The Roots of My Wake Up Call

It seems this first post should probably answer the underlying “why.”

Why did I suddenly feel compelled to start a blog about GMO (genetically modified organisms) food? What sparked my sudden awareness and eventual concern over genetically engineered products?

As a teenager, I worked in the restaurant industry, where it was standard procedure to fill a huge metal sink with water, dump in a packet of “bleach chemicals,” and submerge heads of lettuce to soak in the solution. My manager said it helped freshen the lettuce and remove brown spots, which made our salad mix last longer.

So I became aware early on that our food was not always what it seemed. But, better living through chemicals, right? That’s what I’ve grown up believing.

As an adult, I began to notice that the food at certain restaurants caused me stomach distress — typically Chinese and steak house restaurants. When someone suggested I might be “allergic” to the seasoning salt used during the cooking process, I began to ask my waitstaff to hold the stuff. Sure enough, that reduced the problem, but not completely. When I learned that seasoning salts often contained MSG, I chose Chinese restaurants that touted “no msg” in their food.

But every once in a while, no matter how careful I was, the problem would crop up. I came to accept it as part of the vagaries of the restaurant business, remembering full well what it was like to have worked in one. It certainly didn’t stop me from eating out. 🙂

Then there was that trip to Italy.

My traveling companion had been lactose intolerant all his life. After several days of watching me slurp gelato, cappuccinos and cream sauces, he ventured a taste, “knowing the danger but willing to endure the price.” Strangely, he had no reaction.

So he took another risk the following day with a big plate of truffle ravioli in cream sauce. And suffered no ill consequences.

The next several weeks of the trip were filled with any and all forms of dairy he could possibly get his fork into. Nothing seemed to bother him. He was blissfully

When we returned to the states, his tolerance to dairy immediately evaporated. A naturopathic doctor friend explained it: “Our FDA requires milk to be pasturized at a higher temperature than the rest of the world, which causes the proteins to denature, rendering them indigestible for a large portion of our population.” Which made sense until he tried raw milk and still had the problem.

At that point in time, few of us knew about rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) in milk in the United States.

Fast forward to last year. There I was, enjoying life in the south of France, when something startled me during my morning shower.

All my life I’d grown accustomed to having a minor skin condition on my forehead and back. My dermatologist had repeatedly assured me that it was no big deal, “some people just have skin like that, you’re not doing anything wrong, and there’s nothing you should be doing, or can do, to change it.”

So imagine my surprise when my soapy hands slipped across perfectly smooth skin.

Of course I took it as a sure sign I was meant to live in France 🙂 but aside from that, I began to think carefully about just what might have changed during the two weeks I’d been there thus far — water, food, environment, lower stress — that might make my skin suddenly become smooth.

Food? I ate reasonably well back home… erring on the side of organics when possible, avoiding processed food for the most part, seldom drinking sodas, never any smoking, a bit of wine with dinner from time to time… certainly nothing dramatically different from how I was eating in France…

Water? I did notice the taste of water wherever I dined in France somehow seemed better to my palate — more mineraly, less chlorine smell, and typically bottled. But I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, an area blessed by some of the nation’s best mountain water. And I’ve been using a Brita™ water pitcher for years. Was our water treatment process different? Fluoride levels? Chlorine? The city’s piping?

Stress didn’t seem a likely cause either, though certainly one tends to relax more on vacation, it wasn’t the first relaxing vacation I’d had in my life, though it was the first time my skin became smooth.

Nor did the air or environment seem any more or less polluted than my region.

So I came home and did the simplest thing, sort of as an experiment: I started buying water from my local organics co-op, and requesting bottled water when I went out to eat. Meanwhile I began reading all I could about water and food processing methods here in our country.

During my reading, I kept coming across more and more information about GMOs.

While I’d heard about genetically modified food before, and generally assumed I knew what it was, I always assumed ingredients like that were only in fast food or Twinkies or processed stuff like pizza pockets.

What I didn’t know was that they were far more widespread, and I was being exposed to them far more frequently in my home country than I had any idea. France was just one of the 40 civilized countries in the world whose government had adamantly refused to permit genetically modified food.

So I started to think about all these little food-related things I’d observed throughout my life, and wondering, and puzzling…

The tipping point for me was a video talk by a woman named Robyn O’Brian.

I don’t have children, but the way she described the moment when she realized that she’d been filling “countless sippy-cups” with hormone-laced milk for her children gave me chills. Particularly since my skin problems had slowly returned — despite my increased efforts to be more aware of my water and food — by the time I was watching Robyn’s video.

At first I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing  — I don’t subscribe to conspiracies, I don’t take kindly to hype. But her background as a Wall Street food industry analyst, not to mention her data and sources, were compelling. So I started doing even more digging. And the more I found, the more shocked, overwhelmed, and eventually determined I became.

