I went to a life-changing luncheon recently.  It was sponsored by Stonyfield and held at Restaurant Nora, the first certified organic restaurant in the U.S.  The speaker was Robyn O’Brien, who wrote the book, “The Unhealthy Truth, How Our Food is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It.”

For a long time, I have dabbled in buying organic food for my family, without any real plan or much knowledge.  I knew about the Dirty Dozen.  I looked for organic varieties of any fruits or vegetables that we don’t peel.  I tried to buy hormone-free, antibiotic-free milk and meat.  But if an organic or hormone-free variety wasn’t available at my regular grocery store, I didn’t go out of my way to find it.

I never ventured into organic varieties beyond those fresh foods.  I figured that my kids would be just fine eating other food because I ate the same regular food from the grocery store and I grew up healthy.

But really, I had no idea.

Pesticides on produce and hormones and antibiotics are just the tip of the iceberg.  I also learned about “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs.  Grains that have been modified at the genetic level to resist pests, disease and drought.  Grains that have toxins incorporated into their genetic makeup, for example, Bt corn.  Toxins that we eat and that are then found in our bodies .  The use of GMOs was approved in 1996.  We didn’t eat this stuff as kids.  It is OUR kids who are the test generation for these products.

Most of the grains we consume in the U.S. contain some genetically-modified component.  They are ubiquitous on grocery store shelves.  Our bread products, cereals, and crackers are made from them.  But they are also fed to cows and chickens.  They are made into oils, peanut butter and high fructose corn syrup.

So what health affects have we seen rise dramatically since 1996?  Autism, food allergies, asthma and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to name a few.  Whether we can claim a direct link between the changes in our food supply and these health crises remains to be seen.

As I sat and listened to this conversation, I had to wonder, “Where is our government?”  “Why is it not protecting us?”  In the midst of one of the greatest political debates of our time, health care reform, why did the changes in our food supply not come to the forefront?  The European Union and other countries require labelling on all products containing GMOs.  In the U.S., we have to search for food that is labelled GMO-free.  And it’s not easy to find.

There are lots of reasons for this, some of which are deeply entrenched into our political and economic systems:  budget, the role of the FDA, lobbying, big agriculture.  While I believe that change is possible within the political process, I also believe that we can’t wait for regulatory change.  This is where consumers, and most importantly, mothers, have the power for change right in our wallets. Women account for 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. What we buy and where we buy it drives what products are available in the marketplace.

We need to take a hard look at our local and federal politicians and where they stand on GMOs, big agriculture, supporting organic farming practices, locally-grown food availability and improving the regulatory authority of the agencies responsible for food safety.  Our votes for candidates who have these issues on their agendas is invaluable.

But the political process can be slow and we have to make food choices for our families every single day.  If we have seen such an astronomical rise in health concerns in our children’s generation, just imagine what we might see in their children.

Not only do we need to vote for healthy food at the polls, we also need to vote with our dollars.