Parenting Politics: Denying Your Kids and Defending Yourself

I try not to preach to my friends about my opinions on food, but sometimes I need to say something when I get the sideways glance that always follows my refusal to drop some of the passed Doritos onto my kids’ plates. I look like a mean mom, and my kids want what everyone else is eating. “Mom, please, can we have just a few?”

I’ve explained GMOs to my kids in really simplistic terms. At first I tried to tell them that GMOs are bad for you, but they weren’t buying that explanation since their friends—who all have loving parents—are allowed to eat a variety of cleverly packaged fun foods. So instead, I play on the tree-hugging tendencies that they get from their dad. Basically, my kids understand that every time you buy a GMO product, you’re getting a tasty treat, but you’re also hurting the earth. Soon, I explain, if people keep selecting these products, there won’t be any food or flowers left in the world. For whatever reason, this is an explanation they appreciate. However, it’s not one that most grownups care enough about to make any real change in their eating habits. So, when my girls start to beg for crap food around other moms, I feel compelled to say something brief but hard-hitting about why I won’t let my kids eat GMOs. I rattle off something along these lines, taking special care to keep it personal by saying “I” and never “you”:

“I try not to let my kids eat anything that contains GMOs. Unfortunately, there are no laws requiring that products that contain GMOs be labeled, so unless a packaged product says “organic,” I pretty much bank on it containing GMOs.”

After offering this explanation, nine times out of ten, I’m asked “what exactly is a GMO?” There’s a simple, but fantastic, explanation of GMOs that every parent should read at “” Anyone who needs a good starting point should really check it out. But for a quick response, I say something along the lines of this:

“GM stands for genetically modified. The large industrial farms that supply the ingredients used to make almost all non-organic packaged foods want to protect their crops from pests. So, they insert a foreign DNA into the genes of their plants. When a caterpillar or some other bug starts eating these genetically modified crops, it ruptures the pest’s stomach. Now obviously, it doesn’t rupture human stomachs—otherwise we wouldn’t be noshing on these Doritos. But, I find it difficult to believe that this can be healthy and, sadly, the companies behind the production of these high-tech crops are so powerful and hold so much sway in government, that there really has been no testing to see what effect these products have on American families. But, GMOs have been banned in all of Europe and several other countries, and for good reason.”

Discussing GMOs with other parents is not easy. I think it’s important to wait to be asked before getting into the dirty details of what GMOs are. Otherwise, what begins as a defense of your own beliefs can quickly start looking like an accusation of everyone else’s, and that rarely changes behaviors for the best.

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