In the beginning of my talk at the Mother Earth News Fair, I shared why we decided to start wild foraging - or at least why it appealed to us.
In 2006 I first swallowed the Red Pill*, and for me, it was all connected - learning about peak oil led to reading about climate change, which led to topics on food safety, resilience, self-sufficiency, and urban gardening. It seems that a lot of people, at least the people I was meeting online, had started urban homesteading out of a desire (or fear?) to be more self-sufficient.
At that time, there wasn't a lot of information about GMOs, but they were out there, and we already knew they were suspect. In fact, in 2000, taco shells were recalled, because the corn used to make them was a GMO (or GE, genetically engineered - same thing), and it hadn't been determined, at that time, whether or not GMO foods were safe for human consumption.
I mentioned that in my talk, and it was a little like a light bulb went off. When I said it there was a collective head nod from the 100+ people sitting out there, and everyone in the audience remembered that in 2000, GMOs weren't proven safe for humans, and products that were known - by the public - to contain GMO ingredients were recalled as being potentially unsafe to eat. What I also remember was the collective outrage by the public that this unsafe substance had, somehow, been accidentally leaked into our food stream.
How fast things change. How soon we forget.
Fast forward twelve years, Monsanto and the FDA have still failed to prove, conclusively, if GMOs are safe for people to eat. In this January 2012 article, Monsanto insists that there is no need to test, because the plants are altered by adding DNA (from other organisms - not always plants) and everything has DNA, so it must be safe.
In the past twelve years, Monsanto has managed to sneak its GMOs into the food stream, mostly, without any of us knowing. White sugar, which is a dietary staple here in the US and is in many processed foods, is made from sugar beets (according to this article, 54% of U.S. sugar comes from sugar beets [and] 90% of the sugar beets out there are already GE). Over 90% of the soy grown and eaten in this country is from GMO seed. More than 80% of the corn grown in this country is from GMO seed. What's more disturbing is that, even if we try to avoid the GMOs, doing so is nearly impossible. Even reading labels doesn't, necessarily, mean that we'll be successful in keeping those GMOs out of our bodies. Corn, for example, has a huge list of aliases. We see things like "distilled vinegar" in the label, and we think "this is okay", but according to this list that white, distilled vinegar might actually be corn - GMO corn - derived.
I spend a lot of my time wishing that I had not taken the red pill. Sometimes I'd rather just not know, because once one starts knowing, one cannot go back to blissful ignorance, and it's cumulative and insidious. One fact leads to another, and another, and another.
I no longer trust any processed foods, and while we still have some things in our diet that are processed (not regularly, but as an occasional treat, and I really do struggle with the whole idea that our "treats" are poisoning our bodies), I try to stick with things that are labeled "organic", because - at least I've tried to convince myself - those products will not contain GMOs (and given the number of "organic" companies that are subsidiaries of larger non-organic food companies, that may no longer be true).
It would be nice, if there was a label, even a small one, on processed food packaging that warned us the ingredients might be derived from GMOs, but Monsanto is a very large, very rich, and very powerful company. According to this article, they've invested $7.1 million to defeat Prop 37, which would require food products sold in California (this is just California, mind you. Neither the federal government, nor most other States, have started trying to push this kind of initiaive) to carry a GMO label.
So, to recap, twelve years ago, there were concerns about the safety of GE corn that prompted a nationwide taco shell recall. In the years since, GE substances have crept into our food supply. Monsanto, the company which manufactures these GE seeds, doesn't think it's necessary to do any kind of safety trials of their product on humans, and neither do they wish products that contain ingredients derived from their questionably safe genetically altered seed to be labeled as such.
Personally, when a person or a company works so hard to assure me it's perfectly safe, but the only thing I get from them is their gushing assurances - and especially when they're trying to convince me it's okay because they want my money - I am very apt to question the validity of their words. It's the old saying actions speak louder than words. I begin to wonder, if the product is so safe, why is the company working so hard to keep us from knowing what foods have the GMOs?
I think the answer is that all processed foods contain some GE ingredient - and if we knew this to be true, what would that do to the multi-billion dollar food industry, from which Monsanto earns billions in revenues and millions in profits? Monsanto ranked 357 in the Fortune Magazine's Top 500 Companies and made a PROFIT of $267 million dollars in 2005 (This site was pretty interesting and allows one to compare one year to the next. Monsanto has been around for a long time, and the year I was born, Monsanto was actually in the top 100 highest grossing companies in the US). Clearly, they're in it for the money, and whether or not their products will cause significant long lasting environmental and human health degradation is not their concern - as long as they keep making money.
It is mine, though, and I am very concerned about what's being sold to us at the grocery stores. As my very innocent and very precious young daughter asked (with tears pooling in her big blue eyes) that day that I pulled up a list of food products that probably contain GMOs and should be avoided, "What can [we] eat that won't hurt [us]? I couldn't answer her that day, but my answer, today, is wild blueberries and fried dandelion flowers. Wild foods may not be as much palatable as Poptarts and Mountain Dew, but they are safer, and foraging the wild is a lot more fun than foraging the grocery store aisles ;).
*Reference is from the movie, The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves, in which humans are being used as batteries to power a huge computer, which is keeping people imprisoned by giving them computer-generated images that trick their minds into believing they are living a real life. Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, knows something is amiss, but doesn't really "know" until one day when he meets a woman named Trinity (played by Carrie Ann Moss), and then, he is taken to meet Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) who gives him a choice of a red pill, that will wake him up to reality, or a blue pill, which will allow him to go back to sleep.