Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting Greener...

It's Earth Day. (Or was when I first started and forgot to post this entry)

The sun is shining (Thankfully not quite so hot as it was yesterday, or the day before); the garden is growing, and Bumblebee chose today to debut her brand new stainless steel bottle tote.

It's a work in progress. She says it hurt her shoulder, so the next proto-type will include a shoulder pad. We'll get there, and we'll grow greener doing it.

I'm still a bit skeptical about our garden. Although I'm elated to see green sprouts popping out of the ground, stretching their leaves to the sky, I have to remind myself that it's only taken them twice the germination time cited on the seed package.

Is it the weather, which clouded over and rained for a week as soon as we gently tucked them in the warm, dark earth? Is it the seeds, which were purchased on sale from another season's guaranteed to grow crop (seeds are seeds, and they ought to last if they didn't get wet or otherwise damaged) ? Or is my brown thumb rearing it's ugly head?

Maybe it's just stress...since the raised bed does not get a LOT of sun. None of the yard does.

However, the few nasturtiums that returned from last year seem happy, and I have a stunted looking rose that bolted into something resembling a tree in it's quest for light, and the fairy house looks pretty wild in the back nook. The yard is still, well, not tidy or anywhere resembling something that can be shown off. But it's green. And it gets us outdoors and excited.

(until Penguin sees a snail and runs for cover, anyways.)

Stress? Or endocrine disruption?

Newsflash. A common herbicide, atrazine, has been linked with endocrine disorders among some amphibians. Namely, it chemically castrates adult male frogs. (Among other things) And, it takes a very small level of exposure to do so.
How small? Well, according to Tyrone Hayes in this article, the amount required to cause damage is equivalent to the weight of 5 grains of salt divided by five thousand. And atrazine used in crops (mostly corn) not only contaminates the crops themselves, but the soil and groundwater around them. Runoff reaches rivers, streams and lakes which means that many aquatic ecospheres are affected. (Not to mention human drinking water.)
The problem was brought to light in 2002. Now, in 2009, the EPA has decided to take action and require...not that atrazine be banned, but that 67 chemicals contained in pesticides and herbicides be tested for their impact on the endocrine system and their potential harm to humans. Eventually, all chemicals will be required to undergo testing.

Theoretically, the next step would be to phase out the harmful chemicals, and replace them with...less harmful ones. And, at some point, clean up the mess left behind.

I wonder how long it will take them to look at the pervasive nature of corn in our current society, and examine it's relationship with endocrine and hormonal disorders among us? In February of 2002, researchers released information that corncob bedding inhibited the mating activity of lab rats, and caused problems with hormonal imbalance. The chemicals these problems were traced to are present in fresh corn and tortillas as well as the other words; humans are exposed as well. And I haven't found any good studies showing the affect of corn on our endocrine systems.

Perhaps the public will become more concerned if they trace the increased need for viagra to their corn stuffed mattress and super soft ingeo pillows? I suppose that's another symptom the professionals like to blame on stress...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Maybe we're all crazy...

I'm seeing a disturbing trend on message boards I frequent.

It's laughed about on the Avoiding Corn forum. It's subtly hinted at on Celiac listserves. It's vented over in special diet groups. And it's pondered, rhetorically, in various self-help corners of the world wide web.

"Maybe I'm wrong..."

"I must be crazy..."

"Except, that what I know just doesn't correlate to what I see..." (The words are different, but the gist is the same)

Why do we so easily doubt ourselves when what we witness just doesn't fit in with the world as we believe (or want) it to be?

Parents watch their children melt down after neon-colored cupcakes, candy and medicine...but tell themselves that it has to, the excitement. Right? It's not the additives. Except (They anonymously vent inner doubts online) the child only really loses it when they have artificial coloring. And, well, it sounds crazy...but they've read a few things that made them wonder...It's probably a coincidence, right?

Adults note that certain foods cause bloating, and abdominal discomfort...digestive distress. But it isn't an allergy. It isn't an's, well, it' else.

