This year has been a busy one for Jennifer McNevin. As the director of communications for Manuels and Changos Taqueria restaurants, she’s been on a mission to radically increase the sustainability of the four eateries. She’s already helped develop a comprehensive recycling system and increased purchases from local producers. And currently the establishments serve only certified-sustainable seafood from the Texas Gulf and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat.
But McNevin’s latest success was against the Goliath that is agribuisness, as Manuel’s and Changos have recently made the commitment to serve only non-GMO (genetically modified organism) corn products.
GMO designates living things whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are widely used in agriculture, most frequently in the form of patent-protected seeds that have been engineered to be resistant to herbicides. Some varieties of GMO plants can even produce their own pesticidal proteins.
“The GMO corn issue wasn’t really on my radar,” admits McNevin, who knew a little about the GMO controversy after watching Food, Inc. last year. “This change was really consumer driven.” An acquaintance at the gym confessed to McNevin that she would come to Manuel’s and Changos more frequently if they served non-GMO tortillas and chips. McNevin began to look into the issue.
Although the modern conveniences of GMOs may seem like a farmer’s dream come true, the long-term effects of using and consuming GMO crops has not been widely studied. “The seed companies developed these crops that can be heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals,” says McNevin. “Those pesticides get into the land and into the water supply. I didn’t want to support those practices for environmental reasons and for health reasons.”
McNevin admits that some of the changes she’s implemented over the last year have been difficult, but switching to non-GMO products wasn’t one of them. “Making the change to non-GMO corn products was actually easier!” she explains. Within a month, McNevin had found a local producer who could reliably provide enough corn to supply restaurants that serve hundreds of fresh tortillas and thousands of chips daily. “We are happy to have found a supplier, El Lago, who is located in East Austin. All the corn we’re serving is grown in Texas, supplied by Keller Grain, Inc., in Castroville.”
More than 80 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, the majority of which is yellow corn. The tortilla masa and chips that McNevin gets from El Lago are made from white corn, which has a higher protein content and is easier to digest.
Making sustainable and natural choices is turning into a passion for McNevin, and she hopes that her actions inspire others. “My vision is to create a movement where other restaurants follow suit—not just the white-tablecloth restaurants,” she says. “If we can do it at Manuels and Changos, anybody can do it.”
Changos Taqueria, changos.com • Manuels, manuels.com