Table Talk: GMO’s and Food Allergies

by Ginny on April 12, 2012

Introducing a new feature to The Sunday Dinner Revival: Table Talk, because life happens at the table. I wanted a way to cover topics that come up at our dinner table, with friends and family. A lot of change begins with fork and knife in hand, over casual conversation about life’s goings on. So here’s the first installment. Take a seat, and by all means, feel free to join the conversation.

I learned some stuff recently that completely re-ignited my commitment to cooking with organic food. I mentioned in my last post that James has some food sensitivities. I noticed right away when he was a newborn that he became uncomfortably gassy whenever I ate corn. At around 3 months of age my happy little guy began to grow more and more fussy, arching his back and crying out during and after feedings. Within a month he was spending nearly every day fussing, uncomfortable, moaning, grunting, etc. I thought it might be acid reflux, but as a last ditch effort before putting him on prescription drugs, I omitted cows milk from my diet. Within a week he was my happy little guy again. Most recently, he developed a mild, come-and-go eye rash that definitely went away when I stopped feeding him oatmeal. I guess this kind of thing is somewhat common, and most kids grow out of it as their digestive enzymes develop. I’m seeing a lot of improvement recently, as he nears his eighth month and eats more and more solid foods. Nonetheless, all the detective work and diet changes have taken up a lot of my mental real estate and I wanted to learn more about it.

I came across this TED talk (above) while I was looking at information on food sensitivities in children. Doesn’t it seem like there are so many kids with serious food allergies these days? Way more than I remember growing up. Well the fact is there are more food sensitivities and allergies, both in children and adults. So the obvious next question is: Why?

One theory is that Americans are too clean. Our anti-bacterial, germaphobic, antibiotic-riddled lifestyles may be diminishing the healthy flora that lives in our bodies, causing our immune systems to over-react to the mildest of toxins (which are found in many foods, both naturally occuring and synthetically introduced) in the form of allergies. At least, that’s what this CNN article suggests.

Another theory is that the rise in food allergies has paralleled the introduction and full-saturation of GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) into our every day foods. The US doesn’t require any special labeling for products containing genetically modified crops. Most of the rest of the developed word has outlawed them. Last I heard, something like 70% of what’s on the grocery store shelves in the U.S.  contains GMO’s. The US also didn’t conduct testing to make sure they were safe. The whole shenanigan has opened a Pandora’s box of potentially food-related illnesses, in the name of profiting big business, and supporting our heavily subsidized industrial agriculture model. The system is getting a lot of stink-eye from foodies and families and basically anyone who wants to be nourished vs. poisoned by food. I’m guessing you fall into that category.

If you want to know and understand more about this, watch Robyn O’Brien’s TED talk (above). She breaks it down in language we can all understand.

You can also read about it here:

The Organic Consumers Association: Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies

Or here:

Mom’s for Safe Food

The whole business is very  upsetting, and the reason I get so grouchy at tax season. We should be protected by our government, not treated human guinea pigs in the name of profit. Period.

In terms of food, there is one ray of hope, or one simple solution. It’s not perfect, and we all know it costs more, but if you feel driven to action by what you learned here today it’s this: Eat ORGANIC.

Foods that are labeled organic cannot, by law, contain genetically modified ingredients. For now, it’s the only way of knowing you are protecting yourself from food that is quite possibly making us ill– and not necessarily just in the form of food allergies, but other auto-immune disorders, inflammatory disorders, digestive disorders, behavioral disorders, mood disorders, and who knows what else.

Spring is a great time of year to consider making a change– like growing your own salad greens in a container garden. Maybe you could join a CSA, or a local co-op. You could enjoy sunny weekends shopping at your local farmers’ market. Even if you don’t live in a crunchy place like Missoula where organics are abundant, there are things you can do. Even Costco has an impressive and growing selection of organic products. It really does start with what is on the plates in front of us.

I certainly can’t claim perfection or a 100% organic diet. And I know the issues raised here are more question marks than facts– oh how I would love for my worries to be proven wrong. But don’t you think it’s important to open our eyes and try to make the most-informed choices we can? At the very least, let’s talk about it, because idle talk is so rarely just that.

