When I first heard about April Davila’s quest to live without Monsanto for a month, I thought she was doing something noble in a public setting. But, would it really be that hard? As a locavore, I pride myself on purchasing my produce from farmer’s markets, so couldn’t she just do the same? When we decided to meet, I soon realized that my arrogant assumptions had enough hot air to heat a compost bin.
After many attempts to find a place to meet, we settled on having organic herbal tea at a local coffee shop. She greeted me in her new wardrobe. No, she’s isn’t an Angeleno fashionista. Rather, Monsanto owns most cotton seeds so she had to purchase clothes and shoes made from other sources. April is plain and soft-spoken–I wouldn’t pick her to stand with a bull-horn outside of a McDonald’s protest. Despite her demeanor, her month without Monsanto was her own small but very impactful way of positively affecting our food system.
April wasn’t a food activist before she saw Food, Inc. She’s a scientist, writer and mom who was a conscious food consumer but hadn’t let it define her life. After seeing the film, she started reading more about Monsanto and was disturbed by an article about the possible harmful kidney and liver effects of the company’s genetically modified corn. She decided to go Monsanto-free for a month after casually mentioning it to a friend who challenged her to do it (and this friend was critical in helping her succeed as the volume of research became more than a full-time job).
April’s life radically changed from shopping at farmer’s markets and purchasing organic products at supermarkets to one where she was tracking the source of every seed of everything she ingested and wore. She was caught flat footed when she began her journey as she didn’t realize the extent of the company’s reach. Her first few days consisted of wild fish and seaweed because she couldn’t confirm anything about the company (she nearly gave up at this point). She learned that Monsanto controls many, many seeds (and seed subsidiaries) and even owns major organic seed companies (e.g. Western Seed). She switched to heirloom-only produce (non-Monsanto) and started contacting companies and their suppliers about their seed sources. She received responses from CEOs who did their own research on their seed sources (for example, Lundberg rice and certain Annie’s macaroni and cheese were confirmed to be non-Monsanto). Farmers might not be aware, even if they grow organic, because they order from seed distributors who don’t list their sources.
It wasn’t just that Monsanto owns most seeds. April started to examine them through her scientific lens. It turns out, not surprisingly, that some of their scientific evidence is questionable as they have paid off scientists. It doesn’t help either that former Monsanto executives are now part of the Food and Drug Administration, approving products.
Despite the volume of painstaking effort she went through to live Monsanto-free, there were rewards (aside from the obvious Monsanto-free life she enjoyed). She told me she “had a moment of quiet bliss, while hosting a Nonsanto brunch. . . I looked down at a delicious spread and knew exactly where everything came from. I knew the farmer and where he bought the seeds. There were no mystery foods and I felt a great pride in that.”
How did we get to the frightening point where one company is controlling most of what we eat? April says it’s one word: convenience. “We are a nation addicted to convenience. I am no exception. Monsanto has thrived by supplying our addiction. . . . Our food system is about the quick and the easy because as consumers that is what we demand (along with copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup).”
April’s personal challenge will stay with her. She told me, “it really seems like there is no definitive answer as to their safety and I’m not willing to be Monsanto’s test subject.” I don’t want to be a test subject either. This mom has made even people such as myself who proudly try to live up to the locavore label think twice.
If you want to join April in bucking the food system by saying no to one of convenient, genetically modified foods whose safety is dubious and happens to be controlled by a single company, she’s already done much of the homework for you (and will continue to do it through her blog). Here are things we can each do. It starts in the kitchen by cooking our own meals, knowing our food sources (talk to your farmers and visit farmer’s markets), ask companies–including organic ones–about their seed source and start planting your own heirloom seeds. In our own way, we can each be a rebel who is helping to galvanize a movement that begins with each of us in our kitchens. April is an unlikely trail blazer but this mom is helping to steer us on a better path for all of us.