Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Food We Eat

It all started with two documentaries, Food Inc and Farmageddon,  that placed the name Monsanto on the map for me. Prior, I never knew of the agri-giant that now controls about 23 per cent of the global seed market. Then, the term GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) caught my attention. It turned out that approximately 90 per cent of soy, corn, sugar beets, cotton and canola crops, grown in the US, are likely to be genetically engineered. 

Corn alone has so many applications in the food industry that I begin to wonder, how we still haven't turned into that cylindrical yellow corn cob. Consider that out of some 37 ingredients in a chicken McNugget, around 30 are made from corn. Fillers and artificial sweeteners are one example of products, engineered from the basic molecules that compose corn starch. 

Soybeans, of course, are often rotated with corn and are also plentiful in the US farm fields. Like corn, protein-rich soy meal is used as an animal feed and the rest is used to make cooking oil and numerous food additives. Canned soups, baked goods, chocolate, meat and milk substitute products- all contain soy protein additives and isolates.

Basically, corn and soy comprise most of what North America eats these days, and if we now take into consideration the fact that around 90 per cent of it is genetically modified, I start to understand what all the popular ailments like diabetes, cancer and numerous allergies and food intolerances are likely to be caused by. Surely, there are other factors influencing our state of health these days, like the lack of exercise and an increased level of stress- in turn, caused by a multitude of social and financial pressures- but given that our mental and physical functioning is dependent on quality energy that comes from food, what we eat has got to be a major contributor.

But wait... Genetically engineered food is only one piece of the puzzle! The bigger problem is the reason for tampering with food genes in the first place- and that is the pests' and weeds' growing tolerance of pesticides and herbicides and the apparent need to use yet harsher chemicals to keep them under control. The crops, in turn, needed to be genetically altered to withstand being sprayed, over and over, by agents like 2,4-D- a component of Agent Orange that was once spread over the fields of Vietnam in the 1970s. Agent Orange produced by... the infamous Monsanto. 

So let me get this straight... We are being fed genetically engineered, fertilizer soaked food, and are not even allowed to know about it?! Precisely. The so-called Big 6- the six largest players in the global seed and pesticide market- have so far donated $20M to oppose Proposition 37, which essentially calls for mandatory labeling of GMO products. Monsanto was the largest contributor at $7,100,500, followed by DuPont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. 

PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca-Cola and ConAgra are on the same list of opponents. In fact, having done some research on PepsiCo's food and beverage production practices, I found out that it entered into a partnership with Bayer- the largest stakeholder in the pesticide market- to provide seeds and chemicals to grow and treat potato fields in India. So all of you, lovers of Lay's, Ruffles, Fritos and Sunchips, might want reconsider your snack of choice. For crying out loud, I found out this morning that the brand of our protein drink, Ensure, contributed over $200,000 to the opposition! [In the garbage bin it went that same minute]

Nestle admittedly adds GE organisms to their baby formula and likely, the rest of their food and beverage lines, which often aim at children as the target market and main consumer. The last time I checked, Nestle's tin of baby formula cost $24 or so- one of the most expensive on the market, not counting organic alternatives. So essentially, we are paying for the brand that stands against our best judgement as parents. Once uncovered, this truth becomes one of the most disturbing and disgusting. If a tiny defenseless baby is disregarded in such a dramatic, neglectful way, what kind of leniency can we expect as adults?!

Until yesterday, I used President's Choice brand of baby formula, but having learnt that Loblaws is also likely to add GE ingredients to their baby food products, I took it back to the store and instead purchased their Organics version, which contains organic milk and soy oil. Earth's Best would have been the next choice, but at $34.95 a tin (as compared to Organics' $19.95 a tin), it is prohibitively expensive. I also changed our brand of protein powder to Kaizen Naturals- New Zealand whey protein, which is free of GMOs, hormones and chemical contaminants. It contains 24g of protein per 29.4g of powder and cost me $64 for a 2.3kg container- cheaper in comparison with brands like IsoFlex and MuscleTech

In the last few days, the intensity of my desire to learn more 
about the food we are so blissfully in love with, yet are slowly being crippled by, has dramatically increased. As I learn about it, I want to spread awareness in my immediate circle of friends and family- and beyond, if time and resources permit. These might be big and powerful corporations we are facing, but they cannot, will not, be able to withstand the pressure from the highly aware and knowledgeable public.



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