By guest blogger Caroline Kinsman, communications manager for the Non-GMO Project
With the fall season comes a celebration of the harvest. It's a perfect time to appreciate traditional, nourishing foods. But nowadays, that means thinking about some things our grandparents never had to -- such as whether or not an ingredient has been genetically engineered.
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants or animals created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
GMOs are labeled or banned in 64 other countries, but here in the U.S., unlabeled genetically engineered ingredients are present in approximately 75 percent of conventional processed foods. With more than 30 states now working on GMO labeling legislation, it's clear that Americans are concerned about GMOs. And at this time of year, which is so full of meaningful food celebrations, avoiding GMOs feels especially important. But the question is, how?
In celebration of the fourth annual Non-GMO Month this October, we offer the following tips for non-GMO shopping and cooking. Many of these are adapted from the newly released The Non-GMO Cookbook, which includes not only delicious recipes, but also lots of practical suggestions for keeping GMOs out of your shopping cart -- and off your harvest table.
1. Start with simple bulk ingredients. Although you might not see many non-GMO labels in the bulk aisle, if you're shopping for dry, single-ingredient items like grains and beans, chances are they're non-GMO. As a bonus, these items are also often inexpensive and the perfect base for hearty fall soups.
2. Swap high-risk oils with low-risk alternatives. The most prevalent GMO crops -- corn, soy, and canola -- are also some of the most common ingredients in vegetable oils. Luckily, substitutes are easy to find. For high-temperature cooking, try coconut oil, sunflower oil, or safflower oil. For low-temperature cooking, use extra virgin olive oil.
3. Choose Non-GMO Project Verified animal products. Animal feed is frequently loaded with GMO crops -- corn, soy, and cottonseed. In June, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approved the Non-GMO Project's label for meat and liquid eggs that have been produced according to our rigorous standards -- including feed testing. Non-GMO Project Verified milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream are also available.
4. Engage your local food store. More than 1,500 grocers across the U.S. and Canada are celebrating Non-GMO Month by hosting events, putting signs by Non-GMO Project Verified products, and building in-store displays. If your local stores aren't already participating, ask them to get involved. They'll get the bonus of being a community leader for informed choice, and you'll find it easier than ever to shop non-GMO.
5. Eat lots of produce! Fall brings new tasty delights from the garden -- kale, brussels sprouts, apples, and winter squash to name a few. Fortunately, most fresh produce is not genetically engineered (the only exceptions being corn, papaya, and summer squash). So let loose in the produce aisle! Also, check out the offerings at local farms, where you can often find magnificent heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables grown from traditional, non-GMO seeds.
6. Enjoy homemade sweet treats. Premade deserts can hide GMOs in their long ingredient lists. High-risk ingredients include sugar (which can be from GMO sugar beets), high-fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, eggs, dairy, and dairy substitutes. The good news is that most flours, including wheat, are low-risk for being genetically engineered, and so are most sugars, including cane, coconut, maple syrup, and agave. Baking at home presents lots of options for making celebratory desserts without GMOs.
7. Keep lunchboxes non-GMO. It's important to remember kids' lunches, which frequently host many processed foods like granola bars, lunchmeats, crackers, and breads. Stay on track with whole foods like grapes, carrots, celery sticks, almonds, or a favorite piece of fruit. Luckily, more than 12,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products are now available.
8. Share recipes and information. Connecting with family and friends is a great way to further inspire your non-GMO shopping and cooking. Consider hosting a "Non-GMO Potluck" where guests bring a non-GMO fact with their dish. To help everyone prepare, download the Non-GMO Project's free brochure of GMO FAQs.
Here's to many special meals this harvest season. We hope these tips help you enjoy celebrating your right to know what's in the food you're eating and feeding to your loved ones!
Caroline Kinsman is the communications manager for the Non-GMO Project, the only third-party verification for products produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance. Her passion for honest food production started at a young age on the family-owned dairy farm where she grew up. She traded in her milking shifts for a career in marketing and public relations. Today, Caroline feels at home talking about farming and food production, and how consumers are able to create incredible market change.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com
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