People with intolerances start noting reactions and trace them to the "impossible" (like a banana) and tell themselves that they're crazy. Only to learn that their cereal is being recalled for contamination, or the bananas are sprayed with corn ethanol, or that their favorite potato chips now have a healthier oil (that just doesn't agree with that particular consumer.)

People who have Celiac and don't respond quickly to the diet are encouraged to wait it out, their questions about whether it could be something MORE are brushed aside like annoying spiderwebs. But, like those spiderwebs, they return until the problem is dealt with. Or, we learn to deal with symptoms and leave the doctor alone.

Concerned parents recite generic symptoms that doctors brush off, knowing that "chronic" isn't often serious. They play statistics, and statistically...parents stop complaining either because things DO get better or, more likely, they become normal. The warnings on the package say to consult a doctor if the condition doesn't go away. And most doctors run a few labs, shrug, and call it normal. Eventually, it is. Or abnormal becomes normal and we move on, with the suspicion that we're missing a piece of the puzzle.

At what point do we decide that Drs know more about everything than us?

As I tell my daughter, doctors know more about the human body and how to fix it than we do. However...we know our bodies. And it's our job to take care of them, and report problems to the doctor so that he can look for answers.

Unfortunately, it seems that many (if not most) doctors are so bent on brushing off their patients they forget that they can learn from them. Doctors DON'T know it all. They're human. Their skill is found in being a tool, only one tool that we the consumer utilize in our quest for health.

Sometimes, eventually some come back and say that not only were they NOT crazy...they have living, breathing proof (in a healthier body) accompanied by black and white test results that showed they had a physical cause for the "stress" or "over anxiety" (about their kids) all along.

Why did they waste time doubting themselves?

Just as actors are a tool in the art of entertainment, and editors are a tool in the world of publishing; the doctor is one of many tools we the consumer should use in our quest for health.

We need to educate ourselves about the food supply, about our medications and nutritional supplements, our water. We need to question doctors and other authority figures. Why are we taking this course of action? Why are my observances invalid? What makes these concerns invalid? And how many others have you successfully treated? Are any still your patient? (Okay, so I'm not quite brave enough to ask these questions. But they need to be asked.)

We need to question food companies, and pharmaceutical companies. We need to hold them responsible for the truth...and accountable for lies (but not necessarily honest mistakes). And we need to learn to trust ourselves. Another trait that has been victimized from society...sheep are rewarded, the inquisitive left behind or punished. We want to be normal. But I don't think there is a normal anymore.

Maybe there never was.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What Uncornies wish Food Manufacturers knew

What we wish the food manufacturers knew is simple.

Food intolerances come in many shapes and sizes. They can be big, scary, blatant reactions that scream "Immediate IgE mediated reaction to this substance". They can be mild, annoying nuisances. They can slowly build to a series of non-life threatening, but disabling symptoms that are delayed and difficult to track down. They can fall anywhere in between. And they aren't always easy to diagnose, even by a doctor.

Doctors aren't G-d. They don't know it all, and they don't have time to research the dietary options of every single patient. Nor do they have the patience to call someone who has a "proprietary formula" in order to determine whether or not that was, indeed, the cause of a latest reaction. Life's short, and it's in the hands of it's owner.

Everything counts. Citric acid doesn't intrinsically lose it's citric-ness when it turns from fruit sugar to Citric Acid. Nor does it lose it's corn origin, or it's beet sugar origin, or any other origin. It wasn't always Citric Acid, and as a food intolerant individual, I may need to know where it originally came from.

Proteins aren't the only component of foods a person can react to, although they may cause the most spectacular reactions. So, just because you use pure fructose syrup in your product does not mean it is safe for me. Just as some people with soy allergies react to soy lecithin, and some people with Celiac disease can not tolerate wheat starch that tests free from gluten; I can't tolerate corn products that shouldn't contain proteins.

Just a little bit can hurt. Packaging materials, vitamin enrichments, stablizing ingredients, and anti-caking agents in ingredients of ingredients can be enough to set my body over the edge.

I don't always have a lot of other choices. Once I've scrutinized every label, and narrowed my options down, there aren't a lot of products left. Every one counts, and if your product appears to meet my needs, I want to know if it's safe. It doesn't seem like too much to ask when I call the number you provide and request information about the ingredients used in your product.

