Tag Archives: natural food

How I’m Moving Forward in the GMO Food Debate

Bosworth Battlefield (2)

A few weeks ago I wrote a post, “The Genetically Modified Food Debate”, which introduced a series of articles by Nathanael Johnson, a Grist.org writer that’s taken on the big task of sorting through the GMO debate to provide the straight story on where the science, politics and implications to people and planet truly stand.

As someone who’s followed the topic of GMO for many years, I’ve often wished for a series of articles just like this. It’s a heroic effort and having the opportunity to go on an exploration of sorts through these articles has helped me crystallize what I believe are the biggest issues and necessary next steps in the GMO food debate. If you’d like to read Johnson’s series, you can start here and find links to subsequent posts at the bottom of each article.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that as humans we are hard-wired to experiment, research and evolve our understanding of the world. Given what I know of evolution and farming, biotechnology seems like a logical place for exploration in science. It’s in the application of this science that things can get complicated. My sense is that, like most things, the best scenario for people and planet as it relates to genetic modification is toward the center from either side of the extreme.

My primary concern about genetically engineered food crops is not so much about the study of biotechnology in plants, but the ripple effect the application of these crops is having on current farming practices and our global food community. Here are some of the things I find most troubling:

  • GMO are often bred for resistance to herbicides and pesticides. As a result, weed-killing herbicide use on genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton increased by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008.
  • GM crops support the practice of mono-cropping (growing only one type of agricultural product in a large area of land, year after year). This approach has an economic benefit in that it simplifies farming operations and decreases labor costs. However, mono-cropping depletes nutrients from the soil and decreases crop-yields over time creating a need for increased synthetic fertilizer use. Although there may be a short-term economic gain, there’s a larger long-term cost to the health of the planet.
  • Implementation of GMO and mono-cropping practices in developing countries has impacts that go beyond just human and planet health. Traditional knowledge about how to farm the land, what indigenous plants provide nutrients of need and seed saving techniques to maintain biodiversity…all this wisdom that is passed from generation to generation may be lost and maybe more importantly, be seen as inferior to modern conventional methods.

The biggest hurdle to finding a path forward that is acceptable to groups on both sides of this issue seems to sit within science. Through Johnson’s articles, it’s clear that the methods we have to determine safety and the impact to human and planet health are flawed. The questions we’re asking through testing simply do not provide the answers many people are seeking to understand. This is an issue that’s much bigger than just GMO, but yet one that is effectively stalling the ability of the food community to find consensus about how to move forward. Until we evolve both the methods of testing and what we’re testing for, I don’t see how we’re going to come together.

So, what to make of all this? Well, as for me, I plan to keep looking [read: hoping] for an evolution in testing, particularly in the form of support from our government to investigate new approaches to better answer the valid concerns around GMO’s impact to people and planet health. In the meantime, as we continue to navigate our way to better answers, I believe the right thing to do is provide as much transparency and through that, education, as possible. We don’t have the answers, and until such a time that we do and this matter is settled, why not let people make their own decision? Let’s label GM foods, raise awareness and hopefully get to a place where we can argue towards solutions.

If you’re interested in doing some digging of your own into this issue, Johnson also did a recent article that provides a “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the most popular books on GMO. You can read this article here.

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Are You Ready to Stop Eating Real Food…Forever?

Lord, no, this is not about starving yourself.

This is the latest start-up by a 20-something genius, engineer Rob Rhinehart who has apparently invented a product that will free the world from the shackles of real food. It’s a vitamin and nutrient-rich drink, derived from plants but entirely lacking in taste or color, which Rhinehart is calling “Soylent” (somewhat ironically/controversially after the 1970s sci-fi film “Soylent Green.”) The founder claims to be subsisting, himself, almost entirely on the vitamin juice at this point – and with good results.

If this is all sounding a bit wacky, then you’re not alone. Many have raised doubts and concerns over such tampering with the human diet. We are, after all, made to eat real food, and such a reduction might sound dangerously similar to an eating disorder. But when asked about the “real food” concern by Vice magazine, Rhinehart responded:

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy, and just because something is artificial doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy or dangerous. Look around you. Nothing we buy is natural. Everything useful is designed and manufactured, and food should be no different. People are afraid of sweeteners when it’s real sugar that’s killing us. They’re afraid of preservatives when food waste is rampant. McDonald’s is trying to engineer lower-calorie food that is more filling to fight obesity, but people are demanding natural-sounding ingredients. It’s frustrating to watch. The idea of “real food” is just snobbery. Everyone has the right to be healthy, even people who don’t like vegetables.

