It was the Fourth of July and I was in search of hot dog buns. Shopping has been difficult for me since I was diagnosed with allergies to tree nuts and sesame products. Nuts, at least, are an official allergen, and thus must be labeled on packages of food. Still, I must check the ingredient lists every time I buy a product, even something as seemingly innocuous as ground turkey.

Sesame is another matter. The government does not require it to be listed on packages. Moreover, sometimes sesame ends up under the uselessly vague term “spices.”

Since I left my quest until the last minute, there weren’t a lot of rolls left. Some said “processed in a facility that also processes tree nuts and various seeds.” Other warned they may contain seeds. Some contained high fructose corn syrup, which I prefer to avoid.

All but one also carried a new warning, one I’d never seen before: “Contains genetically modified ingredients.”

I gasped. Would I ever eat anything except an organic banana again?

It seems that these new notifications were the result of a Vermont law requiring them, which went into effect in July. Although I was shopping in Maine, some national food manufacturers had taken the step of labeling all their products. In addition, Congress was working a bill of its own, which was later passed.

I don’t have the space here for a full debate on the problems with GMOs. I don’t like them because I don’t think we know enough about what they can do to our health and the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists takes the stance that while the threat of GMOs might have been exaggerated, there are documented problems with them. According to their website, in 1996, when a Brazil nut gene was added to soybeans to improve their value as animal feed, it “produced an allergic response in test subjects with Brazil nut allergies.”

Wonderful news for us tree-nut allergy sufferers.

It seems to me there’s a lot wrong with our food system. I recall an aunt who died at age 95 without ever having a mammogram, yet I have at least six friends and relatives who developed breast cancer in their fifties. (Thankfully, all recovered.) By contrast, there was no occurrence of breast cancer in my mother’s family in her generation. They grew up eating a lot of fresh, unprocessed foods; her father kept a large garden and even grew a pig for slaughter every year. Her brothers fished and brought home dinner. Their milk did not contain hormones; the wheat in their bread was not some weird hybrid strain.

This is totally anecdotal evidence, but I choose to take the safe road and eat as naturally as possible.

I have been concerned about GMOs for several years. While I don’t buy organic everything, I will buy only organic corn and soy products, as corn and soy, at present, are the most likely to be affected. Of course, now that I say that, I’m thinking that while I am careful about frozen corn, tofu, popcorn, edamame and soy milk, both soy and corn are heavily used in processed items and thus may have passed under my radar. Curses.

The obvious answer is to eat “clean.” That is, no processed foods. It’s a worthy goal, and one I’ve pursued many times, only to fail eventually. There is usually one day a week during the school year (I’m a school librarian) when all I can muster is a Blake’s Chicken Pot Pie (all natural, made in New Hampshire) and a can of organic cranberry sauce.

Luckily, there are natural alternatives out there, and they usually are clearly labeled Non-GMO. Sometimes these hippie-granola companies (as I fondly think of them) even point out when their product contains sesame seeds. It’s so nice to know I don’t have to pound out my own corn tortillas on a rock in the backyard.

I don’t like to whine, but isn’t it bad enough that I’ll never be able to step inside an Asian restaurant again? That I have to make my own hummus without tahini? That anything with pesto is strictly off my table?

Now I’ve got to check for those dratted GMOs too. One popped up on the bottled iced tea I was drinking the other day. It was unsweetened and had zero calories. It even contained the word “pure” in its name.

As I poured the rest of the bottle down the drain, I envisioned a tea leaf with legs and a single eye dancing before me. How do you genetically modify a tea leaf? Why do you genetically modify a tea leaf? I guess I don’t really want to know. Just keep it out of my food.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]