Reactions hurt. And I'm tired of hurting. GI reactions are especially embarrassing and can impact not only my quality of life, but my ability to function in society. After tracking down the cause of pain, or even continuous discomfort, I don't want to take any chances. I need you to be honest and up front about what you are doing to the food supply.

I have to eat. And in this society, it just isn't feasible, or even possible, to grow all my own food. I still need to make a living, I need to care for the kids, I need to have a life. Even if I had enough land to raise animals and harvest enough produce to keep my family fed through the year, I don't have the time or energy to do it all. I don't have the know how to grow specialty products, or access to mills. I have to rely on corporations to provide many of my basic meals...and I deserve a chance to enjoy shortcuts as much as the rest of the United States.

My needs matter. Even if they don't make a significant difference in your personal pocketbook, my dietary needs do matter. Trust me to know my own needs, and how sensitive my body is. Respect my request for information, and offer it freely without judgement because I wouldn't bother calling if it didn't matter for some reason. Let me trust you, so I don't need to call in the first place.

And isn't just me. Variety is important for everyone. Knowledge is important for everyone. And anyone, anywhere, deserves the right to know what exactly is in their food. And they deserve the right to avoid certain ingredients for any reason they choose, whether it's anaphylaxis, gas pains, migraines, religious beliefs or personal choice. Reliance on one crop for too many different purposes is not healthy for our bodies, for our society, or for our economy.

Penguin "gets" it; and she's only 11.

Often, parents of food allergic kids lament the fact that no one "gets it".

True food allergies are scary, serious scenarios. In fact, anaphylactic reactions can be deadly. (No, I'm not being dramatic, the chances may be slim in the general public, but when you are talking about people with a history of anaphylactic reactions, the odds of a severe reaction increase with each exposure.)

However, others don't always get it. The adults in charge often don't "get it". They are in automatic mode, they aren't well trained, they have too many kids to take care of to think of just one kid's increased risk. There are too many variables and reasons for food restrictions (Anaphylaxis? Religion? Picky eater? Paranoid parent? I feel the last one is a moot point, since parents have the final say on their children's bodies, but I digress.) Speaking of digression, let me get back on topic...

Yesterday, we had an unexpected rainstorm. It's been sunny for days, hot in fact. We'd shed our winter coats and sprung out the shorts. And then...clouds. A sudden downpour.

I didn't really think much of it. Not many people did, I'm sure, other than to regret their outfit choices or lament the umbrella left home, in the back of a closet. I did have a momentary thought to rainy day recess at the school, but since Penguin isn't anaphylactic and we've been told that Bumblebee can challenge nuts whenever she feels confident enough to risk it, I didn't think twice about lunchtime.

When Penguin came home she announced that she didn't eat lunch.

Okay, first I was frustrated. Why? Why on earth would the child skip lunch when she knows it will trigger a migraine? When she knows it makes her sick? When Bumble bee has a singing show in a few hours that none of us want to miss? When she knows that the following day is a long one, with two extracurricular activities?

With wide eyes she explained that it was rainy day recess. She was sent to moniter the first grade classrooms. And she knew that there was a kid in there who has an epi pen for nuts.

Normally, for rainy day lunches, we pack nut free meals. But, I wasn't expecting an indoor meal. Daddy had packed a peanut butter sandwich on gf bread. And her snack was a bar full of protein rich nuts. Lunches have been frustrating since she went gluten free on top of the casein free; we send the danger foods to school, where she can consume healthy (for her) items without endangering her sister.

Apparently the school wasn't prepared for rainy weather either.

Normally, nuts are banned from any epi room class. If it will be used for a meeting, the child's desk is covered in butcher paper and a "Nut free zone" sign is erected. But it was raining, and there wasn't time to screen lunchboxes or segregate kids. During winter it happens so matter of factly that no one notices it happening. But this time...Penguin's take was that every precaution was falling through the cracks. The adults told her to go ahead and eat her lunch, just not near him. But she knew better, allergies are dangerous...ESPECIALLY nut allergies. And he has an EPI pen.

