Dig It: Research

We share what other people are learning about our foods system and fill in the holes with our own experiments.

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Dig Deep: Resources

We may sound like foodie savants, but there are a lot of people and organizations we turn to for our information.

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Month Without Monsanto

In 2010, April tried to avoid all Monsanto products for a month. In October 2012, we're doing it with her.

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Wrapping It Up

Written by Rebecca Maclean.

With this month winding down, I'm happy to get back to more 'normal' ways of eating, I'm also disturbed that I'm looking forward to getting back to them, since I now *really* know what's in the food we often eat. And we're people who try to keep an eye on where our food is coming from generally, which proves to me that GMOs are in almost everything.

I know I'm whiny when I say this, but going Nonsanto is hard. Good gravy. Maybe it's because my family is busy - two working parents and two active kids - but the effort that went into managing this experiment was exhausting. Extra time in the grocery store, extra effort researching information on the internet, extra money going into the food budget for the month. And because we cooked at home so much, my sink was constantly full of dirty dishes. I know this is how people used to manage their lives, but the pace of the modern world doesn't seem to leave much room to cook the way grandma did.

Which is kind of the point, isn't it? North Americans are so used to modern conveniences to cut down on housework, meals, whathaveyou - often replaced by sheer busy-ness - that it's not really possible to be a two income family and stay away from GMOs. Granted, I do know people who seem to have more time to devote to such endeavors, but their life situations are much more flexible than mine. For a big chunk of the population, macaroni and cheese out of a box or a frozen pizza are weeknight standards. And knowing that you're not feeding your kids as part of a long term science experiment on the human race would be nice on a Monday before Cub Scouts.

right-to-know_logoI came into this experiment as a supporter of labeling - and I'm leaving it an even bigger supporter. The questions raised about GMOs that haven't really been answered are troubling to me. As a kid who grew up downwind of a coke plant, I know what unintended consequences and externalities can do to a community. And this community is a global one - one that Monsanto wants to change. As my husband put it recently, companies that develop and insert GMOs into our food supply have basically halted evolution to make a profit. And if that's not messed up, I don't know what is.

If you're in California, your vote on Proposition 37 will make a big difference nationwide. Please strongly consider voting Yes on 37 next week!


Is this month over yet?

Written by Rebecca Maclean.

Last week the public school germs struck, turning my house into the House of Disease. I think (I hope!) I’ve nursed my family back to health, but we crashed and burned on the Nonsanto front. Does any other child of the seventies crave crap when they’re sick? Like, drive-through-vertical-integration-hockey-pucks-for-hamburgers crap? For some reason, that’s always what I remember my parents getting me to eat when I was sick but well enough to graduate from noodles with butter, and so that’s what I crave when I’m sick to this day. Who knows why I don’t crave chicken noodle soup from a can…

I managed to avoid major junky food while sick last week, and got a decent vat of Nonsanto soup going, but I have to admit I’m tired of cooking at home, tired of thinking ahead, tired of obsessively meal planning. Frankly, tired of trying to feed my family 20121020_190948food that I feel is healthy for them without going crazy. But that’s what you have to do to avoid GMOs in your food these days. This point was driven home over the weekend, while I was listening to the radio (and cooking a Nonsanto meal, natch). Marketplace Money ran a story about Prop 37, and the statistics caused the host to say “Really? <sigh> WOW.” I said something similar – though admittedly a bit more colorful. Estimates in California say that between 40-70% of food in grocery stores would need to be labeled. More than 90% of soy and almost 90% of corn in the US are genetically modified, too.

