Can Eating Chocolate Be a Political Statement?

For years, gluten-free has been one of the top U.S. food trends and the subject of much confusion among dieters, but it is GMO awareness that is currently uniting Americans who care about food quality and safety. You have a right to know what is in your food and GMO awareness is all about getting the facts and making educated food choices to protect your family’s health. Most of us don’t consider eating, cooking and buying food political choices, but increasingly, they most definitely are.

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals (think pigs and salmon) created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, also called genetic engineering, or GE. This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

In case you hadn’t heard, a new bill, known as the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, was introduced last month by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and resembles previous legislation that failed to garner sufficient support in Congress.  The good news is that current polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans — over 90 percent — support mandatory labeling of foods with GE ingredients. Sixty-four other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and all 27 members of the European Union already require such labels.  Dozens of advocacy groups and food corporations have signaled their support of the new bill.

However, strong opposition from the agriculture and biotech industries (not to mention the $46 million spent by the food industry last year, according to Boxer, to narrowly defeat California’s Proposition 37, the similar labeling measure) has scuttled proposals for GMO labeling laws in the past.

But how does this relate to YOU? Are there GMO’s in your favorite chocolate bar? Probably, unless it is specifically labeled, because most of the chocolate sold in America contains GMO’s in the sugar and soy lecithin.

In 2011, 94% of the US soy crop was GMO.  You may not eat tofu or drink soymilk, but soy is most likely present in a large percentage of the packaged foods in your pantry, including chocolate. There is GMO soy in Hershey’s Chocolate Bars, Mars Snickers, Nestle Toll House Chocolate Morsels, and even Green & Black’s 70% Organic Dark Chocolate. Yes, even organic chocolates are not free of GMO’s!!

The Food and Drug Administration now requires labeling of more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, but in a 1992 policy statement they allowed genetically engineered foods to be marketed without labeling, claiming that these foods were not “materially” different from other foods because the genetic differences could not be recognized by taste, smell or other senses.

If you feel that this is a problem, then what is the solution? I have to agree with author Michael Pollan, who has just published another book called “Cooked”.  In a recent interview, Pollan stated: “In many ways, reforming American agriculture depends on rebuilding a culture of routine home cooking. I’ve come to think that cooking is a political act, with large consequences not only for ourselves but for the environment and agriculture as well. The decline of everyday home cooking doesn’t only damage the health of our bodies and our land but also our families, our communities, and our sense of how our eating connects us to the world. Whether you cook or not is a political act. It’s a choice for a certain kind of food and a certain kind of food system. People who cook take back control of their diets and their agriculture … from industrial corporations who really want to insinuate themselves and control this whole process.”

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

So, I did a little further research to discover what the highest risk crops are in commercial production; ingredients derived from these must be tested every time prior to use in Non-GMO Project Verified products (as of December 2011):

Alfalfa (first planting 2011)

Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)

Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)

Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)

Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)

Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)

Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)

Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)

Common Ingredients Derived from GMO Risk Crops:

Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.

Armed with this knowledge, you can continue to make the best choices when it comes to feeding yourself and your family out of your own refrigerator.  I think, at the end of the day, it is all about reading labels, supporting your local organic farmers, and moving towards a culture in your own household of wellness and responsibility. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; you are voting with your wallet every time you shop, whether its a chocolate bar or GE salmon! Your choices at the checkout are how you make your voice heard.  It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman purchasing the food. It doesn’t matter if it is Mom or Dad making dinner. It’s my belief that a cultural shift towards a gender-neutral kitchen will only speed up the process of reclaiming our health and clarify our position politically on the inclusion of GMOs in our food chain.