The problem with GMOs and their accompanying pesticides, as I explain in my new book, Modified, is that they are invisible. Borrowing language from my five-year-old son, I call them “Invisible Monsters.”
I write, “After all, we are creating, growing, and eating things to which we’ve given characteristics that are undetectable to our naked eyes and discerning noses—and for that matter, to the eyes and noses of birds, deer, butterflies, and raccoons, too.” (While researching this book, I learned that butterflies can smell, too!)
With all of the news of various invisible monsters lurking in our food containers, water supplies and air, weeding out the various toxins can feel overwhelming to any mother, any parent, any person, honestly. My friend Jodi tells me she feels like she’s on a hamster wheel all the time, always learning new information that undoes something she learned previously.
However, in my time researching Modified and talking to scientists, farmers, pediatricians, allergists and general practitioners, I did learn a few things you can do to keep your family clean from GMOs—which inherently carry their own pesticide inside them—and the pesticides they are laden with—many of which are proven to be cancer causing and endocrine disruptors, causing anything from asthma to learning disabilities to obesity.
- Eat organic. Studies have shown that just eating organic for two to three weeks can significantly reduce the amount of dangerous pesticides found in urine samples. Many people worry that eating organic is cost-prohibitive and selective. It’s true; organic just simply costs more, which is a shame and should be changed in this country. That said, in our family we’ve found ways to cut costs by buying large quantities of bulk organic beans, or buying boxes of “tomato seconds” from our friends Chris and Gallit to make sauce that we can for the winter, or sharing a local, grass fed beef cow, butchered locally. When you’re first starting out, these can seem like huge changes to your life. But, oddly, as you go along, there’s nothing more soul satisfying than having a freezer full of meat and a pantry full of canned goods that taste every bit of summer.
- Stop eating corn: Sorry. It’s true. Most corn is contaminated either from pollination or just human error at the Co-op and grain bin level. Popcorn, though, if you can find it organic—because non-GMO does not mean it hasn’t been sprayed with the dangerous, endocrine disrupting herbicide atrazine– is the least likely to be GMO and sprayed.
- Make your own jams: Most jams and preserves and jellies contain citric acid, which is made most often from GMO corn, “natural flavors” made from GMO soy or corn and sugar made from GMO sugar beets. Homemade jams made from local berries, apples, grapes, pears, peaches, oranges etc, are the perfect winter store and need not have anything more than sugar, fruit and maybe a little lemon juice. And you will save money making your own, especially if you ask your local farmers for their “seconds” of fruit which may have small bruises or cracks you can cut off and use perfectly well in a jam. (You can freeze jams in ball jars, leaving 2 inches of space at the top of the jar or can them to keep longer. My mother’s friend Paula makes a frozen strawberry jam every winter that she purees with very little sugar and lemon juice then freezes in ball jars.)
- Salt your food wisely: Most iodized salt contains dextrose, a sugar made from GMO corn, used as a “free-flowing” agent. I choose a local sea salt for my family these days. It’s funny, but ever since our diet has become intently based on local vegetables and meats, I have become a salt snob! I can actually taste the difference between more metallic and processed salt which has been mined, from the briny, layered flavors of fleur de sel crystals from France or deep flavors of the gray Celtic salts or bright, clean taste of white Maine sea salts. The way I cook these days, there’s nothing better than simple cooking with olive oil and good quality sea salt (I even bring my own when traveling!)
- Switch to organic sugar: Inorganic sugar is made these days, most often, with GMO sugar beets, which are sprayed heavily with Round-Up or glyphosate, as well as carrying their own internal pesticide. Even non-organic sugar cane sugars are sprayed with cancer causing glyphosate, often right before harvest. By unhooking from this system you will be doing not only your body good, but helping to prevent the incredible contamination of the waters off the coast of Florida which have been disastrously affected by the run-off from sugar cane farms, as well as helping the sugar cane workers in central and south America who are contracting liver disease, which many researchers believe is from the glyphosate that is sprayed and then burned on sugar cane farms.
- Eschew pre-mixed baking powders: Most baking powders have cornstarch in them, made from GMO corn. Instead mix two teaspoons of cream of tartar with one teaspoon of baking soda and use in your recipe. I think this mixture leavens recipes better than pre-mixed; so much better that when I found a baking powder that used potato starch instead of corn, I went back to mixing my own because it works and tastes better!
- Buy local, grass fed organic dairy from a farmer you trust—and, to get away from plastics, which contain phtlalates and BPAs, ask them if they will bottle your milk for you in a glass jar you provide, or put your cheese in your own container each week! (I also buy cheese from Rumiano, a northern California based company that makes the first GMO-free, organic and grass fed dairy cheeses that are simply delicious—I love their creamy mozzarella and sharp cheddar.)
- Find a local chicken farmer you trust. Chickens are raised to get fat fast on corn and their meat imparts corn protein when we eat it, if you can believe it. But there are many farmers out there who are raising their chickens on oats, barley, compost, bugs, and organic grain mixes. Find someone whom you trust to raise your chickens and eggs humanely and organically, and who is thinking outside the GMO-corn box.
- Drink organic wine. I learned while researching and writing Modified that not only are most conventional grapes soaked with pesticides, but also in the US we use a kind of yeast in the fermenting process, which is actually a GMO. These days, though, there’re lots of organic choices out there. One of our favorites is a 2014 montepulciano from Italy with a lady bug on the label, made a by a vineyard called Francesco Cirelli, after its young and intrepid owner.
- All honey is not equal: Try to buy local honey that comes from farms that are organic and are well buffered from conventional farms. Bees pick up GMO pollens and pesticides and bring them back to their hives; researchers are finding that in honey samples the world over, most contain pesticides and GMO pollen.
Learn more about Modified by Caitlin Shetterly!