This was on my mind while I ate a burrito a few weeks ago from Chipotle, which markets ‘Food with Integrity.’ Good choice for healthy food if you’re stuck, no? Yeeeahhhh…… not really. I don’t really recommend reading an article about what’s wrong with your burrito while you’re actually eating your burrito. I managed to finish my meal, but talked to a worker later, and found out that soybean oil (you know, that’s more than 90% GMO in this country) is in almost everything warm. As in, the rice, the tortilla fryer, marinade for all the meats except the carnitas, and the fajita veggies. And I love the fajita veggies, darnit. Maybe I’m naïve, but when I go to the grocery store, I don’t even recall seeing soybean oil as an option in the cooking oils aisle. Olive, vegetable (which could be soy, I admit), peanut, canola, sunflower… sure. But it honestly never occurred to me that restaurants would lean on soybean oil so heavily in their cooking. So now I’m sticking to a salad with carnitas and salsa if I go back.

The more roadblocks I run up against in this experiment, the more I appreciate the need for labels. Unless you make it yourself, you just don’t know what’s in your food.


Sources for this post:

Marketplace Money Prop 37 story

Chipotle – Food With Integrity

Foodbabe – Chipotle vs Moe’s

Photo: my favorite (mostly) Nonsanto meal of the week. Wild-caught salmon, CSA broccoli, CSA mashed potatoes, homemade applesauce.


I Wish I Could Quit You

Written by Rebecca Maclean.

I’m through my first Nonsanto week, and holy crap is this hard. Let me repeat that – attempting to avoid GMOs in everyday life is really !@#$%^&* HARD. I did great the first day, but crashed and burned pretty quickly. It didn’t help that on day two, I had to get up for work super early to be home in time for the kid handoff so my husband could teach that night. Of course, I didn’t realize until I was halfway to work that I had forgotten to pack either breakfast or lunch for that day. So much for feeling smug and righteous in my food choices.

Now that we’re a week in, we’re settling in to a better routine. Dinners are usually Nonsanto – roasted chicken with CSA veggies, roasted mushroom soup with a side of late harvest CSA corn, etc. – with lunches either leftovers from the previous day or simple sandwiches with non-GMO cheese and tomato, and breakfast of local eggs and breakfast meats or organic steel cut oats. I’m doing my best to get over my distaste of leftovers, and have found that I’m using my CSA veggies faster (which is definitely a good thing).

missingI’ve also found that one of my best allies in this exercise is my grocery shopping adversary. I know I’m not alone in my love/hate relationship with Whole Foods Market. Where I live, it’s the closest major grocery store to my house – but it’s also significantly more expensive than the ‘regular’ grocery store. It’s a Mecca for liberal foodies – but its CEO is a vocal anti-union libertarian who thinks health insurance should have no government intervention, certainly not typical liberal views. It sucks me in with its serene shopping environment – but half the time I feel like a chump for shopping there.

For Nonsanto’s sake, it’s a good source of food for this month. Their store brand (365 Everyday Value) are sourced to avoid GMOs, and according to their website, are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project. The times I’ve been in the store actively looking for the Non-GMO Project label, it’s been easy to find. And their organic selection is one of the largest you can find around here.

I still feel a little dirty when I shop there, though. And I’m not the only one. Critics have described Whole Foods’ support of Proposition 37 as ‘lukewarm,’ and pointed out the hypocrisy of not financially supporting the Prop 37 campaign when they ponied up $180K to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. And the Cornucopia Institute (who just updated their Prop 37 poster of backers and opponents) also calls out Whole Foods for being ‘conspicuously absent’ in their financial support of Prop 37. For many, it feels like the company is talking out of both sides of their mouth – doing just enough to make the bleeding hearts feel like they’re supporting Prop 37, while not doing too much to anger their food supplies which may contain GMOs. I guess it’s too much to ask to have a company work in its customers’ best interests?

Sources for this post:

Whole Foods Market - GMOs

NPR story on John Mackey healthcare position

Non-GMO Project

Is Whole Foods Sincere About its Support for Labeling GMOs?

