A Thanksgiving meal with a mission. 

Ybor's Roosevelt hosts a GE-Free Thanksgiving to raise awareness about GMO labeling.

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Bryan Roberts, cofounder of the Roosevelt 2.0 (a community space in Ybor City), remembers the first time he ate a McDonald’s Happy Meal. He was 8 years old and had grown up on his family’s farm, eating fresh produce.

“I remember just walking inside and the smell of the place was bad,” Roberts says, shuddering a little. “Ugh… the food tasted bad too. I never developed a taste for it.”

So when Tampa’s Food and Water Watch chapter called, looking for a partner to raise awareness about genetically engineered foods, Roberts immediately said yes. So on Thurs., Nov. 15, the Roosevelt will host the GE-Free Thanksgiving (GE as in genetically engineered, not General Electric), featuring a spread of dishes made from locally sourced seasonal ingredients, including grass-fed meats.

“The Roosevelt’s mission is to promote localism and a lifestyle of wellness,” Roberts said. “We want to be connected with our local food movement.” The meal aims to educate the community about the potential dangers of label-less GMOS (genetically modified organisms) being sold directly to consumers.

“The United States and Canada are the only two developed nations that don’t have any legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods,” Roberts said. Last month Creative Loafing spoke with the “Let Me Decide” campaign about a genetically engineered corn that was about to become available for direct consumer purchase, sans any special labeling. That strain of corn is one of the driving forces behind several labeling movements, including Proposition 37 in California.

“There are no long-term studies about genetically engineered foods,” said Ami Bowen, manager at the Roosevelt. “It’s our right to know about our food.” California’s ballot initiative has triggered a backlash from dozens of big business corporations. The Huffington Post reported that Monsanto topped the anti-Prop 37 donors with $8.1 million in contributions.

“There is a growing awareness in the community about food,” Roberts said. “Most people don’t know there are about 2,900 small farms in Hillsborough County alone.” Local farmers will be on site during GE-Free Thanksgiving to answer questions and offer insight into their industry. Roberts’ childhood on a family farm not only affected his perspective on fast foods, it influenced his attitude toward supermarkets.

“Buying produce off the shelf at Publix was strange,” he remembers, “because I knew what a tomato was really supposed to taste like.” Bowen was also strongly influenced by her early experiences of food. She became a vegetarian as a teenager after seeing footage of the conditions chickens were kept in before going to slaughter.

“I remember seeing the fear in their eyes and not wanting to ingest that fear myself,” Bowen said. But she slipped away from the lifestyle later on, which she says led to health problems. “I felt fatigued and my head was foggy,” Bowen said. “I knew I could cure myself by only eating whole foods, and when I did the change was immediate.”

The GE-Free Thanksgiving isn’t the first time the Roosevelt has hosted a food-awareness event. Two years ago they hosted three packed screenings of the documentary Farmageddon, bringing in over 400 people. For Roberts and his crew, food education is part of a continual mission. “I don’t care if you’re Democrat, a Republican, Libertarian, everyone eats,” Roberts said. “Food is directly tied into everyone’s health.”

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