Advocacy through Consumption: Natural Food Labels, GMOs, Childhood Obesity APP and CHEF Partner to Host Highly Successful VTL

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What do the food labels “Natural,” “Non GMO,” or “Organic” really mean? What exactly are GMOs, which products contain them, and why is there a labeling debate? How can we create healthier food programs in New York City schools and reduce the number of overweight and obese children?

Buying food that is healthy and produced safely isn’t always easy.  In an ever-evolving market, crowded with claims, it’s hard to always know if you are making the right choice. On April 12, 2016, the Advocates For Public Policy Committee (APP) and Cooking and Health Education for Families Committee (CHEF) hosted a VTL that brought together leading experts to answer questions about these important issues and give NYJL members insight into food labels, GMOs, and childhood obesity.

Diane Hatz, Founder & Executive Director, Change Food moderated the lively panel discussion with Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Union; Stacie Orell, GMO Free NY; and Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine. Together the panelists sifted through false claims and debunked many food myths.

“Natural” is one of those labels that is vague, misleading, and just falls short of what consumers want it to mean,” said Rangan. 

She went on to say,

“People believe ‘natural’ means there are no GMOs or artificial ingredients in feed, and that the animals went outdoors. But ‘natural’ means none of these things. Meat labeled all-natural can come from animals raised in confinement and fed GMO feed and antibiotics. There are almost no standards for the word ‘natural’ on a food label.”

The panelists told NYJL volunteers if you eat food and buy groceries you are a “food activist” because we vote with our forks and dollars every single day. One of the evenings panelists Stacie Orell, a food activist in her own right who runs the grassroots organization GMO Free NY, spends countless time educating the public, as well as legislators and other decision-makers, about genetically engineered foods.

“Generally, there is no real answer as to whether GMOs are good or bad for you, but consumers should have the right to choose whether we want to eat them or not – so food containing GMO’s should be labeled,”said Diane Hatz, Change Food.

To address this issue, Diane has been advocating for the passage of bill A.617B/S.485B, which mandates that genetically engineered foods are appropriately and clearly labeled.

APP is interested in advocating on topics NYJL’s volunteers are most concerned about. In 2015, APP conducted a survey and 22.5% of respondents said that “securing healthier food and beverage options for children in New York City schools” was the second most important issue for APP to focus on at the City government level. Stephen Ritz, a South Bronx teacher at PS 55 who founded Green Bronx Machine was the perfect panelist to discuss work happening in New York City schools on this topic. Ritz, the self-proclaimed CEO, or Chief Eternal Optimist, of the Bronx, is a tireless advocate for healthy eating in schools and underserved communities. By growing gardens in schools in the South Bronx, Stephen works to educate students and local communities on where food comes from and what it truly means to eat healthy. Ritz learned when you teach children how to grow their own food and cook it they are much more likely to eat it and make healthier food choices.

Thanks to support from the volunteers, Advocacy Through Consumption turned out to be the highest attended VTL of the year.  APP and CHEF are looking for additional ways to work together in the future to help build a healthier food community in New York and beyond.

Strengthening the families of the greater New York area.

The New York Junior League is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.

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