Analiese Paik doesn’t mince words. She’s sharp, driven and extremely well-informed on issues of food, nutrition and the governmental regulation of such things. The Fairfield resident is a former Wall Street executive, a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and mother of two. She is an experienced organic gardener and a longtime advocate for healthier school food programs.
She is also the founder, editor and formidable force behind The Fairfield Green Food Guide, an award-winning website she describes as “dedicated to providing Fairfield County consumers with resources, breaking news and events that support their efforts to eat more local, organic and sustainably grown food.” Spend an hour with Paik and you’ll understand that she is as comfortable in a boardroom as she is in the garden. And that this is the secret behind her success.
“The thing about The Fairfield Green Food Guide,” says Paik, “Is that we don’t condescend. We’ll meet you wherever you are. Whether you’re just coming to the idea of organic eating or you’re looking to start your first garden, searching for a comprehensive list of area farmers' markets, or you’re ready to start changing government policy, there’s something there for you. We’re one hundred percent attitude-free,” she smiles.
Most recently, Paik has taken her food fight to the state capital and beyond. In her crosshairs at present are GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and how they have infiltrated the American food supply in ways she argues are disingenuous at best. In fact, when it comes to the subject of GMOs, it is fair to say the topic gives her acute indigestion, philosophically speaking.
“People say that I have ‘fire in the belly’ when it comes to this stuff,” says Paik. “That’s what it takes to affect change. The truth about what is being done to our food in this country is so awful it can make you want to close your ears. But this is too important not to pay attention.”
Specifically, Paik is pushing for government-mandated labeling for foods that contain GMOs, something that is already standard practice among countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and all European Union members. In fact, France has already placed a “precautionary ban” on cultivating a strain of genetically modified corn produced by U.S. agri-giant, Monsanto.
“GMOs [and foods that contain them] are not currently labled in the U.S. because the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] declared 20 years ago that they are ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GMOs,” Paik explains. “That they are not ‘materially different’ from their conventional counterparts. And yet, companies are pushing patented seeds. Patented because, presumably, there is something different and unique about them. It’s quite a contradiction. Further, no meaningful studies have been done—or can be done—because of these patents. This is big business. And the businesses are fooling a lot of people.”
Currently, the FDA does not require testing of GMOs to determine safety for humans, animals or the environment. And, according to a 2003 study commissioned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, at least seventy percent of processed foods sold in supermarkets contain at least one genetically modified ingredient. “They’re ubiquitous,” says Paik. “The days are gone when reading the label or just buying local was enough.”
But for all her frustration and ire toward GMOs, Paik keeps a level head. She is not pushing to have GMOs outlawed. Her goal for the State of Connecticut is to require clear labeling on all foods that contain GMOs, offering consumers the opportunity to make an informed choice.
“There are plenty of people out there who would decline GMOs given the opportunity,” she says. “There are people who would opt not to eat a tomato grown with fish genes, or corn that’s engineered to produce its own pesticide.”
With the help of fellow advocate, former New York City prosecutor and current Holistic Health Counselor, Tara Cook-Littman, Paik took her cause to Hartford. Acting on an invitation from State Representative Tony Hwang (R), the pair testified before the Connecticut General Assembly Environment Committee in support of HB 5117, a bill before the state legislature that would require GMO labeling. And last month, the bill was voted out of committee with strong bi-partisan support, in a 23 to 6 vote.
“I knew this was a war that would be waged in the capital,” says Paik. “And this was a huge victory. It’s historic. Connecticut could be the first state to pass this law. And if Connecticut goes, others will follow.”
The fight, however, isn’t over, says Paik. “We have to use this momentum to get the House and the Senate to call HB 5117 before the session ends May 9. We can do it, but it’s going to take people telling their representatives that this matters. These lawmakers go back to their constituents on this. They read their letters. I even had a few say to me, ‘you’ve changed the way I eat.’ We can do this, but we need to ask for it together in an educated, informed way.”
Paik has made that easy for people to do. She has incorporated a CT GMO “Advocacy Center” into her website, and lists all the relevant state officials along with their contact information. “We have a ‘click and send’ platform. We even have phone numbers listed for people who don’t want to write. Let’s make Connecticut first on this.”