An Open Letter to UK: We Need More Local Food

LEXINGTON, Ky. – On April 27, 2015, Chipotle announced its decision to become GMO-free.

Beginning immediately, none of the chain’s cooking ingredients (including tortillas, rice and salsa, among others) will be genetically modified.

“We want to make the old fast food model irrelevant,” Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells said in an interview with CNNMoney. “We want to make great ingredients and classic cooking techniques accessible to everybody.”

They’re also the first national food chain to do so.

While GMO supporters argue there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified food, its critics are not so sure, especially when it comes to the amount of pesticides used in growing conventional crops.

According to the USDA, 80 percent of the food grown and later consumed in the U.S. is genetically modified (as reported by CNNMoney).

“Chipotle is really showing that there’s a better way to do fast food,” Ells said in an interview with CNNMoney. “They say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we’d rather have food that doesn’t contain them.”

So, what exactly is a genetically modified organism?

According to the Non-GMO Project, “GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE.”

The gene splicing techniques used create “unstable” combinations of plant, animal and viral genes, many of which do not appear in nature (as reported by the Non-GMO Project).

In addition, “a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights,” reads the Non-GMO Project’s website.

They’re also considered dangerous by most developed nations.

According to the Non-GMO Project, “in the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.”

Though scientists are unsure whether or not genetically modified foods lead to adverse health effects for consumers (cancer, for example), Americans are not interested in buying or consuming GMOs (as reported by Forbes.com).

According to a poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times in 2008, 53 percent of Americans say they won’t buy food if it’s been genetically modified.

While Chipotle may have found a short-term solution to the GMO problem, what about the groceries we buy at the store?

Organic food, for one, has been touted as the answer to genetically modified food.

However, in an article published by the Mayo Clinic on its website, organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious than those grown on conventional farms.

“A recent study examined the past 50 years’ worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods,” read the website. “The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are not significantly different in their nutrient content.”

Instead, the Mayo Clinic recommends buying fruits and vegetables when they’re in season. “Or buy food from your local farmers market,” wrote the staff.

Now, there’s an idea: locally grown food.

The PBS feature “Local vs. Organic” explores the differences between organic and locally-grown foods, speaking with two local farmers who believe in the mantra “Local First, Certification Second.”

According to Edwin Marty, of Alabama’s Jones Valley Urban Farm, lots of farmers in the south practice sustainable methods, but are not officially certified by the USDA.

 “Organic certification, or a piece of paper, will never insure that you are getting good food,” Marty said in an interview with PBS. “You have to know your farmer.”

Jay Martin, of Provident Organic Farms in Bivalve, Md., also noted the importance of “face certification.”

 “It’s a direct contact between the farmer and the consumer,” Martin said in an interview with PBS. “And that creates an environment for trust and faith.”

Chris Poore, adviser for The Kentucky Kernel and a local Lexington farmer, agreed. “You create a sustainable system where everything and everybody feeds everybody else,” he said.

In September 2014, University of Kentucky president Capilouto announced the formation of The Food Connection, a public-private partnership between the university and Aramark (as reported by The Lane Report).

According to the article, The Food Connection has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, as well as Kentucky farmers, community leaders and consumers, to promote the consumption of local food at the university and around the state.

“[The university] was built largely because of agriculture, to share its resources with the rest of the state,” Poore said.

The Food Connection is also backed by a $5 million investment, funded by Aramark.

Poore, however, believes the university can and should do more to promote local food to students on campus.

“I think UK does some things well with local food,” he said. “On paper, they’re promoting [it].”

According to UK Dining’s website, “Kentucky Proud, the state’s program to encourage purchases of local food, is near and dear to our hearts as a land grand university. The list changes throughout the year depending on seasonality and availability.”

The university, for one, should commit to buying most, if not all, of its food from local farms.

In years past, the Student Activities Board has also hosted a farmer’s market on campus (usually on the Student Center patio) for students. This is a tradition to be revisited and renewed.

Shuttles from campus to the downtown farmer’s market, as well as Bring Your Farmer to Campus Day (where local farmers present their products to students on campus, educating those at the university about the farms and agriculture around Lexington) are also possibilities.

But, regardless of which initiative is implemented on campus, the support of students is the key to its success.

“With UK, as a local farmer, it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “The more students are interested, [the more] we could push the needle.”

Even though Chipotle will deliver GMO-free burritos to your door (as reported by CNNMoney), we need to work on the transition for the University of Kentucky’s dining facilities.

And, buying local is the way to go.

 

Picture credits:

www.kentucky.com