By Rusty Coco
Americans want clean, healthy and affordable food as well as common-sense measures to give them information about what is in it. Such measures are not only good for eaters but can be good for business too. That’s the lesson I learned as Chief Food Officer of a family business that grew into a major chain with over 230 locations across the United States, including California. It’s also why I strongly support California’s Proposition 37, which requires the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
During my nearly 35 years growing Jason’s Deli from a small local business into a thriving nationwide chain, I listened to my customers’ requests for healthy and affordable food. Whether in Texas, Florida or California, consumers – especially parents with young kids – demanded food without additives or artificial flavors and colors. Like any good business, we listened to what our customers wanted and spent more than a decade revolutionizing our menu to rid our foods of artificial dyes, artificial trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Common sense, right? Meanwhile, the corn industry was launching its multi-million dollar PR offensive to convince people of the benefits of high-fructose corn syrup and corporate industry was telling us that we would not be able to sustain our food quality while keeping costs down. The fact is, we did it and our business thrived.
Which brings me to Proposition 37 that merely requires a straightforward label be placed on food products that are genetically engineered. What could be simpler than that? Of course, the handful of chemical corporations that do most of the genetic engineering to create food that withstands powerful toxic herbicides and pesticides want to trick Californians into believing it’s complicated and expensive. They’re spending a million dollars a day to confuse voters and convince the public that it will increase costs and hurt businesses. But I can tell you, based on firsthand experience as a former food business owner, not only will Prop 37 not hurt business, it will help business by giving consumers what they want – transparency about their food.
Some industries have consistently opposed the most basic consumer protection measures including the labeling of ingredients and nutrition information using the same old arguments about cost and regulation – arguments that have consistently proven to be false. But why would the corporations who don’t want to tell you the truth about your food, tell you the truth about the cost?
Believe it or not, Monsanto, the largest opponent of Prop 37, ran advertising in the UK touting labels. Under an advertisement heading “Food Labeling: It Has Monsanto’s Full Backing,” the big chemical firm talked about the benefits of labels saying, “we believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.” So why would Monsanto support labeling in one country and spend more than $7 MILLION dollars fighting to quash labeling in California? This type of double-speak is further proof that chemical corporations like Monsanto will say anything to protect their profits and keep consumers in the dark.
I believe we need a food system that works for all Americans – where farmers get a fair wage, where small businesses can thrive and where consumers have information and access to safe, affordable food. We can’t allow big chemical and processed food companies to buy an election with a campaign of misinformation. We must work together to fix our food system, and in California, this starts with Prop 37.
Rusty Coco is the former co-owner and Chief Food Officer of Jason’s Deli, a restaurant chain with over 230 locations nationwide. It was Rusty’s vision and leadership that prompted Jason’s Deli to be the first national group in the U.S. to remove artificial trans fats in 2005 and HFCS in 2008.
image: cheeseslave via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)