A quick google image search of the word "vegans" reveals pictures of colorful fruits and vegetables and not-so-colorful people. According to the internet, the face of veganism is young, middle-class, and mostly white. But this image is inaccurate and distorts the origins and much of the non-GMO innovation taking place in the plant-based space.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, BIPOC eaters are far more likely to adopt a plant-based diet than their white contemporaries. Flexitarian diets with reduced meat intake are more prevalent among nonwhite communities. Also, some plant-based protein sources that have recently gained visibility in the U.S. (think: tofu, tempeh and quinoa) aren't new at all. People of color all over the world have consumed these foods for centuries.
At the end of the day, plant-based foods are another realm where BIPOC communities have been active and trail-blazing for ages, only to have the media representation of the movement virtually erase their contributions.
If you're wondering why plant-based foods are so important in some communities of color, here is a brief overview of some key driving forces. We encourage you to explore the excellent resources listed below for some examples of first-hand content.
Food apartheid and local resistance
In the 70s and 80s, the term "food desert" emerged to describe lower-income communities where access to nutritious food was limited or non-existent. Food deserts were areas where gas stations or convenience stores might sell products that were technically food, but there weren't any grocery stores for residents, who were often racialized minorities.
Since then, "food desert" has been replaced by the more accurate term "food apartheid." Food apartheid better reflects racism's role in the emergence of underserved racialized communities and recognizes the resilience at work when residents grow and share good food.
Better living through veganism
Decades of discriminatory policies rooted in white supremacy, including zoning, development and lending practices, have led to ongoing food apartheid. Food apartheid has, in turn, contributed to diet-related chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer — all of which disproportionately impact people of color. For those who live and raise families in underserved communities, a plant-based diet can be a radical act of self-care and empowerment.
Lactose intolerance is another common health issue among people of color. The physiological ability to digest the sugar in cow's milk is far from universal. It’s actually quite the opposite. Lactose intolerance impacts an estimated 68% of people in the world, predominantly with Asian, Indigenous or African heritage. That means that for ⅔ of the global population, access to plant-based milk, cheese, yogurt, or other lactose-free foods is crucial.
Vegetarianism and veganism are commonly practiced among social justice activists, historically and currently. Civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks and Dick Gregory followed plant-based diets. Gregory wrote about his personal, political and dietary evolution in his book, Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature, describing the shared ethical foundations of social justice work and veganism, including an enduring dedication to non-violence, upholding the rights of all living beings, and dismantling systems of oppression, exploitation and commodification.
Social justice works to defeat systems of oppression in the food system and beyond — systems that are fundamental in GMOs' development and commodification.
In his article Decolonizing the GMO Debate, Benjamin Cohen describes the "unqualified acceptance of technology" as a form of colonialism. Embracing GMOs without question relies on and perpetuates the logic of conquest. "It puts nature in the position of an 'Other,' a separate sphere to be fixed or improved not just by humans but by Western, market-oriented humans. We are not part of ecosystems; we are in charge of them. Scientists are 'designing' nature."
Food is more than just a fuel that keeps a body going. It is embedded in traditions, intertwined with religious practices, social norms, and the very fabric of culture. Where food comes from, how it is produced, and what is accessible by whom are essential questions in the debate over food sovereignty.
To learn more about the intersection of plant-based foods and social justice, be sure to explore these resources:
- Instagram:Radical Veganism, original content by @radicalempath
- Instagram: White Supremacy and Veganism, original content by @sisoyvegan
- How Veganism Is Rooted in Black Activism, and Why It Isn't Just For White People, Ralinda Watts for PopSugar, October 1, 2021
- Karen Washington: It's Not a Food Desert, It's Food Apartheid, Anna Brones for Guernica, May 7, 2018
Did you know plant-based foods are one of the fastest-growing grocery categories? Shoppers are picking more plant-based options than ever before. As the plant-based category grows, so does biotechnology's interest in it.
Traditional, transgenic GMOs — including herbicide tolerant soybeans and corn engineered to create its own pesticide — have threatened the plant-based movement since they first entered the market in the 1990s. More recently, ingredients made through new GMO techniques such as gene editing and synthetic biology are popping up in some plant-based options — this infographic will show you where.