Whole Foods Lobbying – OpenSecrets.org

Cornucopia Institute

Image: Cornucopia Institute


Fired Up

Written by Jazz Glastra.

co-conspiratorsWhile Monday was the “official” beginning of Month Without Monsanto, last night  was the first chance I had to gather with my co-conspirators who are also participating. Each month, Victory Garden Initiative (the organization I work for) throws an open potluck. Those who had agreed to join in the #Nonsanto fun came to the potluck, and I was also able to throw in a plug for others to join us. All in all, we had about 20 people present, though not all decided to jump on the #Nonsanto wagon. I was surprised but pleased by everyone’s reaction to my pitch for the Month Without Monsanto experiment. It turns out that a bunch of people who show up to our monthly Eat & Meet are pretty savvy about the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, and Monsanto in general. What ensued was a lively, far-ranging discussion; frombees dying en masse due to pesticide  exposure (thanks, Monsanto!), to GMO labeling issues, to the importance of preserving food as a sort of personal insurance policy. You know, just in case we accidentally kill all the bees and there’s not enough food to eat.

I left last night feeling angry at the industrial food system, but also duped. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that regulating agencies like the FDA, EPA, and USDA will protect us from the dangers of products which are toxic to humans—pesticides that we put on our food. Is it just me, or does putting anything with the suffix “-cide” (Latin for kill) on our food seem like a bad idea?

I’m more convinced than ever that going 100% organic is something I’d like to commit to long term (keeping almost all -cides off of my food). For this month, we’re all committing to going as #Nonsanto as we possibly can, and learning a lot in the process. That means researching companies, interrogating farmers about their seed sources, and at the very least purchasing 100% USDA organic foods. I’m personally not throwing anything out—I made applesauce from some conventional apples someone gave me—but as I go through the month I hope to gradually step up my #Nonsanto level.

It’s not going to be easy: Today I got a potato chip halfway into my mouth before I realized it had Monsanto written all over it. For lunches, I’m currently living off a giant vat of #Nonsanto soup made from organic veggies and a local, free range chicken. Breakfast yesterday was carrot sticks, and dinner was….a compromise. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how many layers of the food system Monsanto penetrates. On the upside, I’m spending more time in my kitchen and not caving to the temptation of eating lunch out.

Best of all, I’m going to have to rely on my #Nonsanto co-conspirators to get through this. Here’s to all of us!

Sources for this post:


Dig Deeper:

A great run-down of bees, neonicotinoid pesticides, and why this is a perfect storm of awful: http://www.occupymonsanto360.org/Occupy,Monsanto,GMO,Genetic,Engineering,Modified,Organism,Food,Sustainable,Local,Locavore,Organic,RoundUp/neonicotinoid/

Picture: Our #Nonsanto Group. Left to Right: Brian, Pamela, Robert, Me, and Pauline (front)


My month without monsanto - Day one

Written by Rebecca Maclean.

I made it through my first Nonsanto day, with only one slip-up. Not bad, considering Mondays are my family's crazy days, I hadn't sorted anything out for dinner until about 4:30, and the remnants of a GI bug are still working its way through my house (thanks, public school germs).

So here's my food play-by-play for the day:

- Breakfast: fried egg from my favorite local farmer, apple from my CSA

WinterSquashRisotto3- lunch: squash risotto (made in the slow cooker yesterday) with Lundberg Family Farms rice, butternut squash from my CSA, and onions and spices from my backyard

- dinner: homemade pizza with Whole Foods 365 brand organic flour, baking powder, and olive oil, topped with tomato sauce made from tomatoes and basil from my CSA, Organic Valley mozzarella, and peppers and mushrooms from my CSA

drinks for the day:

- I had saved half a chai latte (my caffeinated downfall) from our neighborhood coffee shop from the day before, so it counted toward my "already in my house" rule. I'm currently looking into the milk and sugar sources this coffee shop uses (they're the only place I've found in town that makes their chai onsite and doesn't use premade syrup) because a month without a chai will be a lo-ooo-ng month, indeed.

- water (what I drink 90% of the time)

- 365 organic orange juice

my slip-up for the day:

- I left work early today because of my stomach's flip flops. I made the impulse purchase of some wedding soup on my way home. Sometimes, you just need a good broth-based soup.

