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Saying 'No' to GMO Food

Honolulu hotel creates a menu without genetically modified foods.

Monday, April 04, 2011
Caryn Eve Murray
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There’s nothing new about genetically modified foods: For nearly two decades, the controversial process known as bioengineering has attempted to take genes from one species and insert it into another, with the goal of somehow enhancing marketplace foods such as corn, soybeans or even tomatoes.

And there’s nothing new about the controversy, and health concerns, surrounding the use of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, in such foods.

But as both sides of the food debate continue to face off against one another on the relative safety of the process, one luxury hotel has taken a very public stand. Earlier this month, the Halekulani in Honolulu debuted an organic GMO-free menu, an option that has been a high priority for its executive chef, Vikram Garg.

The menu, said Garg, isn’t merely a reflection of what’s important to him. The offerings also address the commitment to fitness and wellness articulated by the guests.

“We are not telling guests what to think regarding their food choices; rather, some people are telling us they care about having GMO-free cuisine. It’s for those people that we created this menu,” Garg told Buyer Interactive by email.

Tuning into guests’ preferences is what produced Garg’s buying strategy – and ultimately produced the organic, GMO-free menu as an additional dining choice for its five restaurants as well as its room service meals.

“Our ever-changing affluent consumer values an organic way of life and Halekulani strives to not only fulfill, but exceed their expectations,” Garg said. “The Non-GMO Cuisine is simply based on the hotel’s values, the growing trend of health-awareness and Halekulani’s commitment to its guests.”

The move away from GMOs isn’t the hotel’s first affirmation of a healthy kitchen. Long before local laws began mandating it, the Halekulani in 2005 banished all foods containing trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease and other conditions.

Finding foods that met GMO-free criteria took extra work, he said, because food labels are not required to disclose whether a product contains GMOs. Garg’s sourcing effort built on the relationship the hotel already had with many of the local farms that have already been providing whole foods for the Halekulani kitchen. Now, those ingredients ultimately end up on dinner plates as Ahi Crudo and Daikon, Sumida Farm Watercress and Hearts of Palm Salad, and Lentil and Rice Risotto with Turmeric and Asafoetida.

“GMO-free foods are sourced by asking every farmer what kind of pesticides they use and what else they’re growing on that land,” Garg said. “Halekulani also requests a written assurance that they don’t use GMOs.” Even if some of the purchased foods are not locally grown, as long as they are whole foods or largely unprocessed, he is assured that he has met his goal in cooking to fill the needs of the GMO-free menu.

“Studies have shown that non-organic food products can have harmful effects,”he said. “By avoiding the chemicals, preservatives and hormones that are found in non-organic products, we are ensuring that food items contain a minimal amount of chemicals and pollutants, as part of our commitment to the well-being of guests.”
Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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