Rachel Parent isn’t your average teenage girl. She's more interested in food labels that fashion labels; she’s pushing for positive change in our food system one kid at a time. From first learning about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) at age 12, to debating with the infamous dragon Kevin O’Leary on live television at age 14, to giving a TEDx Talk and meeting with Canada’s Health Minister last year, this high school student is committed to change. Just last week, she presented her research to Health Canada officials and asked them to support mandatory GMO labelling. This non-GMO activist advocates for a healthy food system – one where we all have the right to know what’s in our food, and the freedom to make the right choice. She is the founder of Kids Right to Know, an organization dedicated to informing youth about important health and environmental issues. Rachel herself is exceptionally well informed, and very passionate. She spoke to us about why she has hope for the future of food.
What’s your earliest memory of food?
I remember asking my mom to make a cake for me when I was just three or four years old. We weren’t as health conscious then but we tried to make good choices so she wanted to use real whipped cream for this huge three-tiered cake. It was a colossal disaster – but it was delicious!
How did organic become a part of your life?
It started when I was researching GMOs in relation to food allergies. I realized I had to stay away from them, especially since I grew up with allergies. As soon as I stared to avoid GMOs my allergies started to get better. Then, the more I learned about biodiversity and soil health, I saw how organic really does impact our health and environment in a really positive way.
What was it like trying to make changes in your diet and lifestyle?
As I started to learn more about GMOs, we were trying to eat more non-GMO food. Cereal was really hard to find, and one day we came across Gorilla Munch [from EnviroKidz, Nature’s Path’s kid-friendly organic cereal line]. It’s still my favourite cereal. Sometimes I bring it to school as a snack and let my friends try it. They all say it’s amazing, and they’re instant converts.
What do you see as the benefits of organics in your life? And in the world?
From the many studies I’ve read, organic food has been shown to have higher levels of nutrients, and personally I am much more comfortable eating it because it is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Knowing that organic is good for farmers and the environment makes me feel better about the food I eat and the choices I make.
I think one of the most important things about organic is our freedom to choose – and by choosing organic, we’re choosing social responsibility, choosing biodiversity and the health of environment for the future. That’s the impact organic can have. Also, it really does taste better!
You faced off against dragon Kevin O’Leary, and met with Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose. A lot young people would be intimidated to stand up to such public figures in positions of power. How did that make you feel?
The feeling I got from both of these meetings was empowerment. Meeting them, getting the word out about GMOs, it was a great opportunity to let Canadians know about the issues we’re facing in our food system. Of course, it was a little nerve-wracking, but knowing you’ve hopefully helped so many Canadians is worth it.
What do you think will need to happen for mandatory GMO labelling to become a reality in Canada?
We need the public to become fully aware. The first step is refusing to consume GMOs – to choose organic instead – and create a tipping point. It’s said that if just 5% of people reject GMOs, we can get them labelled or pulled. If we can do that we can make a huge difference. I think we need to work together more, to collaborate. There are so many groups doing great work on our food system. Together as one, we can convince the government to do the right thing.
To start with, everyone across Canada needs to call and reach out their own area Member of Parliament to ask that they support Motion-480 when it’s time to vote. MP Murray Rankin, from Victoria BC, put forward this motion in the House of Commons calling for the mandatory labeling of food products containing ingredients that have been genetically modified; it is of great importance that all MPs support this Motion to give the people the right to know if they are consuming GMOs.
You’ve learned – and shared – a lot of scary information about GMOs and our food system. Where do you find hope?
As one of the youth who will inherit this food system, I can only have hope for the future. I find hope in the miracle that is life, and I’ll work hard to protect this earth, for the many generations yet to come. I feel privileged and honoured to be awake, to contribute to the change we want – and need – to see in the world.
How do you share your passion for organics?
I think the biggest way I share my passion is leading by example. For instance, we don’t eat out as much, as it is very difficult to find foods without canola oil, vegetable oil, or even Fructose. We entertain more, making delicious simple organic meals that are not costly at all, yet very tasty and nutritious. It invites conversation about farming, growing food, gardening, and even exchanging recipes. I also write a lot, I blog, I speak at schools, shows and conferences, and I even went as far as baking a 48” organic fresh apple pie to create more awareness about GMOs and organic options.
What’s it like, speaking at schools about GMOs and organic?
I love speaking at schools. A lot of schools that call me in have already learned the pro-GMO side, and it’s always exciting to open the conversation. For me, the most important thing is giving children and our youth the right to know about food safety and how our everyday food is produced from farm to the plate so they too will have the opportunity to make responsible choices that will have a positive impact on the environment. One of my favourite topics to share with students is the UN Report that explains how Small-Scale Organic Farming is the only way to feed the world.
I get letters from around the world from people who have made changes and feel better. It’s so important to me to stay in touch and hear the opinions of other kids on different issues.
How can people make a difference?
My advice to anyone is to follow your passion. Learn, grow a garden, exchange seeds, visit farms, volunteer. When you buy food make socially responsible choices, because every choice we make has an impact, both in our backyards and across the world.
What do you wish the world understood about organics?
That it is the most simple and positive choice we can make to maintain peace in the world. Organic really is the only choice for our health and the health of our ecosystems. When we make choices that are socially responsible and good for both us and the earth, we’re contributing to a better and healthier society.
What’s your vision for the future of food?
It's pretty simple: sustainable, healthy, safe, and affordable food for all, completely non-GMO. That extends to the developing world too, ultimately eradicating poverty. Imagine if all of us, the entire world, would wake up to say, "Today, I will make a positive impact on this world."
What do you think? Comment and tell us - what gives you hope for a better food system?