But, there is hope! For each product made with new GMOs, there is a wealth of non-GMO and organic options. The Non-GMO Project is proud to partner with more than 300 brands with Verified plant-based options.
Here are just a few of the companies embracing non-GMO innovation to make delicious and natural plant-based products. Enjoy!
Mouthwatering meat alternatives
Seattle-based Field Roast has been making delicious plant-based "loaves" since 1997, proving that plant-based products don't follow trends, they start them. Field Roast even journeyed into the natural habitat of some of America's most passionate hot dog consumers: stadiums and ballparks.
Good Catch offers a fresh plant-based take on seafood. The company's goal? To raise awareness of overfishing and reduce pressure on the world's oceans while delivering delicious plant-based options. In a few short years, their product range has grown to include crab cakes, salmon, tuna, fish sticks and fish burgers — all crafted from a magic blend of six different types of legumes.
Delectable Dairy Replacements
For the perfect addition to your morning coffee or cereal, Califia Farms has a plant-based option for every dairy need. From take-home plant-based milks and creamers to barista-ready blends that froth just like the real thing. There's even a range of creams suitable for cooking, to keep your favorite recipes animal-free.
Misha’s Kind Foods makes real cheeses and spreads "in the traditional way — just without the dairy." This Black-owned company is backed by some serious star power. Jay-Z and Chris Paul are both investors and Lizzo brought one of her favorite recipes made with Misha's ricotta to her 25.3 million Tik Tok followers.
Puris is a family-owned company in search of the perfect protein. Through cutting edge non-GMO crop genetics, Puris has developed high-yield, disease-resistance legumes and pulses — and a compelling vision for the future. They take great pride in working with farmers to ensure regenerative farming doesn't cost the farm or the earth.
…and for dessert?
For scrumptious sweets and tasty treats without animal-derived ingredients or GMOs, Divvies goes the extra mile, providing desserts free from major allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. The company's name reflects their philosophy of creating a product for everyone to enjoy and share. From the frozen foods aisle, Nada Moo dairy-free ice cream is made with organic coconut milk. It's Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, vegan and fair trade certified. Nada Moo is also a certified B Corp, proudly considering the impacts of all their business decisions on people, communities and the environment.
The original plant-based foods are, of course, plants. For thousands of years, humans have been enjoying fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, legumes and nuts, and combining them to create plant-based milks and patties. The brands highlighted here are some of the latest innovations in the plant-based space — but there are many more to explore. Visit our Verified Product listings to find more excellent plant-based options, and stay tuned for more planet-friendly plant-based foods!
Do you scream for ice cream? Or perhaps you love the taste of plant-based? Either way, we've got you covered with chilled Non-GMO Project Verified treats certain to satisfy. Each brand offers something special, and all create innovative flavors made with high-quality ingredients.
Ice cream and non-dairy frozen desserts pair wonderfully with fresh berries that are just coming into season. Or build out a whole self-serve sundae station at your next cook-out!
- Straus Family Creamery meets the gold standard for clean labels, with both USDA Organic Certification and the Non-GMO Project Butterfly. The whole production model relies on a comprehensive sustainability plan, prioritizing soil health and resource conservation. Straus offers all the classic flavors you expect from a family creamery, as well as some fresh takes like Chai Latte, Snickerdoodle and more. With the entire line certified kosher and gluten-free, who can say no to a scoop (or two)?
- For 16 years, Cosmic Bliss earned the loyalty of many plant-based fans under the banner Coconut Bliss, offering creamy, dairy-free ice creams made from coconut milk. The company's new name reflects their expansion into grass-fed dairy options and their continued dedication to sustainability, stewardship and deliciousness. With Cosmic Bliss offering both plant-based and dairy options, we wonder if their ice cream could invite dairy-lovers to try plant-based options. After all, if it says "Bliss" on the label, you know it’s got to be good.
- When DiNoci Dairy Free founder Scott Emeson embraced a plant-based diet, he didn't want to compromise on great tasting food (or rely on unnatural ingredients to fool his taste buds). So he created his own dairy free dessert without the soy, gluten or gum additives — and without GMOs. DiNoci starts with almond milk or oat milk, adding the highest quality ingredients to ensure great taste. Did you know 150 lbs of organic strawberries go into each batch of Strawberry? Made with natural, high-quality ingredients, DiNoci delivers a velvety treat you can feel good about.
