At first glance, one might not associate Megan Thompson with the word "executive." But a chat with this enthusiastic young woman reveals a driving passion that's tempered by her friendly personality. "I love working with people," she says, "and love working with the community." And that's a good thing, because as executive director of the Upland, Calif.-based nonprofit Non-GMO Project, it's her job to coordinate people and build support for the cause.
Originally composed of independent natural products retailers seeking to inform their customers about the risks of genetically modified foods, the Non-GMO Project now revolves around the vision of standardized labeling of GM products, with the goal of preserving the availability of non-GM options in the future. The group created a third-party non-GMO verification program for products, ingredients and manufacturing facilities, so manufacturers can offer a GMO-free guarantee to retailers.
What was your first exposure to the naturals industry? I worked as manager of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. But I grew up with parents who were members of the local food co-op—the Brattleboro Food Co-op [in Vermont].
What do you enjoy most about what you do? I learn so much every day—that's really my favorite thing about this job. Part of that is all the networking, all the amazing people I get to know in the industry.
How did you first get involved with GMO issues? I did some activism work around it in college, when I learned what GMOs were. I was outreach coordinator at a food co-op in Tucson, Ariz., where I oversaw a shelf-labeling system. Eventually my work life focused more on the GMO issue, and the need for a standard was brought to my attention. I started volunteering with the Project, making phone calls to other retailers to get them on board. I kept volunteering more and more, until it took up all of my time. Then we established an official staff and the executive director position, so I get to keep on working.
What keeps you going on a tough day? I think about the future. I don't have kids yet, but I want to. I believe so deeply that people deserve safe, healthy food choices, and that GMOs are not a healthy food choice. That keeps me motivated—trying to keep those options intact for the future.
What's the one natural product you can't live without? Fresh things out of my garden.
Do you have any tattoos? I have a weird tribal design on my side that I got when I was 17.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8 /p. 38