Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Organic, genetically modified: Here's how to tell

My mother lived the adage, "You are what you eat." It was at her side -- when I was just barely walking -- that I learned how to choose my fruits and veggies, what to look for in each variety, the ones to bring home, and the ones to leave with our neighborhood green grocer. She took as much care picking her produce as she did caring for her family. For my mom, it was all about love.

Which is why I have always gravitated toward organic produce and foods without added hormones. I avoid genetically modified foods just because I think they are wrong. I want my corn to taste like corn, without a hint of peanuts or soy or whatever the mix du jour some chemist decided will prolong the food's shelf life.

I am a purist, thanks to mom. I was recently talking about GM foods with a friend, who asked me how to tell if a food has been modified. It's actually simple -- a clue on every fruit and vegetable at markets around the world: the price look-up number, or what we affectionately call the PLU. If the number begins with an 8, it's been genetically modified. You can also tell which foods are organic and which aren't. Here's the key:
  • The PLU numbers on conventional produce fall within 3000 and 4000; so it begins with a 3 or 4.
  • Organic produce is a five-digit number that begins with 9.
  • And those GM foods are five-digit numbers beginning with 8.
For more information, check out www.plucodes.com, the Web site of the International Federation for Produce Standards. It's comforting to know that wherever you travel, if the produce has a PLU number, you will know how to read it.

Last night I put my slow cooker to use again -- after all, it is winter-like in Connecticut -- and made a Turkey Mole Chili that I threw together in the morning. That easy.

Turkey Mole Chili
1 lb. package (approx.) turkey breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 sweet onions, diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
1 10-oz. pkg. sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 16-oz. jar salsa, your choice (we like things spicy, so I used a chiptole salsa)
2 Tblsp. chili powder
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cinnamon
Shredded reduced fat cheese to sprinkle on top
  • Place all ingredients except the cheese in a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours; low, 8-10 hours. Serve over brown rice, if desired. Sprinkle cheese on top.


  1. I had no idea that's what the numbers were all about! I'm thrilled to know this piece of info.

  2. I came here via Annie...thanks for this!

  3. I am very excited about this new information. Thanks for sharing! Now I can tell if things are Kosher, Parve, Organic, or Genetically Processed! This might push my neurosis for food shopping up to a new level. can they genetically modify soy products? - from Kim

  4. First, Metal P. Mama, so glad you found me!
    Now for Kim, Any soy product labeled organic has not been GM. But according to the Web site, www.all-creatures.org, chances are every other soy product has been genetically modified. The reason I am so opposed to GM products is that we are a very allergic family, which makes it important for us to know exactly what is in the foods we are eating. Sorry to add to your food shopping neurosis.

  5. Very useful information - thank you so much for sharing! Also, be careful with soy as too much can cause problems with thyroid function among other things. Weston A Price Foundation has some great info on this http://www.westonaprice.org/soy/index.html
    Best to stick with fermented soy products such as miso and tamari as it was originally eaten in Asian cultures.

  6. Thanks Heather for the useful info. And I also found out that soy, unless it is organic, is almost always genetically modified, just another reason to limit it in our diets!