As a child in elementary school, I would sometimes find myself mildly embarrassed by my (parent-imposed) eating habits.
They weren't especially strange, but having fruits and vegetables from the backyard (rather than the store), no packaged snacks or chips, no juice boxes, and homemade whole-wheat reduced-fat chocolate chip cookies (if any cookies) in a big purple lunchbox was enough to make me a little self-conscious.
I was able to bend my mom's will a bit, but ultimately ate mostly wholesome, minimally-processed foods (with some goldfish crackers on the side). At some point in junior high, I embraced the fact that I didn't (and never would) eat like everyone else, and that's ok. I also embraced a new, more subtle lunchbox. YAY.Following this trajectory, it's no wonder that I still have eating habits which are quite different from my peers. Far from a rebuttal against my parent's restrictions, I have taken my eating habits a step further and am even more conscious of my choices than they were for me. One aspect of that includes abstaining from GMO's.
GMO's are part of a food and agriculture system that I find to be unsustainable. This system also includes practices like monoculture, factory farming, a centralized food system, the abundant production of cheap, highly processed foods, and massive amounts of surplus and food waste.
I try not to support this system with my money, and that includes not purchasing or consuming genetically modified foods.
How do I do it?
GMO's include the items listed in this article, products containing those items, and products from animals who were fed those items. I avoid all of the above.
Isn't it expensive?
A GMO-free diet can be expensive. Any diet can be expensive. However, it does not have to be and mine is not.
There are three basic ways that a GMO-free diet can become expensive.
1. Eating a lot of processed foods
2. Eating out often
3. Eating a lot of animal products
If you want to eat processed foods that do not contain GMO's, you'll have to buy organic, and those are pricy. It's the same with eating out — additionally, restaurants that serve this type of food are relatively rare. I do not eat many processed foods or eat out often, partially for these reasons.
As far as animal products, while simply buying organic would qualify a product as GMO-free, in my opinion organic is not enough. Even animals raised organically are often fed species-inappropriate diets and are raised in poor conditions.
I feel ok about eating products from grass-fed, wild, or pasture-raised animals. These are expensive items, so it's only on rare occasions that I purchase and consume them. These products can be found locally at farmer's markets, co-ops, and other small shops, or at some grocery stores like Whole Foods.
Hunting, a common practice in the community I grew up in, is also a reliable way of sourcing high-quality, GMO-free animal products.
What do I eat?
Most of my calories come from simple, cheap whole foods. For example, I buy organic rolled oats in bulk and eat them for breakfast almost every morning. This costs me about $1.50/week. I dress them up with a little bit of coconut sugar or maple syrup and some fruit.
Other staples include: dried beans, lentils, and rice purchased in bulk; long-fermented sourdough bread; brown rice & quinoa pasta; jarred tomatoes and tomato sauce; fresh hummus; carrots; hearty greens such as kale and collards; seasonal vegetables; and fresh and frozen fruit.
I also keep on hand complimentary items as embellishments, offering flavor and nutrients. They do not provide much in the way of energy (ie calories), but they add so much to simple foods that for me, it is worth it. This include things like kimchi and sauerkraut, salsa, garlic, lemons, ginger, and miso.
Do I only buy organic?
I buy mostly organic foods (which are more likely to have been grown using responsible growing practices than conventional), but not exclusively. I refer to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists released by the EWG, as well as my knowledge about how to avoid GMO's when making purchase decisions.
Foods that I tend to purchase conventionally include avocados, sweet potatoes, onions, melons, bananas, broccoli and cauliflower. I also purchase my sourdough bread from local artisanal bakeries which, depending on which one I happen to go to, may or may not use organic wheat flour.
Otherwise, most of my other food purchases are organic. Dried bulk goods are so cheap to start with that purchasing them organically is not a stretch. As far as fresh vegetables, I have found local and organic produce to be of better quality than conventional, and so purchase organically.
What about time?
On top of being a full-time college student, I also lead the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Spoon, work 30 hours/week at a restaurant, and spend at least 1 hour/day in transit between campus, home, and work. Needless to say, time is a luxury I don't have.
Eating oatmeal every morning, as previously mentioned, eliminates the decision factor and is very quick to make. Other than that, the most important thing I do is cook in large batches so that it is easy to grab food and take it on the go.
Am I like, ridiculously healthy?
I wouldn't call myself "ridiculously" healthy (I occasionally catch a cold), but I am significantly healthier than many of my peers. This is based on objective standards like skin health, dental health, energy levels (I don't drink coffee), and body composition.
I mostly attribute this to a whole-foods based diet and intentional lifestyle habits. I don't know where GMO's fit in, or to what degree. I DO know that GMO's tend to be most abundant in processed foods, so anyone who takes up a whole-foods based diet will likely unintentionally consume less GMO's than before.
I am fully aware that not all of the foods I eat on a regular basis are particularly nutrient-dense (sourdough bread, brown rice & quinoa pasta, oats). However, I enjoy them, they are budget-friendly, and sometimes I just need to get the calories in.
Is it easy?
To me, this lifestyle is easy and natural. After all, it's what I'm used to. However, it's important to note that my lifestyle has been 6 years in the making — or, more broadly, 22. The way I eat is habitual. It never was about short-term, drastic alterations that required massive amounts of willpower.
It would be difficult for a person to immediately switch from conventional American/college eating habits to habits more like mine. If it is to be long-term, it needs to be eased into. Little steps must be slowly taken and habits have to be formed. This applies to any long-term lifestyle change that a person embarks on.
Do I think everybody should be GMO-Free?
I believe that it is important for every person to critically evaluate the way they eat and how it makes them feel, as well as how it affects the world around them. My decision to avoid GMO's (among other things) is a conclusion I reached when I made this evaluation.
Other people will come to different conclusions, which are valid. I believe that every person going through that evaluation themselves and acting on it is more important than everyone agreeing with me. You don't have to avoid GMO's if you don't feel like it is important — if you do, I hope I've offered helpful insight.