I LOVE going out to eat. I worked in restaurants for nearly half of my life and love being on the other side (that is, being part of the people who actually get to sit and eat as opposed to serving the food). However, going out is expensive. You also don’t know what you’re eating unless you’re at a restaurant that specializes in “farm to table” or “local,” but even then, you really don’t know what’s going in your food. The word “local,” in terms of food, by definition means that the item came from 400 or fewer miles away. 400 miles is not local at all! There’s not much we can do about that, other than eating in certified restaurants. According to the Non-GMO Project there are currently only two Non-GMO certified restaurants in the country, one in Berkeley, California called “Nature’s Express” and one in Seattle called “Mighty-O Donuts.” Other than going to those two, it’s up to us to make the best choices possible when eating at a restaurant.
There are many others that say they try to avoid GMOs in their food- use Google or the Organic Food Database or Non-GMO Organic Restaurants to look up restaurants in your state or country.
The choices: Meat, poultry, and fish that may be genetically modified, injected with hormones, steroids, or antibiotics (or all of the above) or vegetarian meals that may contain genetically modified ingredients.
I personally go with the “lesser of two evils”- vegetarian options. By choosing vegetarian dishes I can eliminate some of the chemicals and/or substances I’m trying to avoid. If I can, I avoid corn, soy, papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and sugar beets since they are almost certainly genetically modified (GMO).
I personally just don’t know where the meat, poultry, and fish are coming from. A lot of seafood comes from overseas and is not thoroughly inspected. Cows, pigs, and birds (chicken, turkey, duck) are given genetically modified feed because it is cheaper to feed the masses this way. Don’t be fooled by “grass fed” beef- yes, grass fed is better than grain fed, but there is no guarantee that antibiotics and/or steroids weren’t given to those animals.
Other than most likely being the healthiest option, ordering vegetarian dishes are much cheaper than meat, poultry, or fish based dishes.
- Pasta/Rice Dishes: Sure, the markup on pasta is ridiculous (think about it: it costs only a dollar or two for a box of pasta and one serving is sold for $10+ at the average restaurant) but for me it’s the safer choice. Just remember that regular pasta has bleached flour in it and the chemicals used to do so have been linked to organ failure- try to order 100% whole wheat pasta if you can. Same goes for bread and all other grain based dishes- order 100% whole wheat when you can (less than 100% whole wheat means the product uses a combination of whole wheat and regular white bleached flours)
- Veggie burgers: They’re cheap and if made in house are great because they often contain beans or lentils which are big on protein but don’t contain the aforementioned additives that a beef or turkey burger would. Just remember that the bun is probably made with bleached flour. Ask if they have whole wheat buns! Also, think about the fries. The oil they’re cooked in is most likely GMO.
- Veggie Stir-Fry: Great option, but ask what oil they use. If it’s vegetable, soybean, or canola, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be GMO. Peanut oil is less likely to be so, but peanut oil is a risk for restaurants based on allergies. (olive oil is not used in stir-fries, besides flavor, it has a lower maximum cooking temperature that stir-fries exceed)
- Salads are great options, but consider the add-ons: cheese (from GMO cows/milk), dressing (GMO oil if the dressing is a vinaigrette), tortilla strips (GMO corn AND GMO oil), etc. Just be aware that even though vegetarian dishes are most likely better for you than meat/poultry/fish dishes, they are not necessarily “safe.” The safest way to eat is to buy your own ingredients and cook at home (even more so if they are USDA Certified Organic and verified by the Non-GMO project!)
If I’m going to a really nice restaurant I will more likely order a meat, poultry, or seafood dish because at smaller, higher end places (ie non-chains) the quality is usually much higher. I’ve worked in very high-end kitchens and can say that this is true, at least in the places I spent time in.
In general though, vegetarian at restaurants = better for you AND cheaper; a win-win!
If you want to avoid GMOs and are looking for a quick bite you may be in luck- Chipotle announced that they will be removing all GMOs this year (2014). Check out the article here.