Here’s what I know: all “propaganda” aside, there are too many scientists calling genetic engineering into question. There are ever-growing numbers of studies showing some rather frightening results of the past two decades of using an entirely untested, unproven, expensive, and risk-laden technology. I’m all about feeding the hungry, but not if a full belly gives them cancer. And I’m not against chemicals or science making our lives better, as long as we use both with good care and human safety above profits.

So here’s what I plan to do about it: I can make small changes. I can choose different products. And I can tell others.

I started this blog as a way to collect all of the information I tracked down (and continue to find), because somehow seeing it all organized together has given me the courage to begin sharing what I’ve found.

I hope the lightbulb goes on for you too.

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6 thoughts on “The Roots of My Wake Up Call

  1. Thank you for the challenge and insight. I’m inspired to be even more diligent about avoiding GMO foods.
    Michelle Gaither

    • I have to give it to you Hungary…you have done smohteing righthere – keep Monsanto and their control crap away…That comment from Fidez saying they may reevaluate being part ofthe E.U. – maybe not so bad after all. Monsanto, white washed tomb is all that is – forget the flowerspeeches and promises. I love technology, but they are an exampleof how to use it to control in the guise of wanting to help. Peace

  2. Thank you for your story. I also have frequent stomach distress and think I have linked bad food (GMO, MSG/aspartame) to my stomach pains as well. I switched to shopping mostly at Trader Joe’s as I understood, based on their website information, that their company brand name foods are non-GMO. Trader’s also avoids MSG in many of their products (but not nearly all). However after reading through this site, there seems to be question as to whether or not they do only carry non-GMO ingredients. My main concern is the Trader Joe’s brand sweet corn (fresh and canned), the soybean oil that is used in a lot of their products, and the papaya in their tropical juice “Juice In A Box.” I have come to really like the Trader Joe’s store and product selection, but I need to know if I can trust that they carry only non-GMO ingredients in the Trader Joe’s private label, as they say they do. Any further information would be greatly appreciated. Thank You.

    • Mitch, thanks for your thoughtful question! Trader Joe’s does indeed use non-GMO and organic ingredients as part of their Trader Joe’s organic brand. What’s in question is 1) their sources for these ingredients and 2) how much “organic” is really involved.

      1) Trader Joe’s historically will not release the sources of their organic products (unless there is a product recall, which is when most of us learned they sourced their peanut butter from a company in New Mexico), leading many to believe that they are sourcing from less desirable providers, such as major corporations with organic divisions (e.g., Dean Foods, who owns Silk soymilk, and contributed money towards defeating California’s GMO labeling proposition), or countries that do not have the same organic standards as the U.S.

      The very first question on their Product FAQ page refers to organic products sourced from outside the U.S. Their response states that all “organic” and “made with organic” products sold in the U.S. must meet NOP (National Organic Program) standards. However that brings me to point #2…

      2) Using the word “organic” is a very broad label. Only USDA Certified Organic or “100% organic” contains no GMO ingredients. Trader Joe’s use of the term “organic” requires us to trust that they have appropriate processes in place. Some consumers want more transparency than that. Other consumers are more willing to trust.

      Remember too… “Made with organic” means that up to 70% of the ingredients are organic; the other 30% are NOT required to be organic *or* GMO-free.

      And it’s also important to note… the topic of GMOs is entirely missing from Trader Joe’s FAQ page.

      In the larger picture, grocery stores will stock what people will buy. This is why Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and other similar grocery co-ops do not exclude products that are not organic / GMO-free from their shelves… they have to keep the lights on, and if consumers want a lower-priced option rather than the higher-priced organic/gmo-free option, grocery stores will provide it. We all get to voice our preferences every time we choose what products to buy. 🙂

      • GMO Awareness – Thank you for your detailed response. Okay so you mentioned that Trader Joe’s does indeed use non-GMO and organic ingredients as part of their Trader Joe’s organic brand. However, my GMO concern lies with any products, under the Trader Joe’s private label, that are not labeled “organic.” As their website says, “Our customers can be assured that all products in Trader Joe’s private label are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients. Our efforts began in 2001, when we determined that, given a choice, our customers would prefer to eat foods and beverages made without the use of genetically engineered ingredients. Our process has been to identify any product containing ingredients that could potentially be derived from genetically engineered crops and work with our suppliers to replace offending ingredients with acceptable alternatives.” With this being said, it was my understanding that all products, organic or not, under the Trader Joe’s private label are non-GMO. There are many Trader Joe’s private label products I purchase that are not labeled “organic,” such as “Juice In A Box,” but then should still be safe (non-GMO) as the company states. It is these products that are of the greatest concern to me. From what you have said about Trader Joe’s not releasing the sources of their organic products, I’m guessing the same questions/concerns may be applied to their private label non-organic products. In your opinion, can these be trusted or should I be shopping somewhere else? Your thoughts are very much appreciated. Thank you.

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