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Painted in Waterlogue

I know, this is a hot topic with rabid support on both sides of the issue, but regardless of your opinion, here are some reasons why it is important to be informed and take a stand.

Actually, the more appropriate topic should be “Why Chefs and Cooks Should Care About the Integrity of Our Food Supply.” We have chosen a career in food that carries with it some pretty hefty responsibilities. Certainly we must prepare beautiful, flavorful food that our guests enjoy and find value in, but of much greater importance is our role as protectors of the guest’s health and wellbeing. To this end we need to be well versed in where our ingredients come from, how they are handled, what they contain, and the impact that they can and do have on those customers who place their trust in us. As cooks, we are caretakers, researchers, teachers, and technicians responsible for anything and everything to do with the products that we carefully prepare.

In this role we must be able to answer some basic questions that any reasonable consumer might ask.

[]         Where does this product come from?

[]         Were the animals handled in a humane manner?

[]         Are your vegetables grown organically or did the farmer use chemical fertilizers?

[]         Did the farmer or producer treat his or her employees fairly?

[]         Did the rancher use growth hormones to increase yields?

[]         Were the animals raised on feed that is natural to their system of digestion?

[]         Were the animals allowed space to live comfortably?
[]         Did the farmer use excessive amounts of antibiotic to keep the animals healthy growing up in unhealthy environments?

[]         Were the crops grown from organic or genetically modified seed?

The guest has a right to know and so do you as a chef or cook. Everyone has their own reasons for the choices they make, but the most important thing is that they have the ability to make those choices.

All of the facts are not known, but there is enough evidence to make many people question the safety associated with certain chemically or genetically altered ingredients and the practices that many farms and ranches follow. Here are some of the facts:

  1. There are 26 other countries that have banned the use of Genetically Modified Foods (The U.S. is not one of them)
  2. Some companies that produce consumer food products using GMO’s and are doing business with these 26 countries have produced a similar line of goods without GMO’s.
  3. To protect animals raised in very confined spaces with hundreds and even thousands of others, low dose antibiotics have been used to compensate for conditions. Antibiotics are a miracle drug used to combat a litany of serious health issues and increasingly we are finding that new infections are proving to be antibiotic resistant. Now this is not due solely to the use of low doses in animal husbandry, but in combination with an overuse by humans with minor ailments, the long-term problems for the health of the population are of concern.
  4. In most other countries, the approach towards the use of GMO’s has been: “There is not enough proof to demonstrate that they are safe.” In the U.S., the general approach has been: “There is not enough proof to demonstrate that they are harmful.” It may seem like semantics, but it represents a critical difference in approach.

Now it is certainly important to point out that man has been applying different methods of genetic engineering long before scientists were able to map human, animal and plant genomes, and as far as we know, these methods were safe. Whenever a vintner propagated vines by tying two exposed branches together, creating a new varietal grape, they were genetically engineering. This same process has happened in nature for thousands of years as connections between plants and animals created hybrids and new species. So to infer that genetic engineering is new and un-natural would be incorrect. However, think of the science experiments that have come to fruition in just the last decade or so:

[]         Seed companies are able to modify seeds so that they do not absorb insecticides at the same level, allowing farmers to use even higher concentrations of dangerous insect repellants to the method of farming used. The end result is increased yields, but at the same time, those chemicals are part of the environment, the soil, the water table, etc.

[]         Some seeds, like corn, are engineered to become their own insecticide and as such the EPA has even categorized some seeds as such.

[]         The soil used to produce the crops that are so essential to life is over-used and not given sufficient time to recoup it’s essential nutrient levels so farmers use increasing amounts of chemical fertilizer to allow the soil to remain useable. Combined with the run off of insecticide, it is hard to imagine what life’s soil is really doing to those crops.

[]         Most livestock is now feed a diet high in corn and other grains, which are not natural to their digestive track. Corn, in particular is able to fatten the animals and increase yield.   That same corn was likely genetically modified, sprayed with insecticides and grown in a soil rich with chemical fertilizers.

There are significant changes in the health issues that we face as a nation. These changes have increased exponentially over the past century. Although we are unable to point the finger solely at the food that we eat, there is growing concern about the possible connection. Increases in the number of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, and intolerances are now commonplace (as every chef and cook knows from the increase in special requests from diners.) Here are some interesting pieces of info:

[] The percentage of Americans with chronic disease of some type (Obesity, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer, etc.) rose from 44% to 49% since 1997.

[] The number of children with food related allergies has increased by 50% during that same period of time.

*Data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Note: The most common food allergies are: peanuts, soy, wheat, dairy, fish and shellfish (all of which are now either genetically modified, or exposed to chemical run off).

So am I an anti GMO flag waiver? Well, yes, but like many I will admit that I do not know enough about the science, but then, no one else seems to know either. Are GMO’s safe? Is it safe for those in the food system to use chemical fertilizers, excessive amounts of antibiotic, build growth hormones into the feed of our livestock, raise animals on feed that their systems were not meant to digest, and spray everything with increasing amount of insecticides? I know what I believe. I believe that we should all: chef’s cooks, and consumers, be able to make intelligent choices about what we cook, serve and eat. As cooks and chefs we have an obligation to protect the consumer from harm when we know it exists, and even when we are not sure.

All that most people are asking for is transparent labeling so that we can make a choice. If GMO’s were safe, why would companies worry about labeling?


IT’S HERE! Paul Sorgule’s latest novel, is a work of fiction about two cooks who travel from Buffalo to New Orleans, from the Adirondack Mountains to New York City and eventually to Vermont in search of their dreams. Along the way they face personal and professional challenges, but none more life-changing that The Event. A series of changes in the environment and the food supply threaten the very core of their existence.