So, what are your thoughts on the matter? I’d love to hear. Please, have a seat and join me for a little Table Talk.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Zanger April 13, 2012 at 11:35 pm

After viewing this Ted talk I realize living the last 33 years in Belgium (where daughter Kate was born nearly 24 years ago) has — apparently — made a huge difference in what we’ve been eating.
And I remember the brouhaha (from the States) when the European Union (EU) refused to accept U.S. meat because of particular hormones used (although Belgium evidently also has a hormone “mafia” of its own — recently portrayed in the Academy Award nominated “foreign” film “Rundskop”, or “Beef Head”!).
Kate was exclusively breast fed for the first six months during which time I followed an organic and, when possible, biodynamic vegetarian diet and eschewed coffee (now very much my “drug” of choice). When she started eating solids, they were basically what we ate, only steamed a little longer & then pureed. She didn’t get any meat until she was nearly three and then it was from the biological butcher, so organic, free-range, chemical & drug free. (She blames me for her voracious carnivorous appetite ever since!)
Looking back, I think we were really, really lucky. We had the means to buy organic & biodynamic foods, anywhere from 20 to 40 percent more expensive than what the standard supermarkets had on offer. However, we also were hardly ever ill so any medical costs were minimal or, more often, nil.
We were (are) also fortunate to live in an EU member state, although Belgium has had several food scandals — dioxin “accidentally” mixed into chicken feed was a “memorable” one!
What I HAVE noticed in our three decades here is an increase in incidents of autism & attention deficit/ hyperactivity “disorders”. Part of this may be due to better, more accurate diagnoses, however, I strongly suspect that certain food additives play a part.
There has been a concentrated effort to keep GMOs out of the European Union. (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know where that stands today.)
I must say that I am both shocked AND yet not at all surprised at what has been happening in the food industry in the U.S, as described in this Ted talk. It mirrors what is going on with health care in this country — where profit trumps everything, even common sense & compassion.
Thanks for raising this, Ginny!


Ginny April 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Hi Pat,

Thank you so much for weighing in. As a resident of the EU your opinion is especially of interest. I can’t say that it makes me feel better that you are seeing more food issues in Belgium, but it does shed light on some of the risky business that is happening in the worldwide food system. . . perhaps as a result of the ever-increasing costs of producing food.

Our babysitter recently emigrated to the U.S. from Kilkenny, Ireland, where she grew up on a cattle farm. She said she took it for granted before coming here, that the food they ate was regarded as pure and wholesome for the most part. She said she never heard much talk about food allergies in Ireland, or talk about “Organic” foods, because there never seemed to be a need for food that was different than what was available. She also said she never heard much about the whole child vaccine issue, and when she asked her brother back home about it (he has a baby girl James’s age), he said they start giving vaccines to children there much later and in smaller doses. Curious indeed… Anyway, these topics are hot in a place like Missoula where a lot of folks are into a more natural lifestyle, so that could play a part in her hearing about it more now.

One of the best ideas I’ve heard is that we need to change the law regarding the responsibility of corporations as being primarily to increase shareholder wealth, by adding something along the lines of, “but not at the expense of our health, our living conditions, our the environment that sustains us.” Until then, these are the parameters of our playing field.

If revolution is underway here, it is happening in regards to food. The huge increase in farmers’ markets is proof. There is always hope somewhere. I just want the world to be worthy of our sons and daughters so revisiting these issues feels like an important thing to do.


annie montanasolarcreations April 19, 2012 at 10:19 am

Great post Ginny! I had been thinking more about this since we talked about it recently. I am totally freaked out to feed Ada any wheat/grain products after hearing of James’ reaction. I also know so many people who have allergies to them these days even if they are organic. Just this last week her appetite for solids has really increased so I’m busy whipping up big batches of homemade baby food using strictly organic veggies, fruits and even a tiny bit of pureed venison and chicken. Ironically yesterday I just posted on my blog tips about how to eat organic on a budget! Your post just drives home for me why I need to continue to buy organic, not just for Ada but for our whole family as well. Thanks for sharing this 🙂


Ginny April 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for weighing in Annie. I still need to go check out the Missoula co-op for another organic food source. And thanks for reminding me that I should add some the elk meat in our deep freeze to James’s menu.


Lia Huber April 24, 2012 at 9:36 am

I love the new Table Talk, Ginny! And what a topic to bring to the table. I’ve been wanting to investigate this link further, and here you’ve done it for me. Thank you! And good for you for being so attuned to James’s sensitivities.


Ginny April 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

Thank you Lia! I thought this post might be of interest to you… : )


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