In June, as Hippie Foods, we attended and sponsored Vancouver’s first Veg Expo—an everything vegetarian and vegan lifestyle show. Because the show’s theme was, “GMOs: how are we affected as Canadians?” we were excited to invite youth activist, Rachel Parent, the founder of Kids Right to Know Club. After the way she held her own with Kevin O’Leary, we knew she would be the perfect addition to our GMO discussion panel. We wanted to provide a consumer advocate’s perspective from Jeffrey M. Smith, an activist’s perspective from Rachel, and a manufacturer’s perspective from our president, Ian.
And after meeting Rachel we were even bigger fans. Although her schedule was packed, she insisted on visiting a local high school to share with her peers about the effects of GMOs on our health, food system, and the environment.
We caught up with Rachel a few weeks after the show to ask about her time in Vancouver and experience as an activist speaking up about GMOs. Here’s our chat:
LCN: Hi Rachel. Thanks for joining us at Veg Expo. It turned out to be such a great show! How did you enjoy your visit to the West Coast?
R: It was absolutely incredible! I love being there – the whole energy of the show and meeting like-minded people who are changing the world through small steps. It was great.
LCN: Absolutely. And as the youth member on our GMO panel, you had a unique point of view and position to speak from. Usually when talking to people about a controversial topic like GMOs, what have you found is your greatest challenge in getting your message out there?
R: Apathy. Some people just don’t care. The issue with that is that GMOs affect us all on different levels in one way or another. We all eat. If you go to a restaurant or you go to your fridge you’re probably going to find something that has GMOs in it. I find the issue is that people just don’t care even if it affects the planet in a negative way.
LCN: And on the flipside of that, as a youth speaker, what is your greatest strength or opportunity?
R: I’m honoured to go to lots of schools because being a part of the youth I have the opportunity to connect with kids – we’re all young and still growing up. But in a way, everyone has that opportunity. I believe it doesn’t matter if you’re on TV, on the radio, or in magazines. You just have to have a passion. My passion is GMOs. Really, as long as you have a passion you have an opportunity to make a change. And as a youth speaker it’s been great to get go to places like Australia, Vancouver, and all over the world. It’s been absolutely amazing!
LCN: And in your experience talking to people from different countries, ages, and backgrounds, what aspect of the GMO issue do you find people are most interested in hearing about? What gives them that “aha moment?”
R: Usually their first reaction is “oh my goodness! Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?” I find what impacts them the most is that the bees are dying off. Already 70% of bee populations have disappeared because of insecticides and yet they’re responsible for at least 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat! Our food supply and future are definitely at stake.
LCN: And given that the GMO issue touches on so many different areas like these—such as anything from bees, agriculture, the environment, to consumer rights—what would be the top takeaways you want people to leave with?
R: First of all, I want people to go home with the fact that GMOs impact every level of our being, from health to our environment. Something needs to be done. People are getting sick, they [GMOs] are linked to allergies, linked to irritable bowel syndrome, and many environmental issues. My second message would be that we all have the right to know what’s in our food. This is what we should all work together for, and that‘s the way we can truly make a difference together where people can vote with their dollars.
LCN: Certainly. It seems like the public is gaining an awareness of this issue and taking a second look at what’s in their food as we’re seeing GMOs pop up more in the media. Do you think GMOs are an important issue to Canadians?
R: For sure. In the last couple of years the movement has moved forward a lot and the organic movement and the non-GMO movement have been growing side by side together. People are slowly finding out about GMOs and switching to organic, and it’s been amazing!
LCN: Well Rachel, at your age you’ve already accomplished quite a bit in helping the public to become more aware of GMOs. But I understand you also have a diverse set of interests. What’s next? What do you hope to pursue in the future?
R: Once we get GMOs labelled in Canada, I’ll probably continue with causes connected to GMOs. I’ll find my passion. Maybe a career in journalism. I really like it and it sparks my interest. Or maybe public speaking.
LCN: And in your current effort to have mandatory GMO labelling in Canada, can you tell us a bit about your challenge to our Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose?
R: A couple of months ago I challenged our Minister of Health to have a food safety issues meeting about how we need GMO labelling in Canada. She still hasn’t responded and we’re getting people to sign a petition for her to meet with me. Our goal is 10,000 signatures and we’re making real progress, and we have an online petition at www.change.org/gmolabelling that people can sign. And if she doesn’t respond, I’m going to sit outside her door until she does.
LCN: I love your determination! Best of luck to you in getting that meeting. Thank you so much Rachel for taking the time to chat with us about GMOs. It was a pleasure having you here!
R: No, thank you for giving me the chance to share! We’ll definitely have to keep in touch.