Zoe Lister-Jones isn't eating genetically modified foods anymore. Over a locally-sourced lunch in Los Angeles, the actress-writer-producer, known for penning comedies like Lola Versus with Greta Gerwig, and starring in sitcoms like New Girl and Life in Pieces, explains why—and how her new film Consumed (on VOD today), will hopefully open the GMO discussion for millions of Americans.
I meet Lister-Jones on a Wednesday afternoon. She's sitting quietly in the back of Forage restaurant in Silverlake, wearing a black tie-neck blouse with delicate gold jewelry offset by pink Rachel Comey Bakelite earrings. She chose our meeting spot specifically for its farmers market ethos: local, organic, sans GMOs. And our meal is ripe with fodder: grilled salmon with roasted cherry tomatoes, market lettuces, fennel and cabbage slaw with carrots and citrus. All of the ingredients can be traced to local farms, name-checked on a giant blackboard behind the register. Farms, I imagine, much like the fictional one in Lister-Jones’s film.
In Consumed, which Lister-Jones co-wrote and produced with her husband Daryl Wein, she plays a distraught mother on a quest to figure out what's ailing her young son. Suddenly stricken with flu-like symptoms and allergic skin conditions, the boy is given antibiotics and dismissed by doctors. But as the Erin Brockovich-like story unfolds, viewers learn genetically modified foods may actually be to blame.
A thriller, in essence, Consumed strikes a chord with its true-to-life storytelling and relatable characters (its all-star cast includes Danny Glover, Taylor Kinney, and Victor Garber). It picks up where documentaries abandon, with a compelling narrative based on years of Lister-Jones’s own research; the script, in fact, was vetted by a panel of experts including scientists, environmentalists, and Brockovich herself.
“GMOs are still something that I think are really hard for the general public to penetrate as an idea or what it means or how it’s impacting us, so we thought ‘what’s the most digestible (no pun intended) way to start a conversation around it?’” Lister-Jones says.
So what does she choose to eat now? How can you feel safe with what you’re grabbing at the grocery store? And what’s next for the comedy writer and Los Angeles transplant? Read on to find out.
What’s the risk with GMOs?
I think the discussion of the safety of GMOs is really divisive and we tried to paint both points of view in the film, but the fact is there have never been any long-term studies, and so I think it is something to just proceed with caution.
Why is it important that GMOs are labeled for consumers?
The battle is at kind of a fever pitch in terms of labeling GMOs, which one would think in this country would be a no-brainer, especially since they’re labeled in 64 countries around the world. There’s the idea that if it’s in the grocery store, it’s okay to feed to your family, but I think there’s a growing awareness. I think that labeling would really allow consumers to make that choice if they wanted to feed their families GMOs or if they didn’t–whatever side of the line, it’s just about giving them that choice. (Editor’s note: On March 21, food industry giant General Mills stated it will begin labeling its products containing genetically modified ingredients.)
How can you spot a GMO?
If something is labeled organic, they can’t use any GMOs. There’s also this thing called the Non-GMO Project, which verifies non-organic products as non-GMOs; they have a really rigorous testing system, so those are the two safest ways to know.
You play Jen on the TV show Life in Pieces. The finale airs March 31 on CBS so any word on the next season?
I think we all are feeling positive about it, but we haven’t gotten the official order. It’s so much fun and we all love each other so genuinely as a cast, and love the writers, and it’s one of those kind of magical jobs where it doesn’t come along that often, so I think we’re all crossing our fingers and toes, so that way we can go on for a long time.
And you also have Confirmation coming up on HBO April 16, co-starring Kerry Washington, Greg Kinnear, and others.
It’s a true story, dealing with issues that we’re still pretty plagued by. It chronicles the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas. I was 9-years-old when that was all happening, but I do remember it pretty vividly because my mom was really kind of obsessed with that whole process; I mean, the world was! It was an explosive moment and kind of the start of the 24-hour news cycle and dealing with that intersection of race, politics, and gender politics that I think we’re still, as a nation, really confronted by.
You’re from Brooklyn but live in Los Angeles now. What do you love about L.A.?
I’ve become kind of an L.A. convert. I think it’s a really exciting time here. L.A. is no longer culturally vacuous; there’s a really cultural scene here, there’s an art scene. And I actually love driving, because it’s like this little sacred space that’s yours.
What are your favorite restaurants in L.A.?
I love Forge, I think it’s great and easy and not too expensive. I love Gjusta in Venice. The food is so delicious, but it’s also just their ethos and their aesthetic and all of it, to me, is just really cool. And I would say, Sqirl. It’s also on the Eastside. They’re doing really interesting stuff. It’s also breakfast and lunch, but always with an attention to local farmers with really inventive combinations and delicious.
Other than Life in Pieces, what are you watching on TV?
I love New Girl. I was on it, but I was a fan before I was on it. I love Transparent, I think it’s amazing. I love Togetherness. I think it’s really an incredible show that’s leaning into relationship issues in a really fresh way and the acting is incredible.
What’s been your favorite character that you’ve played so far?
I loved Fawn Moscato on New Girl. That was so fun for me. You know the writing on that show is so funny, and that was such a specific character. And it was so fun to play with Max and the rest of the cast. And you know, to improvise, and just be in that role was fun and then people’s response to it is always really fulfilling. And I love Jen on Life in Pieces. She’s kind of like an amalgamation of many characters I’ve played, but in a way that I think can be more grounded.
Who would you like to see guest star on Life in Pieces?
I mean, it’s a reach, but Ryan Gosling. If it can be like a love scene of some sort? I mean he’s still my number one celebrity crush. But I’m married on the show, so it’d have to be like a fantasy sequence.
So that brings me to my next question: If you were to write an episode of Life in Pieces, what would it be called? (Laughing) Jen has sex with Ryan Gosling.