How to Have a GMO-Free Thanksgiving
America is talking about genetically modified (GM or GMO) food more and more now that we are becoming more aware of what is in our food — and also because the state of California recently voted on whether to require labeling food that contains GM ingredients. That measure (Proposition 37) didn’t pass, but 4.6 million people in the state did vote in favor of labeling. Almost half of the other states are considering labeling, and several nations have restrictions on GM food.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I am planning my family’s dinner and looked around at the traditional Thanksgiving foods. With my son’s multiple food allergies, I am careful to read labels and became dismayed by what I found. So many typical Thanksgiving foods likely contain genetically modified ingredients! Without labeling, we can’t know for sure, unfortunately. But when you look at the companies making these foods and realize they donated big bucks to defeat labeling in California — that kind of makes these foods suspect. It also helps to know which ingredients are typically genetically modified.
I will not be serving these foods to my family. (Not knowingly, anyway! That’s the thing — we can’t know for certain without the label.)
If you are looking to stay away from GM food — or you simply don’t want to give your business to food companies that don’t want to label what’s in the food they make — then take a look at these common Thanksgiving foods and consider the alternatives.
Problem: I wanted to make a salad and include some dried cranberries. Naturally, I looked at Craisins.
But Craisins are sweetened with sugar, and unless a label specifies “cane sugar,” the source could be from sugar beets, which are usually genetically modified.
Alternative: I know I can get dehydrated cranberries not made by Ocean Spray, which donated money to defeat Prop 37, at another store near me, and that’s what I might do instead to spruce up my salad.
Problem: My husband and his family like gravy on mashed potatoes. I don’t like gravy and only recently learned how to make it myself. In the past, I just bought a jar of gravy to warm up and set out for everyone at Thanksgiving.
But when you look at the ingredients on those jars, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t feed my family genetically modified and junk ingredients. I couldn’t even buy this package of gravy mix and make it myself:
This popular mix contains corn and soy that are probably genetically modified, because most corn and soy grown is GM. One of the top ingredients is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is an excitotoxin. Farther down the list, you see yeast extract, which contains hidden MSG. You get a double dose! Not to mention that this food company, Unilever, donated $467,000 to fight GM labeling.
Alternative: Make my own (gluten-free) gravy. It’s really not that hard.
Speaking of gravy and potatoes, I always make my own with real potatoes. I know that lots of people buy packaged potato mixes, though, like this one:
Problem: Potato mixes use potatoes but then add a bunch of junk you wouldn’t if you were making them yourself. Would you add corn and soy (that are most likely genetically modified, as most of those crops grown here are), artificial flavors and artificial colors to mashed potatoes? Probably not.
Alternative: Make your own mashed potatoes. It’s not too hard to peel potatoes, boil them until they’re soft, then use a hand mixer or masher to whip them into a paste. Add some butter, salt and pepper — maybe a little milk — and your mashed potatoes will be great.
Another popular side dish at Thanksgiving is stuffing, or dressing. (It’s called stuffing if you put it inside the turkey while it cooks, or dressing if you cook it outside of the turkey.) However, I couldn’t find a single regular stuffing ingredient or mix at my store that I could give my family.
I used to love making this, but I stopped a couple years ago when I read the ingredients and found artificial food dyes.
Other stuffing mixes aren’t great, either:
This is a different mix, but the ingredients are similar. Here, the ingredients are printed so small that they’re hard to read. This stuffing mix contains sugar, soy, cottonseed oil and corn — all top genetically modified crops. Plus, it likely contains MSG and artificial color.
Alternative: Make your own dressing. Find an all-natural bread (you could even do this with gluten-free bread), cut it into cubes and toast it lightly in the oven on a baking sheet. Add your own diced onion, celery, broth, real herbs and spices (not MSG), maybe some mushrooms if you like them. Don’t buy bags of bread cubes for stuffing, because those almost always contain high-fructose corn syrup, which is also likely made from GM corn.
Green Bean Casserole
Problem: Many people are a fan of this, and many people aren’t. These beans seem to turn up throughout the year, not just at Thanksgiving. But the traditional way to make this casserole isn’t healthy. You take perfectly fine, healthy beans and mix suspect ingredients with them.
Usually, you mix the green beans with a can of soup.
But the soup contains corn, soy, canola and cottonseed oil, and sugar (all most likely genetically modified because most of these crops are). Then it adds yeast extract (hidden MSG, an excitotoxin), more glutamate and crazy-sounding chemical ingredients we would never cook with at home.
Then the infamous green bean casserole is topped with crunchy onions.
The onions contain soy and sugar, two of the most commonly genetically modified crops.
Alternative: Make steamed green beans. Cook them in broth for added flavor, and/or add onion and almonds to dress them up.
After dinner, it’s traditional to serve pie for Thanksgiving. Most pies are made with a crust. But if you buy that crust, like I used to, you could be serving more than what you might guess.
Problem: Prepared pie crusts like this common one contain not one, but two, different kinds of preservatives that are made with petroleum (BHA and BHT). It also has artificial food dye, which is also made from petroleum. (And people wonder why they have indigestion and feel so sluggish after a Thanksgiving meal!)
And this pie crust, which you don’t even have to bake:
It contains soy, sugar and corn, all of which are top GM crops.
Also, but crusts contain salt. Common table salt may be manufactured with corn, which is usually GM. Morton Salt paid more than $14,000 in the campaign against labeling genetically modified food.
When it comes to making your own pumpkin pie, I found the canned pumpkin also was suspect.
I didn’t get a good photo of this can at the store, unfortunately. But it’s made by Nestle, which paid a whopping $1 Million-plus to fight Proposition 37 in California. That’s one food company that really doesn’t want consumers to be able to tell if what they are eating is made with genetically modified ingredients!
Alternative: Make your own pie crust. Buy pumpkin labeled as organic. Organic foods by law aren’t supposed to be genetically modified in order to labeled as organic.
It’s too bad that the government agencies that are supposed to protect us as citizens allow junk ingredients (petroleum?) in our food and think it’s OK for food companies to NOT have to tell us if something is genetically modified. Polls show most people DO want to know what’s in their food. Unless a label says otherwise, though — and unless a company didn’t pay to fight GM labeling (I got my donation amount from this source and other places) — I don’t feel I can trust these companies.
I don’t want to give my business to brands that don’t want me to know what’s in my food.
If you want to stay away from GM (or just plain unhealthy) foods at Thanksgiving or any meal, consider that the top GM crops in America are corn, soy, sugar (made from sugar beets — cane sugar seems to be OK), cottonseed and canola ingredients. They are in a lot of prepared/processed foods because they are cheap. Read labels and give your family good food with good ingredients.
**A note about cooking with broth: Most store-bought broths contain yeast extract, a hidden source of MSG. It’s best to make your own. Read salt labels, or buy natural sea salt.**