Still not convinced? Well we may need to get used to the idea of food replacements, says Rhinehart, who sees the growing global food crisis as one of the main imperatives for Soylent. And their company has actually seen considerable success in the short time they’ve been around. Their crowd-funding campaign has raised over one million dollars (much more than their initial goal of $100,000)! And apparently there are already people out there ordering Soylent packages online and enjoying the food-free life.

So, what do you think? Would you ever give up food in exchange for a tasteless juice of pure vitamins? Tell us your thoughts!


Thumbnail credit: Julio Miles / Soylent

Finding Neutrality in the Genetically Modified Food Debate

GMO debate IntentI’ve been heavily involved in understanding and tracking the GMO debate for many years.  As an expert for the natural products industry, the issue of genetic modification and the role it should or should not play in natural products is a heavily debated (and litigated) topic. You need look no further than the New York Times, the Dr. Oz show, or your Facebook feed to get a dose of the emotion and polarized positions on both sides of this subject.

Over the course of these years I have come to a couple conclusions that I believe heavily influence our ability to productively communicate about this issue: 1) Despite the rapidly growing debate on this subject, there is still an incredible lack of awareness about GMO and an even bigger level of ignorance about the various topics at play under the “GMO” label, and 2) the emotional intensity this topic carries with it makes improved education, understanding and rational dialog a seemly impossible task at times.

I confess that I also feel a lot of emotion about this subject and wish for more information and understanding. I am troubled by conventional farming practices, the petro-chemical use required to keep it going and the seeming disregard for the natural wisdom of nature. I worry about the global impact the spread of these farming practices into developing countries will have not only to the health of the soil and people but to the traditional farming wisdom that will no longer be passed from generation to generation.

On the flip side, I believe that as humans we are hard-wired to experiment, research and evolve our understanding of the world. Given what I know of evolution and farming, biotechnology seems like a logical place for exploration in science. It’s in the application of this science that things start to get complicated to me. My sense is that, like most things, the best scenario for people and the planet as it relates to GMO is toward the center from either side of the extreme.

Last week I came across a series of articles that are currently posting on Grist.org attempting to do the thing I’ve been hoping I would have the ability to do myself someday – investigate and dissect this issue without emotion and understand the impact of biotechnology in food crops on human and planet health.

Like me, the reporter, Nathanael Johnson, has been wishing for a rational dissection of this issue for many years. I’ve spoken to some of the same people he’s interviewed for this series and am impressed by the depth of his research. I’ve been reading and note taking as each of his articles are published and hope that if you’re also seeking to understand this complex issue, you will take the time to read his pieces as well.

You can find a link to the first article in his series here and can find links to subsequent articles in the series at the bottom of the piece.

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Image by Steve Rhodes

Be a “Qualitarian” and Eat Your Way to Amazing Health

In the latest episode on 30 DAYS OF INTENT, Natalie and Iman are joined by YouTube star HeyKayli for a meeting with renowned dietician, Ashley Koff. Ashley leads them in a workshop on meal planning and juicing. We interviewed Ashley on what is means to be a “qualitarian” and how to make simple changes in our diets to improve our overall health.

The Chopra Well: Hi, Ashley! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You call yourself a “qualitarian”? Can you tell us more about that?

Ashley Koff: When it comes to what’s best for our bodies, I used to say “there isn’t a label, any one -ian, that sums up what people should do” but then I came up with Qualitarian – which means “making the better quality choice each time we put something into our body (food, beverage, supplements).”  This breaks down into a few things – the act of making a choice means you are involved and taking responsibility for what goes into your body. It also means you need to learn enough to know what the better quality choice is; better quality means the one that the body will recognize easily as fuel, it’s as close to Mother Nature’s whole foods as possible, no chemistry projects here. And finally, making the better quality choice means that every food is an option so you can respect your cultural influences, your personal preferences, and you can enjoy variety of food choice.

CW: What’s your advice for staying healthy on a tight budget?

AK: I advise people to look at their overall lifestyle budget versus just their food budget. Are there places that you can add money to your food budget to support your health? That said, looking at items like organic frozen fruits and vegetables will definitely save money versus buying in-store ready to eat. Also, buying plain ingredients and assembling your eating occasions yourself will save lots compared to buying the ready-made, especially the single-serve options.

