The current, much-debated lack in labeling of genetically modified foods makes it difficult enough to trust your own food choices these days – let alone, trusting food prepared for you at your favorite restaurant. Heck, even just being able to relax during meal time, knowing that the food itself might be an active threat to your health and safety, could seem more than a little daunting. But a little education and preparation can go a long way, both in calming your digestion while also communicating your concerns to the restaurant manager.
When it comes to keeping GMOs off your plate, there is much more to look for while dining out than just whether the word “organic” appears on the menu. In fact, many people stop there, forgetting that there is much more that goes on behind the scenes in the kitchen during food preparation. You remember now… It’s the good stuff – all those yummy details that keep you coming back for more.
Many cooking oils, for example, actually contain genetically modified derivatives. A first test of integrity, then, might be to establish what kind of cooking oil the restaurant typically uses, keeping in mind that if the answer is canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, “vegetable oil” or margarine, you can expect that it is most likely genetically modified. Be wary that even olive oil is often blended with canola in many restaurants. When in doubt, request either a dish that is cooked without oil, or ask to substitute a different oil entirely.
A second rule of thumb might be to seek out only the freshest ingredients possible, remembering that most processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients. This is particularly important when considering sauces, salad dressings and the like. Short of your server offering to take you on a guided tour of the kitchen, there’s no harm in asking whether any packaged ingredients are used. Examples of key items to avoid are those containing corn or soy derivatives like corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, citric acid, lactic acid, soy protein, soy lecithin, and textured vegetable protein, to name a few. Again, the safest menu choices are always those which the chef makes fresh.
You’ll want to keep an increasingly keener eye on any animal proteins. Insist on grass-fed, chemical-free meats. Grain-fed animals are almost always fed GM feed, which affects not only the quality of their meat, but also any milk, cheese, eggs and other products that might be harvested from them. Biotechnology reportedly has several other projects also in the works – from virus-resistant chickens, “enviropigs,” mastitis-resistant dairy cows and, lest we forget, meatier monster salmon. The salmon, produced by Massachusetts company AquaBounty, needs only a stamp of approval by the FDA before it makes its way to a locale near you.
The simple truth is that until the population is both better nutritionally educated and fully behind labeling laws for genetically modified foods, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves when it comes to protecting their health in a meaningful way. Keeping this in mind may help to abate any shyness you experience in approaching your server to ask these important questions. If the server cannot answer your questions, then ask for a manager, or even the chef. Even if you don’t get exactly the answers you hoped for, just the asking will have helped to plant a new seed of organic awareness within the food establishment.
Already, more than 700 chefs and professional foodies across the nation have teamed up to show their support for California’s GMO labeling initiative, Proposition 37 (http://www.justlabelit.org and http://www.labelgmos.org). For them, it comes down to ensuring the integrity of the products they serve. After all, in the end, restaurants must either contend with giving patrons answers they don’t like, or alter their policies to accommodate healthier, more mindful lifestyles.
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