When I was a kid, vegetarianism was the dreaded dietary trend of teens and tweens. It was a right of passage that half of us experimented with after reading Charlotte's Web, and probably a quarter of us actually continued with. It's still a phase discussed in numerous books and magazine articles. But the newest dietary trend (the kind that isn't for weight loss) seems to revolve around organic choices.
When my daughter came to me and said she was considering cutting out corn and soy (on top of the gluten and dairy she already avoids) I was a little worried that she wasn't feeling well. No, no, she was quick to assure me, it's just that corn and soy are usually GMO in the US. And she doesn't want to eat genetically modified organisms.
She reassured me that it wasn't my reading choices that made her think. It was an article about how good GMOs are that convinced her. She disagreed with the article, and their evidence that most corn and soy grown in the USA are GMO and 'not hurting anyone' really concern her. People have cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and increased incidents of food allergy and intolerance. We don't know why, but diagnosis like chronic fatigue and various depression issues appear to be on the rise as well.
I was impressed by her argument, and we discussed how we can focus on organics but I don't want her to obsess over small amounts of corn or soy or conventional fruits and veggies. It's more important to have a varied diet than to avoid specific farming practices. Besides, as a family, we have enough to worry about when it comes to what goes into our bodies! In fact, I figured that our own dietary awareness was what set her off.
But I've been listening in check out lanes. And at playgrounds. Not to mention while waiting for classes to let out.
It seems that my teenager isn't the only young lady concerned with the safety of genetically modified foods, and corn syrup. Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dillemma" was published in a kid friendly format (which I need to look up) and has been making the middle and high school rounds. Parents are commenting that their kid's sudden interest in ingredient lists, and desires to avoid high fructose corn syrup or soy are taking parents by surprise. Some are asking to shop at Whole Foods, or refusing to eat anything not labeled organic. Their parents aren't sure what to think. Or how far to support the cause.
After all, teenagers are famous for changing their minds. Like the parents of the 70's who were tempted to sneak ground chicken into the tofu, today's parents wonder if they should hide the corn syrup laden foods. And how exactly to do that.
I had to laugh at the conversation about hiding conventional foods. After all, there is nothing inherently nutritious about corn syrup. Even the most ambitious propaganda from the corn refiner's association doesn't go so far as to suggest that corn syrup laden food is anything more than equivalent to cane sugar laden food. The point has always been to convince the public that food is food regardless of how much processing or chemical processes they put it through.
The concern, which no one seems able to voice properly, is that corn is so entrenched in our food supply that totally eradicating it does cause potential problems. It doesn't mean that corn is inherently good. It just means that total avoidance is to today's diet as a vegetarian diet was to the meat and potatoes fare our parents were raised on. Maybe worse, since there can be corn derivatives used to wash meat or eggs, used in the waxing of fresh fruits, even in the fortification of vitamins.
The answer isn't to do a better job hiding it. The Corn Refiners association and the FDA seem to be doing a good enough job, if the experience of the Delphi Avoiding Corn forum is any example. The answer is to look, really take a good, hard, critical look at our dietary staples. Ask about sources. Make preferences known, and look for variety as well as organic symbols. Support local farmers (if you don't avoid corn, include the ones who grow it organic, the on-the-cob variety) and eat close to the source.
The next generation knows they want to make a change. They know there is something inherently wrong with genetically manipulating plant DNA. They don't have the words or experience to explain or defend their objections, but that doesn't invalidate them.
The next generation may need guidance in defining their objections. They need help modifying their choice of diet, whether it is vegetarian or organic or paleo, into something nutritious and balanced. But they don't need adults to circumvent or override their decisions. Just as the vegetarians in my day were objecting to the rise of factory farms, today's organic activists just want to make a change. They want to be proactive. And like any change in this world, the best place to start is at home. I hope today's youth is more successful at avoiding corn than my generation was at eradicating factory farming. But since it's easier to make a statement with a choice to buy organic, to put dollars toward local pesticide free produce rather than processed calories, maybe they'll have a chance.
I support the cause. It's not just about corn. It's about health, for my kids and their future.