CW: If someone were to give up or change one aspect of their diet, what should it be?

AK: By far, THE WORST thing one can put in their body are things that we don’t know what it does to the body or that is shown to alter internal function. The good news – these are NOT food…they are chemicals derived from chemistry projects, GMOs, and toxins used in chemical farming. So the best thing someone can do is to exchange any of these for better quality choices which include anything from Mother Nature’s whole foods pantry.

CW: There are so many popular diets around these days – primal, vegan, macrobiotic, raw…What’s your two cents?

AK: As a dietitian, I work with patients to develop their plan – the one personalized to them, so I would say that the best thing that you can learn to do, regardless of any of these that you may choose to follow for short or long term, is stick the word “my” in front of it and make sure it is tailored to your body, your needs and preferences. So choose from my paleo, my vegan, my gluten-free and always make these diets Qualitarian ones, as no food program based on lesser quality options is a good one for anyone.

Ashley teases Natalie about her Oreo ice cream habit.

CW: Do you have a guilty indulgence? Is there room in a healthy lifestyle for the occasional indulgence?

AK: So here’s the thing – I indulge, yes, but I rarely feel guilty about it. My choices – even the indulgent ones – are mine, so I respect them as such. I had mint chip ice cream with my niece and nephew yesterday because they took me to the shop for my birthday. I don’t know if it was organic, I don’t normally consume dairy at all, but I had a few bites (okay, half a scoop but I ate out all the chocolate chunks and left most of the ice cream) but I won’t feel guilty about it. I went to yoga, did a few hours of gardening, and was on the elliptical yesterday so I am not worried about the calories, and if it’s another year or six months before I have non-organic dairy again or ice cream, I am okay with that.

I am still a Qualitarian. When I do feel guilty is when I allow myself to be talked into something I don’t want to have, or consume something “just because it’s there” that doesn’t even taste that great. I know better, and I try to do better, but I have weak moments just like everyone else. I refuse to attempt to be perfect as I would never ask that of any patient either.

Have you tried any yummy (or not so yummy) nutrition plans? Let us know!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well for more of Natalie and Iman’s amazing journey on 30 DAYS OF INTENT!

More on 30 DAYS OF INTENT:

Kundalini Yoga and the Art of Awareness

Orgasmic Meditation: An Interview with Sexpert Nicole Daedone

Laughter: The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Meditating

Naturally Thin by Bethenny Frankel

Living in New Jersey, and working in New York City for years, I started watching “The Housewives of New York,” when it premiered on the Bravo Network last year — it’s always fun to spot locations you know and visit on television, and see things you can relate to.

Since then, I’ve become a fan. I’m also a big fan of eating all-natural and organic food, so when I discovered gourmet natural foods chef, and one of the stars of the show, Bethenny Frankel, wrote a book called “Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting,” AND that it included healthy recipes, I had to pick up a copy!
My main goal was to get some new recipes, and the book delivers with instructions for foods like Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, Faux Cheesecake, Ultra-Healthy Mexican Chili and Roasted Spicy Broccoli (we can’t wait for her new cookbook to come out at the end of the year). But for someone who has struggled with weight and is looking to give up the fad diets and deprivation, this book shows you there is another way – and a healthy way!
What I really loved about the book was the self-help, no-diet approach Frankel takes. I am not a fan of traditional diets because I always think depriving yourself of anything is never the answer, and any fad diet restricting an entire food group is just a way of asking to pile the weight back on once you start to join the normal world of food again!
In “Naturally Thin,” published by Fireside, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., Frankel explains how to eat healthy and make good choices without obsessing over every morsel, and without restricting yourself to certain food groups, giving up sugar or eating the no-taste, low-fat or fat-free offerings available today. She gives tips and tricks to make your food taste good, look good and, most importantly, to make you feel good about eating it. And she uses all-natural, healthy ingredients.
The book starts with an introduction by Frankel explaining why she created it, and then goes into what she calls her “10 Rules,” which include “You Can Have It All, Just Not All At Once,” and “Know Thyself.” It is a mindful approach to eating, especially the chapter and rule called “Pay Attention.”
If you are tired of diets, deprivation and food tasting like flavored cardboard, then I recommend this book! And even if you are already a “skinnygirl” (or boy!) the tips and recipes will spice up your cooking, kitchen and taste buds! And Frankel will make you laugh while you do it.
And if you can’t wait, you can get some recipes right now at her Web site, www.bethennybakes.com.


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