Kashi GOLEAN cereal is pretty much a staple of my breakfast routine, in large part because it is one of the only cereals available at Costco that doesn’t have a year’s worth of sugar in each serving (although it still has quite a bit). Also, it has protein and is probably the closest thing to a “healthy” breakfast cereal that doesn’t require actual cooking (because I am lazy in the morning and it is all I can do to make coffee). I have never had any illusions that GOLEAN cereal is in any particular way “natural,” since that is a vague enough adjective to be meaningless and it only takes one look at the cereal sitting in a bowl to see that nothing quite like it occurs in nature (absent industrial-scale intervention, I mean).
A photo making its way around Facebook today depicts a sign at a Rhode Island “natural” food grocery explaining why they have removed all Kashi products from their shelves:
You might be wondering where your favorite Kashi cereals have gone.
It has recently come to our attention that 100% of the soy used in Kashi products is Genetically Modified, and that when the USDA tested the grains used there were found to be pesticides that are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.
Whoa. So, what exactly does that mean? Calling something “Genetically Modified,” or “GM,” particularly when the words are written in title case, is often enough to send many people running for the hills. GM food is scary to many people, because it is so poorly understood and unfamiliar, because it often represents corporate malfeasance and greed, and because we often have little to no idea what the hell is in our food. I would like to learn a bit more about Kashi, and about the whole GM thing, before I set fire to my remaining GOLEAN Crunch.
WTF does “natural” mean in this context?As Vivian Ward might respond, what do you want it to mean? Unlike “organic,” there is no legal standard for use of the word “natural” in food marketing or pretty much anywhere. It tends to evoke a sense of “not overly processed through mass industry,” a process that gives us Twinkies and McDonald’s french fries. To produce anything for public retail distribution requires some industrial processes (unless you buy all of your food at farmers’ markets, in which case you live a life of remarkable privilege and have little in common with most of the rest of America). How much processing is too much? I pick on Twinkies because they are about as far from “natural” as one can get (full disclosure: I love Twinkies), but really, unless you want to consume all of your groceries within two hours of purchasing them, you need some amount of processing just to function in our society.
WTF does GM mean at all? “Genetically Modified” covers a wide range of processes, some innocuous, some insidious, and some downright disquieting.Humans have been genetically modifying food since the dawn of agriculture, so the mere fact of “genetic modification” should not frighten anyone. Corn and bananas are two excellent examples. Corn was derived from a grass native to Mesoamerica called teosinte, which is inedible and bears no physical resemblance to corn at all. Bananas, originally from southeast Asia, developed from giant, inedible seed pods into the fruit we know today, thanks to human intervention. On the animal side, ponder how long a chicken could survive in the wild, and whether it ever would have survived as a species this long if it had evolved to its present form purely “naturally.”
That brings us to modern-day “Genetic Modification.” Again, this covers a wide range of processes, all of which ought to be better-explained to the public, but some of which are no cause for major concern. Since I am not a scientist, I rely on dumbed-down sources to understand this stuff (thank you, Wikipedia, et al). The two major methods of GM’ing food in modern terms is cisgenesis and transgenesis. Cisgenesis involves transferring genes between similar organisms, essentially speeding up a breeding process that could occur “naturally.” Transgenesis involves inserting genes from a different species, creating something akin to a hybrid (or mutant) organism. Continue reading