Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Puzzle Pieces

Over dinner, Penguin told us about her day.  She's learning nutrition, and a little bit unhappy about the milk info.  (It's not good for you if it makes you sick.  I agree with her.  But the coursework insists that there's a "Dairy" group, not a "calcium foods" group.) 
She also learned "something gross". 
She learned that many supermarket foods are coated in or gassed with ethylene. 
Of course, this is where I pipe in that ethylene is often corn derived...and she nods, uh huh, they learned that. 
It's also a plant hormone. 
I find this intriguing.  I want more info.  Hmmm....a plant hormone.  We know that corn is an endocrine disruptor.  We know that the majority of participants in online discussion of corn reactions are women, and that corn reactions seem to make 'that time of month' that much worse.  We know that corn allergy does not follow the typical allergy path, and that those of us reacting have a variety of inexplicable sensitivities and tolerance levels.  Could the fact that a derivative is actually a plant hormone be significant? 
I tell her that it is gross.  That it's terrible that 'they' can play with our food, that it looks normal but 'they' don't have to tell us that it's been gassed, or waxed or treated if it's an "industry standard".  She agrees.  "It's a plant hormone!  They put it in all our food, the fresh food.  The kind you buy in the market and it's not labeled." 
I'm impressed.  She gets it.  She's outraged at the duplicity, the fact that the industry doesn't trust us, the consumers, with knowledge.  She's indignant. 
"I mean, it's a hormone.  A plant hormone.  Everyone thinks it's gross." 
The next generation might just make a difference after all. 
And then it occurs to me.  She's...12.
"Is it gross because it's a hormone?"  I hesitantly ask, but she doesn't even have to open her mouth to answer.  My husband chokes on his snack and stands coughing over the sink. 
"Yeah...she's 12," he says, still chuckling, "The teacher said the word 'hormone' in class, in front of the boys." 
"It was so, so...gross!" Penguin repeated. 
Well...her reasons may be misguided, but her reaction is still right.  Treating our food, especially our farm fresh produce, with plant hormones for farmer's convenience is just...well, gross. 
And I have more puzzle pieces to research. 

Halloween Horrors

It's that time of year, again.  My sewing machine has been singing, cloth snippets sprinkle the floor, and everyone checks clothes piles for pins before snatching them off the sofa or lounging over them.  (A nasty habit I discourage, growl about, snap over yet never quite manage to eradicate) 
Costumes have taken shape.  Plans are made to decorate the front yard (although I'm not so sure the cobwebs will make it out...) and the excitement surrounding trick or treating is beginning to build.
School parties are also being planned, and the buzz on all the parenting with food allergy boards centers on the challenge of preparing appealing treats that the kids will enjoy.

Unfortunately, although we've all read and raved over "The Unhealthy Truth", I see that it just hasn't been taken to heart by many.
In the face of adversity...and potential tears or disappointment...the worst in us comes out.  Parents who spring for organic milk, hormone free meat, and all natural juice are stocking their cupboards with vibrant sprinkles, frighteningly neon chewy candies, bright lollipops and other chemical experiments. Favorite ghoul goodies of the year include crispy rice treats, made with marshmallows (corn syrup, blue dye and powdered sugar), crisped rice cereal, margarine and lots of sugar, colored with bottled coloring or decorated with canned frosting (more corn syrup and several preservatives and artificial flavoring compounds) and food coloring gels; clear cups filled with artificially vibrant colors of gelatin decorated to look like monster heads, and of course homemade cookies and cupcakes with monstrous amounts of tinted icing.
These goodies can be made without gluten, or dairy, or nuts.  They are free of the top 8 allergens and sometimes even a few more.  They can delight kids who eat the evil eight on a daily basis, while allowing our own necessarily deprived kids feel like one of the bunch.
It's lonely having allergies that preclude even those decorations.  Although, I'm happy for the excited parents and the smiling recipients.  
Unfortunately, I can't help but wonder what the long term trade off is.
Artificial colors trigger major migraines in my oldest.  Studies show that they cause hyperactive activity in children not diagnosed with ADHD.  They are a neurological stimulant.  And certain ones are linked to cancer in laboratory animals. 
And they don't even have any redeeming nutritional flavor.  And, as petrochemicals derived from coal tar, they're bad for the environment to boot. 

Halloween isn't just a once a year, rare treat excuse for a food fest.  It's the gateway to 3 months full of food related activities.  As we finish off the Trick or Treat leftovers, we'll start in on Friendship Feasts, winter wonderlands, and ending with Valentines.  Then a short break before spring and summer parties.  More sugar, more food coloring to cover the absence of allergens.
As we drift farther into the year away from 'candy day' we tell ourselves that we're cutting back.  But in reality, Halloween is the setback day.  We make an allowance for this one "special day" of sugar and sweet poisons, then we simply spend the next several months making less bad choices, remembering how much junk we sent coursing through our brains and intestines to celebrate the spirits...and congratulate ourselves on comparative restraint.
My kids know that food colorings aren't a special treat.  They'll be not only content, but giddy over a few chocolate bars and some Yummy Earth Lollipops, supplemented with silly bandz. 
Of course, they are blessed with an immediate reaction.  They can look at a confection and weigh it's tantalizing taste with tonight's pain, and although I recognize the maturity involved it breaks my heart to see them struggle.  
Unfortunately, this is the time of year when dye triggered reactions or 'allergies' are the loneliest.  As I bond with other food allergy moms, I'm still the odd man out...but even if I COULD give my kids that stuff, I like to think I wouldn't want to.  I realize that it would be a slippery slope, one I'm glad not to have to navigate. 
Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the finer points of Halloween.  The harvest festivals, the scarecrows and pumpkin carving, the costumes and spooky decorations.  We'll bake cookies, and squash, and put away the air conditioner.  We'll turn on the porch light and sip cocoa.  And the kids will tumble into bed, having survived the toughest food allergy holiday of the year.