She told me a migraine is nothing compared to an allergic reaction. And she knew she could eat as soon as she got home. So...she took out her strawberries, zipped up her lunchbox and told the other helper that she wasn't taking any chances.

It's not that she made a stand. She didn't actually do that much, all she did was make a very small choice to peek in her lunchbox and then tuck it away, acknowledging that one risk didn't outweigh another. She "got it". Even though we aren't an epi pen carrying family, and we've never had to use one, even before Bumblebee was cleared to be in the same rooma s a peanut.

I'm proud of her. I'm not so thrilled with the school, if I was the child's mother...but I'm not; so what can I say? And I'm happy to report that with immediate snacking after school, and a very early dinner, she only had a mild headache without stomach issues!

And...The child survived with no obvious reactions. He and Bumblebee both did a delightful job in the first grade singing performance last night. :-)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"I don't think I'm related to her," Penguin told me earlier, referring to the squalling tantrum of arms and legs that is her sister.
"Oh?" I ask, restraining Bumblebee from causing any more damage to her sister or the rest of the house.
"Yeah, I think we must have gotten a different baby at the hospital or something," she says, "If Bumblebee were really my sister, we wouldn't fight so much."

*sigh* Nice try, kiddo.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

March comes into our household like a lion...filled with school projects, girl scout cookies (that half of us can't eat), a bunch of birthday parties interspersed with "Ugh, how can I have the flu again?!?" and of course, the promise of spring.

This year my husband is dutifully clearing our tiny yard. He was motivated by the prospect of Penguin's birthday party, a gaggle of tween girls giggling, running and generally wreaking havoc frightened him.

Luckily the party went off without a hitch (well, okay, unless you count me waking up with Penguin's flu two days beforehand.) Thankfully, my parents stepped in to take the girls to a "can't miss" event the day before; and with the support of my diligent husband and whining kids, the rest of the house was orderly, the table set, treasure hunt clues hidden and a gluten free cake baked and iced well before anyone arrived. They all asked for seconds, and even thirds, on the cake so it must not have come out too "gluten free".

Anyways...back to my musings...

The garden. Well; the wannabee garden. Our funky shaped yard that has spots of grass, areas of dirt, and a large square of cement. We weed, mow, and rearrange as we endeavor to determine once and for all WHERE the sun hits the longest. That's where vegetables have the best chance of survival, we think. And forget aesthetics. We want produce. We don't even want massive amounts of produce. Just a few simple plants.
Successful plants.

I'm going to turn this brown thumb of mine green. (Which may take an awful lot of determination, given the dead cactus on my windowsill.) Said dead cactus was removed for the birthday party. Which was more successful than any of my gardening attempts to date have been.

I want to do it for me. Sure, I want to cut the grocery bill a bit. And I love the idea of walking out into the garden and harvesting dinner. (Although I worry about having the energy to prepare it after harvesting.) I want to lower our impact on the environment by reducing our trips to the store. And I want...I want the kids to know where food comes from. I want them to get their hands dirty, and stop panicking when they see a bug, and to realize the full circle of life. I want them to experience the satisfaction of growing what's on their plate.

And I'm hopeful that Ms. B (whom I will soon dub BumbleB or HoneyB) will be more willing to eat a variety of foods if she actually grows them. (What can I say, I'm an optimist)

But most of all, I want to walk outside and see plants growing, real plants, real green leaves that we're nourishing. The sight of life will do more for all of our souls than the food itself, I think.

We've gardened before. A few years ago, we tightened our belts and spent our tax refund on all sorts of garden stuff. We were determined to make it work, and it almost did.

But just as the seeds were poking out of the ground, and the sunflowers were turning their heads to the sun, there was a knock on the door. To make a long story short, the garden didn't survive (nor did many of the tools) and it soured us on even trying again for a very long time.

However, we have a new landlord now, and a host of new allergies along with a bit more energy than we had a few years ago. Our confidence has had a chance to recover, and youngest does have the start of a green thumb that I want to cultivate.

So maybe...just maybe...we'll try...I think we'll start with sweet potatoes...