When Sundown at the Granada first opened, chef Patrick Stark offered what he called an equal opportunity menu. Burgers and steaks were served alongside vegetarian wraps and vegan dishes. It was an attempt to keep everyone happy, and as far as bar food menus go, it worked.
But a recent protest in downtown Dallas against agriculture giant Monsanto's practices shifted Stark's focus to eliminating GMOs. Despite USDA approval, activists point to unproven health risks in GMO products. Stark wanted to see if he could remove GMOs from his menu completely -- a task he didn't think would be that difficult until he started asking his suppliers questions.
The majority of GMOs make it into the human food chain by way of corn and soybeans that have been altered to resist herbicides and pesticides. We don't typically eat that corn and those soybeans, but they're turned into a bunch of products we do consume like vegetable oil for deep frying and other processed foods like Twinkies.
Stark replaced the oil in his deep fryers with non-GMO oil, for instance, but then noticed his french fries were blanched before they were frozen. That blanching oil contained GMOs. His project was becoming more complicated.
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Stark turned to United Natural Foods Inc., a large distributor of natural and organic products, where he met Mikel Lawrence, a corporate chef for the company who took interest in Stark's effort. Lawrence pointed out other potential pitfalls in his menu like grass-fed beef, which is often finished on corn feed that could contain GMOs. The shrimp that Stark was sourcing from a farm in Austin was raised on a feed that contained GMOs, too.
For three months the pair has been working diligently on tracing every aspect of every ingredient used in Sundown's kitchen. Their conclusion? Getting completely rid of GMOs in a commercial kitchen is really difficult.
It's more expensive too, as anyone who has picked up a pint of organic cream at the grocery store knows. Lawrence says he's helping Stark with special pricing in the hopes that more chefs will jump on the bandwagon and look to reduce GMOs in their supply chains.
Cost aside, Stark says he's pretty close to achieving his goal. His locally baked breads still contain canola oil that could contain trace GMOs, and he's still looking for a new frozen french fry seller as well. Stark says he hopes to release his new completely GMO-free menu later this fall, but perhaps the bigger story here isn't whether or not he's successful, but instead how difficult it is to track down whether or not these products are involved in the products many of us consume every day.