I was in our local Lucky’s Market a few months ago looking for a protein powder. Everyone at Lucky’s is super helpful, so I wasn’t surprised when I was approached by one of the sales people. Our conversation went like this:
“Can I help you find something?”
“I'm looking for protein supplements.”
Smile. “They are over here.” She led me to the shelf where, sure enough, a dizzying array of protein supplements awaited my selection. “This one is organic, gluten free . . . ”
Okay, I’m thinking, I don’t have celiac disease, and most of the stuff labeled organic gets that designation only because the standards are lax, not that it really is organic. I already knew what she was going to say next.
“. . . and it’s non-GMO.”
“That’s not important to me.” I could almost see her head explode. This poor sales lady had not expected that response. I probably should have smiled and nodded rather than editorialize. I’m sure she pitied me for my ignorance. I’m also sure 99.9 % of her customers exclusively looked for all the descriptives she had rattled off.
I find myself increasingly frustrated with food labels. The list is endless—low fat, low salt, sugar free, caffeine free, cholesterol free, organic, gluten free, grass-fed, free range, cage free, and non-GMO. I probably missed something. The non-GMO label especially makes me go cross-eyed. Unless you’re like me and hunt wild mushrooms, catch wild fish and eat wild game, everything you eat has been genetically modified in some way through millennia of breeding animals and cross-pollinating plants.
I'm aware that the real issue is plants that have been modified through gene splicing. Genetic engineering is done for the sake of making a plant resistant to insects, diseases, and drought to mention a few. Genetic engineering became a hot topic when Roundup-ready corn sprouted from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory (not really), leading to questions about the safety of the corn. The concern is future adverse health effects. Fear over long-term toxicity has led to lumping all genetically engineered food into the same forbidden designation. However, there are circumstances when tinkering with plant genes is highly beneficial. A strain of rice was genetically engineered to be a source of beta carotene in African countries where people go blind for lack of beta carotene. That is hardly a monstrosity. Furthermore, people don't realize that our standards are rather lax and we are all eating food that has been genetically altered.
I once wrote an obituary for Mr. Natural. It was a parody of a man who was considered an authority on natural foods, sort of an uber Yule Gibbons. The poor man found it increasingly difficult to find pure food and eventually starved himself to death. The point being, extremism has it’s limits.
I don't condemn people for wanting to avoid anything they believe will harm them, in fact, I encourage a healthy interest in paying attention to what goes into one's body. I just wish the decisions were based on sound scientific fact and logic, not fear. There are currently so many food taboos, it’s a wonder there’s anything deemed safe to eat. In a world where people still starve and suffer diseases of malnutrition, the logic escapes me.