My Month Without Monsanto
Early this year I embarked on a challenging and unforgettable journey. I ventured into the dark reaches of my kitchen cabinets, the depths of my vegetable drawer, and the cobweb-covered corners of my spice rack. It was an expedition inspired not by any culinary magazine, but rather by a disturbing article on The Huffington Post.
The report summarized an independent study that found undeniable signs of kidney and liver damage in rats that were fed strains of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn. For years I had ignored the debate about genetically modified foods and simply trusted the powers-that-be to keep me safe. Then my faith sprouted tiny, genetically modified wings and flew out the window.
Unsure of how to digest the new information, I said to myself I just won’t eat Monsanto foods anymore, and being the modern girl I am, took the time to boast about it on my Facebook page. A friend of mine snidely commented “good luck, that corn is in everything.” His sarcasm only spurred me to take the challenge personally. I decided to go one month without any Monsanto products.
It would be simple, I thought. I would avoid all non-organic foods (the USDA “organic” label precludes any genetically modified food or anything sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup), sugar (much of it comes from Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets), and all animal products (the majority of which are fed Monsanto grain, and/or are treated with rBST – another Monsanto product).
I cleared out my closet and left only all-organic cotton clothing (genetically modified cotton is one of Monsanto’s biggest sellers). I cleaned out the medicine cabinet and kept only varieties of Dr. Bronner’s organic beauty care products. So that my nay-saying friends could see how effortless my sojourn was, I started a blog to chart my path into uncharted territory.
On Day One I began with a lunch of organic salad greens, then cooked up a stir-fry of organic veggies and tempeh for dinner. I washed it all down with a tasty organic beer and thought, This won’t be so bad. Then Day Two arrived like a cloud of DDT. I learned that when Monsanto purchased Semenis, one of its many subsidiary seed companies, it gained control of 40 percent of the US vegetable seed market – from peppers to peas, lettuce to lima beans. These Monsanto-owned seeds, if bought by organic farmers and grown without pesticides, are considered USDA organic.
Aside from wild-caught salmon boiled in plain water (which tasted like dirty, wet gym socks) I couldn’t think of anything that I could be sure was “safe” to eat. To learn which foods were not tied to Monsanto I had to track everything back to its seed. It was daunting – but the threat of a diet dominated by stewed fish is a serious motivator.
I spent whole days, then weeks, tirelessly tracing simple foods back to their roots, literally. On Day Seven I made contact with Greg Massa, a rice farmer who prided himself on his farm’s Monsanto-free status. On Day Nine the CEO of Annie’s, Inc. confirmed that its organic Macaroni and Cheese is free of Monsanto ingredients. I visited my farmer’s market, met the beautiful, dreadlocked couple who run the organic Givens Farm in Santa Barbara, and stocked up on their non-Monsanto produce. I bought meat and dairy products derived from grass-fed livestock. Bit by bit my menu expanded.
By Day Twenty I was a few pounds lighter, but I had finally hit a groove. I was eating a satisfying (if somewhat bland) variety of meat, rice, and veggies, and had even discovered a simple cookie recipe. The highlight of the month came on Day Twenty-seven when I invited my neighbors over for a Nonsanto (my shorthand for all things non-Monsanto) brunch.
Sitting with friends over scrambled eggs with sliced avocado, sautéed chard, rice pudding with raisins and hazelnuts, a big bowl of strawberries, and some delicious mint lemonade, I felt a wonderful sense of community. I had personally spoken to the farmer who grew every part of that meal. I could trace every bite from seed to fork. Not only had I discovered that it is entirely possible to live a life outside the grasp of Monsanto, but I had also found a thriving community to support just such an endeavor. As every traveler learns at some point, it’s the people you meet along the way who that make a journey unforgettable.
April Dávila is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. To find out more about her, visit her website.