- Nada Moo promises creamy coconut-milk frozen dessert that's "certifiably good for you" — a bold claim that's backed up by their ambitious certifications. Made with organic coconut milk, Nada Moo is Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, vegan and fair trade certified. It's also a certified B Corp, proudly considering the impacts of all their business decisions on people, communities and the environment. Nada Moo makes the most of sustainably sourced alternative sweeteners which provide sweetness without the blood sugar spike of cane sugar. With seasonal specials and one-of-a-kind flavors, maybe Nada Moo should be enjoyed year-round?
- The women behind female-owned O'MY created their "allergy-friendly" coconut milk-based gelato so everyone could enjoy it. They know all too well that dietary restrictions and allergies make it difficult for some people to join group meals and community events. Missing out can be isolating (a feeling none of us need more of!). That's why O'MY avoids common allergens in their recipes and even offers a low-sugar, keto-friendly line made with allulose. The result is just the right amount of sweetness without the high calories of glycemic impact or of cane sugar. Ingredient lists show simple, recognizable contents in every pint, and cocoa and chocolate are fair trade certified. Grab a spoon and join in with O'MY!
What are you waiting for? Add a scoop to that pie or crumble. With dozens of flavors available in dairy and plant-based options, the sky's the limit.
Join us next week when we bring you the best non-GMO side dishes and condiments for your next cookout. By the time the 4th of July weekend rolls around, we'll have your whole menu sorted — and Verified!
Plant-based foods are having a renaissance.
While staples such as veggie burgers and soy milk have been around for decades, we're witnessing a tsunami of innovative products that can romance the taste buds of vegans and omnivores, vegetarians and flexitarians.
Recent converts to the plant-based craze credit two reasons for their choice: They want to boost their health and save the planet.
The Butterfly can help you choose the right products, whether the benefits you want are personal, planetary or both.
Plant-based plus for a healthy planet
Most animal-derived products such as meat, eggs and dairy come from intensive, industrial-style livestock operations that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, polluted air and water and deforestation in the Amazon.
Choosing plant-based foods reduces harmful environmental impacts, and it makes better use of resources. Growing crops for livestock instead of directly feeding people costs us a lot of calories. Plant-based food expert Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute memorably compared consuming a serving of chicken to tossing eight servings of pasta in the trash for each one that we eat.
That's some seriously unsustainable spaghetti.
So, eating plant-based products is promising, but we still need to watch the downstream effects of crop production, including pesticide use and biodiversity impacts. Carefully choosing which crops we grow — and how we grow them — is part of building a sustainable food system.
For example, soy is a prominent player in many plant-based meat alternatives. Most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified for herbicide tolerance, meaning it resists weed killers such as glyphosate. The adoption of herbicide-tolerant GMOs has led to a 15-fold increase in glyphosate since the 1990s. Glyphosate is so widely used that even the weeds are used to it — and that's a massive problem for farmers.
So-called "superweeds" are common weeds that have developed immunity to weed killers. They are the nearly unstoppable foes of agriculture. Desperate farmers are turning to ever more toxic herbicides to get ahead of them. Glyphosate can't kill superweeds, so chemical companies are trying dicamba — and the results are catastrophic. Dicamba is a highly volatile herbicide famous for drifting off-target and inflicting miles of collateral damage. In 2017 alone, dicamba drift destroyed an estimated 3.6 million acres of crops — and the devastation has continued with each successive planting season.
Adopting a plant-based diet can go a long way toward a sustainable food system. Let's not let GMOs and the chemicals that go with them undermine our best efforts. Regenerative food systems are non-GMO.
Soy, synbio and sizzle
Shoppers are also choosing plant-based foods to support their own health. Studies link red and processed meat consumption to increased heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risks. But not all plant-based options are created equal: The risk-to-benefit ratio changes dramatically depending on how products are made.
