After learning about the multitude of serious issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food, Tucson musician Manny Lopez started seeking out GMO-free foods at the grocery store and in restaurants-even though it often means paying more money. "It's worth it," says Lopez, and he isn't alone. In restaurants, demand is so great that non-GMO is considered one of the top trends likely to shape menus in 2016.
Unfortunately, GMOs aren't mandatorily labeled in this country-a fact that prompts many people to think that it's impossible to avoid them when dining out. But nothing could be further from the truth. Just try these strategies from my book Going Against GMOs:
Learn how to shop non-GMO, and transfer that knowledge to dining out. Problem foods in grocery stores, such as corn, soy, and beet sugar (also found in "sugar"), are the same foods that are likely to turn up as GMO ingredients in restaurants.
Seek out non-GMO restaurants.
In addition to "non-GMO," search for "farm-to-table" restaurants, or those that emphasize organic produce or grass-fed meats. It's much easier to find dishes that are free of genetically modified ingredients in these types of establishments.
Consider the source.
Some types of cuisine are much more likely to contain GMOs than others. Mexican food, for instance, is heavily based on corn, and many Asian dishes are based on soy, two GMO-problem foods. Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern cuisines, on the other hand, are based on olive oil, so it's easier to order non-GMO meals at restaurants that specialize in these cuisines.
Do your homework.
Study menus ahead of time, and look for obvious sources of GMOs that you'll want to avoid. Then look for entrées, such as a grass-fed burgers, wild-caught halibut, or quinoa-veggie bowls, that are more likely to be GMO-free.
Don't forget the oil.
Cheap GM vegetable oils, especially canola and soybean oils, are used in virtually all restaurants. Also, in many eateries, olive oil is blended or thinned with GM vegetable oils. Seek out restaurants that use 100% pure olive oil or other non-GMO oils, such as coconut oil or sesame oil, for cooking and salad dressings.
Don't be afraid to ask.
Call ahead during non-busy hours to talk to the chef, manager, or owner. Ask questions about the ingredients in various dishes and let restaurant personnel know about your strong desire to eat non-GMO food. Not only will this help you make better food choices, but it also adds another voice to the growing demand for non-GMO dishes. Smart restaurateurs will listen to their customers.
When in doubt, choose dishes that emphasize fresh veggies as much as possible. Currently, all vegetables-except for yellow squash, alfalfa sprouts, and corn-are not genetically modified. Note that GMO potatoes have been approved for sale in the US, and GM zucchini is being tested. While GMO versions of these two vegetables aren't currently on the market, they likely will be in the near future.
What About Fast Food?
Think fast food always contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Think again. The times, they are a-changing.
- Last year, the nationwide chain Chipotle Mexican Grill began preparing food free of all direct sources of GMOs.
- Another Mexican restaurant chain, California-based Sharky's Woodfired Mexican Grill, committed to using key non-GMO ingredients such as organic corn and Non-GMO Project Verified tofu.
- TownHall, a fast-casual restaurant in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, overhauled its menu to remove genetically modified ingredients. It plans to become Non-GMO Project Verified.
- Last summer, Amy's Drive Thru, the flagship veggie fast-food outlet from the iconic frozen and canned foods brand Amy's Kitchen, opened for business in the San Francisco Bay Area. It offers burgers, shakes, and fries made with non-GMO ingredients, most of which are local and organic.
- Also, last November, the first USDA organic certified fast-food restaurant, The Organic Coup, opened in Pleasanton, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco. (Organic foods cannot be made with GMOs.) The restaurant offers main menu items featuring its signature, organic chicken breast, which is fried in coconut oil and served in a sandwich, wrap, or bowl. The Organic Coup plans to open 25 more restaurants, mainly on the West Coast, this year.
Going Against GMOs Giveaway!
Want to increase your non-GMO savvy? Enter to win a copy of Going Against GMOs by Melissa Diane Smith.
Two different ways to enter:
(1) Email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and write "Going Against GMOs entry" in the subject line.
(2) Sign up to get Melissa's "Against the Grain Nutrition" e-newsletter at www.melissadianesmith.com/gmofree. You can enter both ways, or either way, during the month of March. One entrant will be chosen at random in each giveaway on April 1.
Did you know?
7 in 10 consumers say they would be more likely to purchase food or a beverage described as GMO-Free in restaurants ... and 34 percent would be willing to pay more for it.
Source: Technomic's Top 10 Menu Trends of 2016
See the Movie
Do you ever feel like the more you learn about GMOs, the more you feel consumed by what you don't know about them and by fear and hopelessness about our present food situation? That's the idea behind Consumed, a dramatic thriller set in the complex world of GMOs. It's not a documentary. It's the first narrative feature film about the topic told in deeply personal ways.
The story is anchored by a working-class, single mother played by Zoe Lister-Jones who goes on a journey to uncover the cause of her son's mysterious illness and allergies. Interwoven are the stories of an organic farmer (played by Danny Glover) in danger of losing his farm, the CEO of a biotechnology corporation, two scientists on the verge of a major discovery, and an ex-cop caught in the middle of it all. To learn more, visit Consumedthemovie.com.