Gluten and GMOs

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

Now that we have gotten into the habit of buying local and eating local, the next level is to find out who makes our food. I have been lucky to meet some bakers during the pandemic who live close to my house and who could deliver freshly-baked bread straight to my doorstep. It surely beats buying commercial bread.

After the pandemic, I also read about glyphosate and its bad effects on our diets. Glyphosate use in farms is very prevalent because farmers want to reduce costs of weeding. They spray the area with glyphosate which makes weeds die and prepares the soil for planting. This chemical seeps through the soil and gets into our vegetables, root crops and whatever we plant on this land “infected” with glyphosate. Its partners, seeds and planting materials have to be genetically-modified or what we call GMOs. Ergo, glyphosate use encourages use of GMO seeds and this tandem probably affects the gluten content, too. This “new world gluten” I now believe is what is causing celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

But people are not aware that this new version of gluten is bad for them and they just pop an anti-histamine to address such allergy to “new food” that are not from organic or ancient grains. What happened to our ancient grains like adlai? We in Slow Food took the bull by the horns and asked chefs to start using adlai so farmers will start to grow them again. Adlai has a glycemic index which is lower than white rice, so it is better for diabetics and those who are glucose and gluten intolerant. Adlai is gluten-free along with sweet potato (grown organically), other tubers and root crops. Another gluten-free alternative that is organically-grown is heirloom rice. Our indigenous peoples (IPs) would not use glyphosate because it may not be good for their crops and they also do not have the extra budget to buy chemicals. Ergo, these heirloom rice are naturally organic or organic by default.

Soybeans, meanwhile, became GMO due to its wide use and increased demand from vegetarians, so you would be hard pressed to find organic soybeans. The soy sauce we are familiar with also contains gluten because additives like flour or thickeners get into its preparation as a table condiment. Why all the fuss about gluten? Because being intolerant of gluten can make you feel sick and have digestive issues. This “new gluten” can make one very sensitive and can even be fatal, as people have died by just eating the wrong kind of food or even just the wrong kind of bread. A friend is so careful about gluten because she almost gasped her last due to an intolerance attack.

Yes, it has been quite complicated to eat safely these days. Wheat flour is in almost all kinds of breaded and fried food, in most baked products and in snacks that are sold in supermarkets.

What’s the good news? Since we are a rice-eating people, it should be easier to find rice-based products like puto and bibingka, biko and other kakanins (sweet rice cakes). And shun gluten and its risks.

Wait, it could be complicated to look for gluten-free, glyphosate-free, organic and natural. The best way is to know who cooks your food and who makes your bread. It may be time to start cooking at home to be sure. And we call on restaurants and cafés to start offering gluten-free, organic and GMO-free choices. Or you can find a baker and a cook who would prepare food for you with your diet preferences in mind.

What about fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)? What about fast food (QSR) choices? Sooner or later, they will have to tow the line. Already we are finding more vegetarian and vegan choices in menus when we did not see those before. Gluten-free and GMO-free should be next.

Organic, though difficult to comply with because of the high cost of certification, is the ultimate best choice. For right now the Organic Law (RA 10068) has been amended to include certification by PGS, Participatory Guarantee Systems (RA 11511), which will bring more organic products within your reach.

So, this new year, what new skills should consumers have? Be able to read “front of pack” labels as they must contain important information on the amount of sugar, fat, salt that the product contains. Next, read up on gluten intolerance, glyphosate and gluten-free food. Read about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and how they get into your food.

In the meantime, I am sure some consumers will just shrug and say, “This is too much to read!” and carry on with buying their favorite fast food snack or ordering their meal from online delivery apps. This is just a reminder that we have choices. We can choose to be mindful of what we buy, because what we buy is what the farmer or producer will plant. In our special regime of high imports, what you continue to buy is what the importer will continue to bring in to the country. The power is really with you, the consumer.

I am quite happy building relationships with bakers and cooks because I neither bake nor cook. And I try to meet other farmers who grow organic vegetables and fruits and who raise native chickens who feed on grub. I try not to add artificial flavors and experience the natural taste of food as it has been grown.

It is our choice as consumers to get the food we deserve – good, clean and fair food as Slow Food movement espouses. Ask yourself if you know who grew your food. And who cooked it. That may be the key to better health, because you eat three times a day.

When in doubt about the source of food, look for other choices. Because we only have one body, we must take care of it by eating well. Eat well and live well.

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