A bizarre, but also deeply disturbing, battle over food labelling has been waged across the USA over the past couple of years.
On the one hand are consumer groups who believe US citizens have the right to know whether the food they buy contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
On the other are the very companies responsible for putting GMOs into food who do not want US citizens to know if their food contains GMOs. Those companies have spent many millions of dollars over the last couple of years underwriting a fierce propaganda campaign designed to persuade the American public that such information is neither necessary nor desirable.
The alliance opposing the public’s right to know includes multinational corporations Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Monsanto (the leading GMO seed manufacturer) and DuPont (a chemical giant which also sells GMOs).
Several US states have already held a referendum on the proposed compulsory labelling of foods containing GMOs.
In each referendum, the corporate “no” campaign has spent huge sums on TV and newspaper advertisements warning that compulsory labelling would not only confuse consumers and but also lead to higher food prices because of the cost of labelling and the extra bureaucracy that would be needed to police compulsory labelling.
With a budget around sixteen times higher than that of the “yes” campaign, the alliance of food and chemical corporations managed to achieve a narrow victory in the states of Colorado, Oregon and California.
But then the states of Vermont, Maine and Connecticut bucked the trend by returning majority “yes” votes for the proposal that GMO labelling should be mandatory.
However, that wasn’t then end of the matter in those states, or indeed elsewhere.
First of all, the alliance of food and biochemical corporations funded a lawsuit challenging the Oregon result. Their challenge was thrown out.
Next, the alliance turned its attention to central government, and, after intensive lobbying, in July of this year the US House of Representatives passed a bill called the Safe and Accurate Food Labelling Act. This proposed legislation will, if supported by the US Senate, create a “voluntary program” for companies who wish to disclose whether their products contain GMOs. Given that a spokesman for one of Monsanto’s subsidiary companies once admitted that, “if you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it”, it is safe to say that there are unlikely to be many companies going down the voluntary disclosure route.
Another impact of the Safe and Accurate Food Labelling Act will be to prevent Vermont, Maine and Connecticut from enacting the state GMO-labelling laws for which their citizens voted.
What could be more democratic than being able to know what is in our food and how it is grown? When such powerful companies are allowed to go to such extraordinary lengths to subvert and manipulate local and national democratic processes then it is clear that they have manoeuvered themselves into a position where they are beyond effective democratic control.
The best way to avoid GMOs in your food, of course, is to know where your food has come from, and to cook from base ingredients: the best food, in my opinion, is always cooked from scratch.
There are, of course, no GMOs in this week’s recipe, in which the natural bitterness of chicory is tempered slightly by the roasting processes, which adds a hint of caramel to the flavour. Combined with juicy olives and oregano, this is a lovely hearty vegetarian comfort food dish.
roast chicory and olive tart
for the pastry
250g organic plain flour
125g unsalted organic butter, chopped into cubes
40 ml cold water
½tsp sea salt
1 organic free range egg
for the filling
2 heads chicory
12 black olives
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250 g mascarpone
4 organic free range eggs
125 g vegetarian Parmesan
½ tsp dried oregano
1. First, make the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor and mix at the lowest setting until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and the water and process until the mixture forms itself into a pliable ball. Remove from the food processor bowl, flatten the ball slightly to a thick disc shape (this makes it easier to roll out later), wrap in clingfilm and put it the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4).Using a sharp knife, slice each head of chicory lengthways into quarters. Place these quarters on a baking tray and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the chicory has started to colour and catch slightly.
3. Grease a flan dish. Retrieve the pastry, roll out thinly and carefully place it into the flan dish. Trim the pastry so that there is a slight overhang of about 1 cm. Prick the base and sides of the flan pastry base with a fork and line it with kitchen foil and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the foil and baking beans. The edges of the flan will have shrunk slightly, but now you can trim them neatly to the height of the flan dish with a sharp knife.
4. Whisk the eggs with the mascarpone until smooth and creamy.
5. Pour two thirds of the mascarpone and egg mix into the flan base. On top of this evenly sprinkle two thirds of the Parmesan. Next, carefully place the roasted chicory quarters on top in a radial pattern. Pour over the remaining mascarpone and egg mixture, followed by the remaining Parmesan. Finally, scatter the dried oregano evenly over the surface.
6. Place the tart in the pre-heated oven for around 35-40 minutes until set and golden. Leave to cool slightly before cutting into portions.