I am proud of myself for not snacking at cub scouts - which was not easy to resist!

Photo courtesy of Leah Lizarondo


Here We Go Again

Written by April Davila.

Two and a half years ago I lived for one whole month without eating, wearing or washing with any Monsanto products.

I undertook this admittedly unusual project for one very simple reason. It was not (as I was often misquoted as saying) because I saw Food, Inc. It was also not to put Monsanto out of business by boycotting their products (the idea that Monsanto gives a damn what one woman chooses to eat or not eat is frankly laughable). It was, in fact, that I was curious.

I had recently become aware of Monsanto as a company, and was curious just how much of my food originated with them. I was a new mother at the time, and I was skeptical that GMO’s were as safe as the government said they were, especially since I had heard that many countries in Europe refused to allow them to be sold in markets there. In retrospect, I now realize that the thing I was really interested in investigating was how much of my food contained genetically modified ingredients, but A Month Without GMO’s didn’t have as nice a ring to it, and given that Monsanto is one of the biggest producers of GMOs, I settled on A Month Without Monsanto.

Oh, what a little alliteration can do.

Because, as I now know, Monsanto is so much more than GMO. Yes, that’s a biggie for them, but they have also been buying up seed companies for decades. Even organic farmers, using all organic farming methods, can easily buy seeds from Monsanto subsidiaries, without ever knowing it (if they don’t do their homework). Seeds that are not genetically modified can still be classified as organic, even if they’re owned by Monsanto. What’s more, Monsanto is the biggest seller of cottonseeds, both in the US and abroad. So if you wear non-organic cotton, you’re wearing Monsanto. And that shampoo you spent too much on? That soy that leaves your hair so nice and shiny? Monsanto. And don’t even get me started on the ethanol in your gas tank – it’s made from Monsanto corn. It is ridiculously hard to avoid Monsanto. I mean stupid-hard.

So why do it?

Well, as I said, I was curious. I was also a grad student, with plenty of time to spend talking to farmers and food processors, to trace down the origin of the ingredients in their products. Since then, I’ve had another baby and landed a full time job, making me a working mother of two.

When Cassie and I started the Digging Deep website, we knew we wanted to repeat the Month Without Monsanto experiment, but the right time never seemed to present itself. Instead we focused on building up our team of bloggers to ask other questions about food, and I could not be more proud of what has evolved from our work. But the Month Without Monsanto always hovered close, just waiting for the right time. And it turns out, that time is now.

You see, on Tuesday, November 6th, just five weeks from now, California will vote on Prop 37 – an initiative that would require labels for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. What better way to show how little we know about GMOs in our foods than to struggle to avoid them for a whole month?

So here we go.

20121002_071952I’ll be honest, I’m daunted. As I mentioned, I don’t have the same time to spend on this as I did two years ago, so I’m setting guidelines that work for me. I am committing to cooking entirely #Nonsanto dinners for my family and me for the month of October. I’ve talked with the farmers at my local farmers market to find out which ones buy #Nonsanto seeds. I know which vendors sell meat that was not raised on Monsanto grain. I even know a few processed foods that don’t contain Monsanto products.

I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to join us. Maybe you’ve been doing the organic thing for years now and you’re ready to tackle the #Nonsanto challenge for a full month. Or maybe you’re like me and the idea of adding anything to your plate (literal or metaphorical) is overwhelming. In that case, set a goal. If a month of #Nonsanto dinners still feels like too much, maybe you commit to just doing Sunday dinners. Even if you just pick one day in October to go Monsanto-free, we’re excited to have you on board and we hope you’ll share what you learn along the way.

I’ll be posting my #Nonsanto dinner recipes as I come up with them. As of right now, it’s looking like it will be mostly Lundberg Rice and veggies, with the occasional Annie’s Mac and Cheese, but I’m hoping that list will expand.

It’s going to be a long month.

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