09/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: Jack and the GMO Beanstalk

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack. Jack came from a hard-up family, but he considered himself a savvy, enterprising lad. To prove it, he went to the market, worked a deal and ran home to show his mother his newest acquisition. Beans.

What kind of beans? his mother asked.

Magic beans. I got them off a biotech guy.

What did they cost, she said.

Almost nothing. Just the cow.

Somewhere between pissed and heart-broken, Jack's mother tossed the beans out the window, convinced they'd given away the only thing they had of value for nothing.

Meanwhile, the beans, which, being magic and all, grew. They grew a lot, and by morning, had put out a stalk so high Jack and his mother could not see the top of it.

See, I told you they were magic, Jack said.

Yes, but what kind of magic? his mother said.

Jack kissed her forehead and said, Mom, you are so old school. Then he began climbing up the beanstalk. This took all day and most of that night. He reached the top by midnight and came to a magnificent castle so huge he could slither under the door and get inside.

He ran smack into an ogre, or rather, the ogre's foot. He looked up and up until he could see the ogre's face. It was not smiling.

Fee fi fo fum, the ogre said.

You probably know the rest -- evil ogre in hot pursuit of Jack, who somehow escapes with the goose that lays the golden eggs.

So, what kind of magic were these beans? It depends on who's telling the story. A biotech company like Monsanto would boast about the beans' quick growing time, the fantastic yield -- c'mon, golden eggs -- painting a happily ever after scenario.

On the other hand, there's the unintended consequences. These aren't spoken of much, but Jack the consumer might have been duped, was almost an ogre's midnight snack, who knows just how happy an ending it really is?

Jack and his mother had a right to know what was in those beans. So do American consumers. This spring, President Obama vowed to "upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century," excellent news and a long time coming. But if President Obama's goal is to create a safe food system with the kind of transparency and accountability he has promised America, what's up with appointing former Monsanto VP Michael Taylor as senior advisor to the FDA? Taylor is not exactly the poster boy for full disclosure, as Seeds of Deception author Jeffrey Smith explains.

Monsanto, the folks who brought you Roundup and Agent Orange, also produces genetically modified soy and corn. Even if they deliver greater crop yield, enhanced nutrition and all the benefits Monsanto promises, there are still unknowns and unintended consequences in every color but green.

Studies indicate genetically modified crops pose risks to the planet, by means of contamination and dangerous loss of biodiversity. They can also pose risks to our health. Haven't heard much about these studies? Thank Monsanto, which has flooded the market with GMO products while suppressing test findings that might be bad for business.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans would not knowingly consume genetically modified products. But over half of us do, because there is no GMO labeling law Talk about unintended consequences -- we aren't being told what's in our food and unknowingly finance a practice we're opposed to.

The House just passed food bill H.R. 2749, which empowers the FDA to regulate how crops are raised and harvested. That puts Taylor in charge of the nation's farming practices -- big business meets risky business.

The good news is every new food safety issue (including Colorado's recall on salmonella -tainted ground beef) creates greater demand for a food system we can trust.

Unlike Jack's magic beans, that won't happen overnight. Until it does, eat defensively. Pass on processed products, where GMOs tend to lurk. Choose organic food or local food produced by a trustworthy source -- including yourself It's been a record breaking year for seed-buying and first-time gardeners.

Ensuring a safe food supply shouldn't take magic. It's our right. Cool beans.

Cool Beans Tamale Pie


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups packed greens -- kale or Swiss chard, collards or spinach or a combination, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 15-ounce can black beans or kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 2 cups black or kidney beans, cooked and cooled)
2 teaspoons lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
1/4 cup cilantro
sea salt to taste

1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup minced scallions
1/2 cup grated cheddar (optional)

Lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare filling:

In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute until vegetables soften, about five minutes.

Add the greens and stir until just wilted -- just a minute or two for spinach, but up to five for sturdier greens, like kale or collards.

Stir in chili powder, coriander and cumin. Add beans, tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir and heat through, about five minutes.

Add lime juice and cilantro and salt to taste. Remove from heat.

Prepare topping:

In a medium bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour and baking powder. In a separate bowl, add baking soda to yogurt and stir. Give it a minute to froth. Then beat in egg and stir in melted butter. Add liquid ingredients to the cornmeal mixture. Stir gently until it forms a thick batter. Stir in scallions and cilantro.

Pour bean and green filling into prepared greased baking pan. Top with optional grated cheese. Spread cornmeal topping over all.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden.

Serves 6.