Take soy, for example. Unprocessed soybeans are high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. But the keyword here is "unprocessed." Even products that start with the healthiest soybeans can lose much of their nutrition during processing. Highly processed plant-based foods can be healthier than meat without being exactly healthy.
Innovative plant-based products can mimic the taste and texture of animal-derived products. That's part of the reason their popularity is growing. But making plant-based products more like animal-derived ones is a tricky business. Animal products contain unique fats and proteins — that's what makes steaks sizzle and egg whites form stiff peaks — and purely plant-based products rarely behave the same. As one biotech company puts it, "Getting almond and other alt-milks to foam is about as effective as trying to juice a potato."
Some brands are turning to biotechnology to recreate plant-based options that taste, feel and act like animal-derived. However, some of these techniques could have health implications. Scientists can create "bio-identical" milk proteins (milk without the cow) or animal-identical fat (fats without the animal) using synthetic biology ("synbio") techniques. And a "bio-identical" product raises questions for the health-conscious consumer: Do synbio compounds carry the same health risks as the animal products they mimic? Would a soy-based burger with synbio animal fat reintroduce the health risks you're trying to avoid?
While synbio animal fats aren't yet commercially available, some frozen desserts on the market contain non-animal dairy proteins. These dairy proteins don't come from animals, but they contain lactose and have the same potential for allergic reactions as natural dairy.
As plant-based foods and biotechnology-based additives mingle, the blurred line can make it harder for you to choose the products you truly want.
That's where we come in. Luckily, our dedicated research team tracks the latest products and emerging biotechnology techniques. The Non-GMO Project Standard prohibits those sneaky synbio ingredients.
We believe everyone has the right to know what's in their food and make an informed choice about whether or not to consume GMOs. When you choose plant-based foods, the Butterfly helps you pick a product that meets your expectations.
The Non-GMO Project protects your right to choose and safeguards the integrity of your choices through clear labeling and natural products.
After all, the decisions you make to care for yourself and the planet are your chance to reform the food system. You exercise that power every time you buy groceries or sit down for a meal.
Make it count.
The Non-GMO Project was created because people had questions about genetically modified organisms. In the years before the Project was founded, now-Executive Director Megan Westgate worked at a food co-op. "We were seeing in stores that increasingly people were coming in and looking for non-GMO choices," she says. "They were having a hard time figuring out which food was GMO and which wasn't."
In 2007, GMOs were becoming prevalent in the supply chain and shoppers wanted clear, reliable information about how their food was produced. Two grocers in particular — The Natural Grocery Company in Berkeley, California and The Big Carrot Natural Food Market in Toronto, Ontario — led the brainstorming. How could they provide their communities with reliable information? What might a transparent, rigorous third-party certification program for GMO avoidance look like?
Fifteen years later, we've all come a long way. Awareness of the GMO issue is nearly universal at *97% and the Non-GMO Project has grown to meet demand.
Today, we provide:
- Verification for more than 66,000 products
- Partnerships with thousands of brands through the Product Verification Program
- Ongoing education and outreach for the public
- Continued monitoring of new developments in biotechnology
It's our job to make sure your interests are served, but it is your interest that drives this movement.
If it weren't for you, this Butterfly would never have gotten off the ground.
More shoppers than ever are looking for natural foods and non-GMO choices. That kind of collective action gets noticed — major food brands and retailers recognize that their customers are prioritizing a healthy, natural, and non-GMO food supply, and they're changing their operations accordingly.
Big fish going non-GMO: Walmart, Costco and more join boycott of GMO salmon
For example, the first generation of genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon was harvested and sold to U.S. seafood suppliers in May, 2021. Containing DNA from three different types of fish — Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, and the eel-like ocean pout — AquAdvantage salmon are genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as natural salmon while consuming less feed.
While those salmon were growing in island pens at freakish speed, the voices of concerned citizens and environmental groups moved 80 companies with more than 18,000 locations to boycott the GMO fish. At the national level, the boycott includes 8 of the top 10 grocery chains in the country: Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, H-E-B, Meijer and Target. More regional chains, chefs, restaurants and seafood suppliers have also pledged not to carry GMO salmon.
McDonald's + Beyond Meat: Fast food giant says no to new GMOs
Driven by individual choices at the grassroots level, collective action has spurred corporate action, catching the attention of some of the biggest boardrooms in the world. For example, McDonald's has opted for non-GMO ingredients in some of its latest and greatest products.
When the golden arches joined the plant-based protein craze with their new McPlant, they worked with Non-GMO Project Verified brand Beyond Meat to come up with the recipe. And their french fries — which are one of the most popular fast food menu items of all time — are made with non-GMO spuds rather than the genetically modified "Innate" potatoes that were created by one of their biggest suppliers. McDonald's issued a statement when GMO potatoes came on the market: “McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practice."
As the sign says, McDonald's serves billions of meals. Expanding their use of non-GMO ingredients indicates growing commitment to non-GMO and shows they are listening to their customers.
Your support for the Butterfly is changing how retailers and restaurants choose what they carry — and that changes the food system.
GMOs — new and old — have no place in our food supply
Working with a wide range of brands helps Non-GMO Project Verification increase non-GMO acreage and build a non-GMO supply chain, reducing pesticide use and supporting biodiversity in local ecosystems. In 2016, our partnership with Dannon led to the dairy company's commitment to go non-GMO with their top-selling yogurt brands. To reach this goal, 80,000 acres were planted with non-GMO crops for livestock feed.
Today, new GMO products made with emerging techniques are entering the food supply — and many of them bypass the Bioengineered Food Labeling law. It's more important than ever to shop for the food system you want to see. The Non-GMO Project Butterfly remains the most trusted and rigorous third-party certification for avoiding GMOs, new and old.
So, whether you visit big chains to find big brands or search out local, independent producers in your area, rest assured that every action is part of a larger movement towards the food system we are creating for future generations. With your choices, you've already inspired change in a global movement toward an equitable and regenerative food system.
In the words of Executive Director Megan Westgate:
"We are all connected in ways that make it possible to make big changes through small but important choices. That includes the food we buy, and also what we give back to the Earth and to each other."
The Non-GMO Project is honored to continue to serve you and your families.
*Source: Organic and Beyond Report ⓒ 2020, The Hartman Group, Inc.
In the developed world, we eat, on average, too many animal products. In fact, we eat way too many animal products. Not just too many for our own health, but too many for the health of the planet. These animal proteins aren’t just delicious, they’re valuable sources of protein, which is vital to growth, tissue repair, and other important stuff like helping your blood clot. We wouldn’t get very far without protein in our diet. So what’s a hapless, protein-dependent life form to do? Lucky for us, cutting back on the creature flesh has never been easier or tastier. That empty spot on our plates (and in our hearts) previously occupied by steak can now host one of the many plant-based meat alternatives, from the humble veggie burger to the latest in non-GMO seafood.
Read more about the meat-eating in the modern age
Leggo My Legumes
When it comes to plant-based protein sources, which plants should we choose for our daily dose? Your best bet is to sample a variety of different ones. (*Insider tip: “a variety” is often the answer to what kinds of foods you should eat.) Legumes — edible seeds or pods that grow on plants in the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family — include some of the top contenders like beans and peas. According to Dr. Meir Stamplfer of Harvard, "Replacing red meat with legumes can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and even certain forms of cancer. They make a good exchange for red meat because they contain many of the same nutrients, but fewer of the drawbacks.”
Mixing several sources of plant-based proteins can also improve digestibility and provide more of the essential amino acids which make up proteins. Plus, any time we choose a plant-based food over an animal-based one, we make a sustainable and resource-efficient choice. That’s a good reason to think of animal products in your diet as more of a treat than a staple.
While legumes are great plants providing quality proteins, it’s still important to choose non-GMO. Soybeans, for example, are the largest crop grown in the US, but 94 percent of soy is genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance. That means unless you see the Non-GMO Project Verification mark, those potential protein sources come with a hefty dose of glyphosate, dicamba, or 2-4D — toxic chemicals whose use has increased dramatically since the introduction of GMOs.
Read more about GMO soy
This week, the Non-GMO Project is offering a Q&A on plant-based meat alternatives and non-GMO legumes. Check out our Instagram and Facebook stories to participate! And we’ll see you here next week for part two of our deep dive on legumes. It’s a meaty topic.