid GMOs when you shop is to look for Non-GMO Project Verified products.

What Makes A Flavor

Flavors are added to food primarily for their taste rather than nutritional value. Think of strawberry jam—while the strawberries in the jam are flavorful, they wouldn’t be considered a flavor in that product. However, in a product like strawberry gum,.strawberry would be considered a flavor because it is present solely for taste.

In the US, flavors are regulated by the FDA, which enforces the Food Additives and Amendment Act of 1958. Under this law, the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of new food additives, including flavors, before they can be used in food products.

The FDA categorizes flavorings as either natural (e.g., vanilla bean extract, almond extract), artificial (e.g., synthesized vanillin, benzaldehyde), or spices (e.g., basil, cumin seed, or paprika). While artificial flavors are those not derived from natural elements, natural flavors are the processed and concentrated form of the plant or animal they came from. Spices are simply dried vegetables with no added flavoring. Ingredients traditionally regarded as foods, like onions, garlic, and celery, must be separately disclosed on a product’s ingredient list because they are not considered spices by the FDA.

Where We Come In

With thousands of flavoring substances in use today and varying methods used to produce them, it is impossible for consumers to tell if a product contains GMOs. That’s why the Non-GMO Project includes special provisions for evaluating microorganisms, including those used to produce artificial flavors, in our Standard. In many cases, this process goes all the way back to the growth medium the microorganism was grown on. Just like the milk from a cow that's raised on GMOs can't be Non-GMO Project Verified, a microorganism can’t eat GMOs and then produce Verified flavorings.

The next time you reach for that artificial vanilla flavor, Look for the Butterfly so you can be sure that product is non-GMO, right back to any microorganisms involved. Non-GMO Project Verified products are third-party tested and backed by our rigorous Standard to help take the guesswork out of shopping for you and your family.

Find Non-GMO Project Verified products

This content was originally posted on 5/28/2019.

Holiday Gifts

It's been quite a year. Of course it's not over yet: Chronologically we still have a few weeks left. When this whole "New Normal" started in the spring, it was heavy on the new and light on the normal. As we head into winter, the barometer has changed — and this holiday season could well reshape more of our traditions.

There is a strange freedom in this newness — a chance to rewrite the script of the holidays. December is usually a hectic switcheroo of a month: Time off from work and school is populated with a dramatic uptick in to-do lists and social engagements. The formula is different this year. How can we balance our need to connect with the travel that we don't take? How can the novelty of new approaches shake up our holidays? With festivities curtailed, we have more time to reflect on what our dearest relationships mean to us — and the opportunity to show it in unique ways.

That's a 2020 holiday.

Give a helping hand

If you find yourself with more time than money, a little help can go a long way.

Books worth sharing

I don't know about you, but after months of doomscrolling my attention span is that of a badly concussed fruit fly. Books that managed to break even the most dense brian fog are treasures indeed. Be sure to reach out to your local bookstore for these and other great reads.

Purchase with a purpose

If you're looking for more substantial holiday gifts, we encourage you to support small and local businesses as much as possible. There are also online options for amazing wares from BIPOC-owned businesses that prioritize environmentally responsible production. A good rule of thumb is "buy less, buy quality, buy with purpose." The following resources pass that bar beautifully.

The wrap-up

Whatever your giving choices this year, give a thought to the packaging. My personal pet peeve is fancy wrapping paper that can't be recycled. I inwardly cringe at the hills of discarded metallic paper and associated plastic ribbons. To turn that frown upside down, consider these alternatives.

Hopefully this list has provided some new takes on timely traditions. Or maybe it's a jumping off point, inspiring you to branch out in an entirely new direction (in which case, please share it with us if you feel so inclined! We're always looking for new ideas to celebrate and connect.) From all of us at the Non-GMO Project, we wish you a happy, healthy holiday season, and all the time in the coming years to spend with your loved ones.

Non-GMO vanillaMany of the processed foods that we see on grocery shelves today bear an ingredient label that says “artificially flavored.” Due to the prevalence of artificial additives in the marketplace, one of the questions we are asked most frequently from savvy shoppers is: “Why did I see the word artificial in the ingredients of a Non-GMO Project Verified product?”

Similar to how the word “modified” does not mean genetically modified when referring to modified corn starch or similar products, “artificial” does not inherently mean an ingredient is GMO. “Artificial flavor” is a term used by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to classify flavorings not found in nature or derived from natural elements (plants or animals). Artificial flavors are produced through synthesis in a lab to mimic the taste and chemical makeup of a natural counterpart. They are often used to cut costs for food producers. While this production process can be achieved without any genetic engineering—no GMOs required—some producers do choose to use GMOs.

It’s important to recognize that while artificial does not inherently classify ingredients as a GMO, some artificial ingredients do come from GMOs—especially GMO microorganisms. Those are the types of artificial ingredients that are addressed in the Non-GMO Project Standard. The best way to avoid GMOs when you shop is to look for Non-GMO Project Verified products.

What Makes A Flavor

Flavors are added to food primarily for their taste rather than nutritional value. Think of strawberry jam—while the strawberries in the jam are flavorful, they wouldn’t be considered a flavor in that product. However, in a product like strawberry gum or toothpaste, strawberry would be considered a flavor because it is present solely for taste.

In the US, flavors are regulated by the FDA, which enforces the Food Additives and Amendment Act of 1958. Under this law, the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of new food additives, including flavors, before they can be used in food products.

The FDA categorizes flavorings as either natural (e.g., vanilla bean extract, almond extract), artificial (e.g., synthesized vanillin, benzaldehyde), or spices (e.g., basil, cumin seed, or paprika). While artificial flavors are those not derived from natural elements, natural flavors are the processed and concentrated form of the plant or animal they came from. Spices are simply dried vegetables with no added flavoring. Ingredients traditionally regarded as foods, like onions, garlic, and celery, must be separately disclosed on a product’s ingredient list because they are not considered spices by the FDA.

Where We Come In

With thousands of flavoring substances in use today and varying methods used to produce them, it is impossible for consumers to tell if a product contains GMOs. That’s why the Non-GMO Project includes special provisions for evaluating microorganisms, including those used to produce artificial flavors, in our Standard. In many cases, this process goes all the way back to the growth medium the microorganism was grown on. Just like milk from a cow that's raised on GMOs can't be Non-GMO Project Verified, a microorganism can't eat GMOs and then produce Verified flavorings.

The next time you reach for that artificial vanilla flavor, Look for the Butterfly so you can be sure that product is non-GMO, right back to any microorganisms involved. Non-GMO Project Verified products are third-party tested and backed by our rigorous Standard to help take the guesswork out of shopping for you and your family.

Find Non-GMO Project Verified products

magnifiercrossarrow-right linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram