Friday, April 29, 2011

Earth Day

Earth day 2011 just passed, and in honor of the event I'm reading "The WorldWithout Us". 
Okay, maybe not so much in honor of the event.  More like, because I saw it on the shelf and was interested.  At any rate, I'm deeply disturbed by the section on plastics and plastic polymers, and the fact that even on a microscopic level, they don't actually break down, they simply get smaller.  And when ingested, they cause damage. 
There is a plastic trash island in the middle of the pacific the size of a small island.  And bits and pieces of plastic bags, bottle caps and cotton swab sticks wash up on estuaries all over. 

"Plastic is evil."  Bumblebee says. 
"People are evil," Penguin corrects. 
"People make mistakes out of ignorance," I tell them.  No one meant for plastic to be 'evil' or even thought about the consequences of something that lasts forever.  Even biodegradable plastic lasts for over a year in the ocean.  And it only biodegrades into...smaller plastic particles. 

"What can we do?" they both asked.  And then we thought about it.  Right now, we haven't used a plastic bag at the grocery store in almost 3 years.  Our canvas bags are beginning to shrink, but they're still pretty sturdy.  The last time I bought baggies was about the same time.  Although, we do use was a costco sized box I last purchased.  We are more likely to use plastic containers.  Still plastic, still considered disposable...but much sturdier and we wash them regularly.  And they're easier to recycle when they finally crack.  Our recycling bin is still often overflowing with appropriate materials, although we really should cut down on packaging. 

I told them I thought we were doing pretty well.  Of course, there's always room for improvement so we'll all keep our eyes open for environmentally sustainable (not corn) ideas. 
We'd like to make Earth Day every day, or at least once a week.  :-) 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Greetings

Most people don't think of Easter as a very corn filled holiday.  It's...more...carrots.  And maybe celery.  And...jellybeans. 
Actually, for most people with food allergies, Easter celebrations can be pretty safe. 
But, again, corn rears it's ugly head.  Ear?  Whatever. 
Jelly beans may generally be free of the top 8; but their rainbow appeal generally comes from a rainbow of artificial food colorings.  These are linked with behavior issues, and possibly further health problems, in some individuals. There are naturally colored jelly beans from Surf Sweets, Green Beans, and even Jelly Belly superfruits. 
Unfortunately, the above are either made with corn syrup, or the corn containing citric acid. 
Gummy candy is another perrenial favorite...Gummy bears fit just perfectly into the plastic colored eggs.  (And of course an egg laying bunny is going to hatch red and yellow bears, right?)  Surf Sweet candies, Yummy Earth candies, and Annie's Naturals all have delicious alternatives.  (Containing corn) 
Florida's Natural Nuggets taste good and fit well in the eggs...but again contain corn derivatives. 
For a corn free candy, you might have to resort to St Claire's Hard candies.  (Tasty, but not quite as seasonal) 

And then there is the chocolate bunny.  Nut warnings, dairy derivatives, even gluten show up in those mischievous iconic candies.  Alternatives may be maple sugar shapes (I haven't seen a bunny, though), chocolates bought from a premier specialty facility like Premium Chocolatiers, or chocolate chips melted to fit various candy molds available in the market place. 

The only real candy novelties safe for corn avoiders are the ones we make ourselves.  But some have gotten creative with Erewhon rice cereal and homemade marshmallows to shape krisie treats, gelatin mold eggs, and shaped chocolates. 

Of course...the best egg stuffers are non candy...Littlest Pet shop figurines, In My Pocket pets, and small vehicles will delight kids 3-7; as will mardi gras beads and other small party favors (these aren't great for the environment, though)

As an adult with the corn allergy (and parent to a dairy free, gluten free kid and 2 who avoid artificial colorings) I prefer to not worry about the sugary novelties. 
Spice cake sounds good to me; and maybe if we have a few carrots I'll grate them in for corn free carrot cake.  I'm still working on a white frosting recipe.  Powdered sugar has not been easy to find, but I'm certain there is decent frosting to be had without it.  (after all, people have been frosting cakes for generations...haven't they?) 

The kids are looking forward to egg dyeing.  Although every year I tell myself we'll find some nice, safe, all natural dyes...I got lazy (and cheap) and purchased a sponge paintng kit.  We will dye 2 dozen eggs, of the cheapest brand I find, and Mr. Violets will bring what he wants to work.  The rest will be a tragic waste of resources...but at least they'll serve a purpose in entertainment, art exploration, and decoration.  And they'll decompose quickly, a nice Earth Day bonus. 

Maybe we'll work in a short hike, or at least a trip to the park.  After all...the whole point of Easter is to welcome spring back to our lives.  And part of springtime is getting back outside.  We'll also be attempting another garden.  We've already fed a honeydew seedling to the snails in our yard, and (after putting down salt) are considering ttempting strawberry plants.  They grow well and Bumblebee enjoys them.  Maybe I'll even be able to handle a few despite the prevalence of seeds.  (Or maybe I'll puree them and strain the seeds)  At least if they're homegrown, I'll know if it was the strawberry or the 'industry standard' rinse that didn't get scrubbed off. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Corn allergy Dramatics

The girls have the week off of school for Spring Break.  Of course, I promised them a trip to the zoo as well as a few new parks. 
Unfortunately...Mr Violets caught a nasty bug that nixed our plans early in the week.  And then it rained.  The girls and I rallied though, and were set to go today if all else failed.  Even if it rained. 
Until I came down with another UTI last night.  Ugh. 
I called the doctor first thing this morning.  Talked to the nurse.  They have a fairly painless system set up.  If...If you don't have a corn allergy. 
I need to say that they've made progress.  It's just the frustration that I've already been through the learning process, I already know the next step...I already have the info they need but they won't take it from me until they realize that they need it.  I'm trying to be patient and acknowledge that they have a learning curve as well.  It just takes time. 
Anyways, if all was normal with me, I would have had an oncall doctor call in a prescription for me and that would have been that. 
But all is not normal. 
So, at 11:40 my doctor called me to figure out why things weren't going according to plan.  And I explained that the prescription needed to be called in to the compounding pharmacy.  And offered the phone number, again.  I don't think she took it that time either.  She did offer to find the inactive ingredients for me and call back, which she did in about 10-15 minutes...assuring me that they had a safe medication waiting at the pharmacy but I should double check with the pharmacist. 
So...I trotted down to the office, left a sample, and waited in line to pick up my rx.  They were friendly...and explained that I needed to wait a few more minutes to talk to a pharmacist.  I ran to relieve myself and waited some more. 
The pharmacist was on the phone with the manufacturer, and she approached me with the information that the prescribed medication was not safe for me (dumb microcrystalline cellulose in everything!) and asked if there was an alternate med I'd taken before. 
I explained, again, that in the past I've needed to have antibiotics compounded.  The only ones I've taken that were safe pre-filled were -cillins.  She looked pretty uncomfortable at that revelation, did not take my compounding pharmacist's phone number, and said that she will talk to the doctor but at this point in the day I probably won't get an antibiotic until at least monday which is an awfully long time to wait when you have a UTI!!! 
So what did I want to do? 
I weighed my options.  Corn reaction...or wait for something safe. 
I decided to keep flushing my kidneys with as much water as I can manage while waiting for them to accept my compounding pharmacy phone number. 
It's 2:15 now. 
I'm not feeling terribly hopeful. 
But maybe next time, when I call between 9 and 10, they will take the info and TRUST me; and just skip to the end step of making the necessary phone calls. 
How hard is it to call a compounding pharmacist and say "I need an antibiotic for a UTI with no corn derivatives in it.  What do you have in stock?"  It can't take much longer than spending the day playing phone tag.  :-( 
I'd rather be at the zoo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Note to self: do not move to Chicago. 
Or, if it's ever necessary, plan to homeschool. 
No, it's not the academic values, or the teacher quality, or the test scores.  It's nothing to do with the lovely folk who live there.  My problem with Chicago? 
Some schools have a mandatory "purchase lunch here" policy.  Of course, there is the standard "medical conditions are exempt" caveat. 
My questions:  How must the medical conditions be documented?  And what constitutes a worthy medical excuse?  Diabetes, food allergies, Celiac Disease...migraines?  IBS?  Lactose intolerance?  Kosher requirements?  Vegetarian or vegan choices?  Behavior issues?  Autism? 
If they require a simple doctor's note, they usually require it every single year.  And sometimes a new one midyear when some policy or another changes.  It sounds reasonable to get your medical professional to write out a note for you.  But doctors seem to HATE this policy.  They have better things to do than take a 15 minute appointment to write a note stating that a medical condition has not been outgrown and that the parents, not the school administrators who have never met your child, should decide what, exactly, can and can not pass your child's teeth. 
And then there's the simple fact that some medical conditions, like IBS, don't require one specific diet.  It's an ongoing balancing act...and one day's requirements may be completely counter to another day's.  Control over diet is critical to the overall health of someone with severe IBS or chronic digestive issues...and I guarantee that by High School; digestive concerns are the last thing any child wants to discuss over lunch. 
Which brings up my next concern.  If bagged lunches are banned, then anyone who brings a bagged lunch will be under scrutiny.  The third degree can come about whether they are the best of friends, mortal enemies or complete strangers.  Why did you bring a lunch?  Why are you exempt from the hard and fast rules?  What are you eating...Why are you different? 
It's hard enough to be different.  To be unique.  And now some schools insist that the unique individuals get a doctor to document their needs and then go around in obvious defiance of the school rule because they are exempt?  This sends the wrong message. 
I don't know about other kids with food allergies.  But mine wants to slip just under the radar.  She wants to bring enough chocolate chip cookies to share so that she isn't 'different'.  She wants to donate a normal fruit platter, or be in charge of the crackers, or offer safe snacks that taste and appear 'normal' to her friends and schoolmates.  She wants to be safe and cocooned in her food world...but she doesn't want anyone else to question it or tease her about it. 

I'm sure there are kids who don't really care where their lunch comes from, or what's in it, as long as it tastes good.  And parents who are happy to let the school make good decisions.  There are plenty of families not paying any attention to the ratio of doughnuts and chips and cookies to fresh produce consumed in the household.  But taking control by removing choice from consumers (You must purchase lunch here, no outside food in a school where children are required by a court of law to attend) doesn't solve anything. 

I say ban soda if you have to ban something (it makes a sticky mess when spilled, and the way it sprays after being shaken up in a backpack all day can make a custodian cry), provide plenty of healthy options at the school...and turn a blind eye to the 'junk food' as long as it isn't consumed during class hours.  Continue encouraging and teaching about good choices, start a garden (They won't be interested the first year, so give it 5 years) and eventually kids will start to make better and better choices.  They have to be the ones to choose in the long run, we have to trust them with their own health.  Which means, we start by trusting them with their own lunch. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011

I used to see kids melt down in public.  Full blown screaming tantrums, and parents in various states of disarray, hair in disarray, bags falling out of arms, flailing limbs, red faces. 
I'd shake my head with everyone else.  And tell myself I wasn't judging. 
But I lied. 

I admit this now, to myself, after being 'that mom'.  With the screaming, stomping, "I hate you!  I wish I was never born!  Why don't you love me?" kid.  The one trying to unlock the car door while preventing flailing arms and legs from pummeling any other children (namely the sister who unexpectedly triggered the attack)  The one telling her barely-over-12 year old to get in the **front** seat, and stuffing the breath-holding stiff-as-a-board child into the back. 
I admit it because in between blocking kicks and steering kids through a well-populated area, I glimpsed a sea of faces.  Most carefully averting their eyes, and a few too fascinated by the spectacle to be ashamed at watching.  I remember thinking it wouldn't ever happen to me.  My kids wouldn't...  I'd cut it off early, never give in, never let it start.  In retrospect, while I never really held it against them, I held myself apart from them.  And now I've become that mom.  With that kid. 

The one who ate sprinkles yesterday and can't keep herself under control today. 
I wish I could just pin a sign on her shirt that says "I'm not responsible for my actions if you feed me artificial food colorings"  but I'm not sure anyone would pay attention.  I wish I'd video taped todays performance, if not for FDA hearings on whether or not food dye is evil, then for a dr to help evaluate her...because she's usually an angel for strangers.  I think the adrenaline of 'different' caretakers helps her keep control.  But it's just a theory. 

I don't pretend that eliminating food dyes from her diet would solve the problem.  Even when she is dye free, which is most of the time, she has her moments.  There is definitely something there that lies just outside the realm of norm.  But, artificial colorings exacerbate it.  They tip whatever scale it is inside of her that helps to maintain control and propriety. 

And I don't mean to make excuses for her.  She needs to keep herself from losing control.  We're trying to find all the tools she needs to do it.  I will say she's made progress.  She was still "there" during this tantrum, and didn't have to cry herself to sleep to get out of it.  And honestly...I've never given in to her tantrums.  She's never once earned herself a new toy, an extra cookie, or a second trip around the merry go round.  If her goal is to get me to leave the store, the closest she gets is sitting in the car or on a curb until she's calm and then heads back in.  I'd wondered why she bothered throwing them until I read "The Explosive Child" and started pining after one of those dreaded labels.  Now I try, hard, to take them in stride.  Although, days like today, I'm not sure that's really working.  (She's better...but she's nine.  Shouldn't she be past this?) 

Which reminds me that stress may not be the root of my digestive disorders, but it really doesn't help them any.  Ugh. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Back away from the Jellybeans!

Those lovely assorted iconic Easter candies may just have to go this year.  At least the traditional ones. 
Although they are on shelves, and nothing in their standard artificial ingredient list has changed, the FDA is beginning to look closer at the questions raised by consumers. 
They are catching up to European questions. 

Although the evidence is still weak, the fact is that artificial food colorings and sodium benzoate in combination appear to increase the hyperactivity of the average 3-8 year old.  The trouble is that activity is subjective.  It can't be scientifically measured. 
And, while we can note observations that are consistently raised after consumption of suspect foods, it's symptoms we witness occasionally when only safe foods are eaten as well. 
The question is whether the colorings themselves are the cause. 
I think the answer is obviously that they are one potential cause.  And with the lack of testing (foodcolorings slipped under the radar and into our food supply, with slowly increasing amounts.  Currently, the average child ingests about 121 milligrams of dye a day.  It's a big number in small increments, but it's more than the amount of magnesium a 3 year old should be ingesting, and about a quarter of the calcium.  Compared to vitamins...that's a lot of synthetic, non-essential junk.  Especially when you factor in the picky eating that is common at that age...and the fact that preschoolers and school age children are still growing and forming.  Anything that is going to affect health will have a greater affect on them just because they are at a more vulnerable stage of development than an adult. 

Hyperactivity isn't the only health concern associated with artificial dyes and preservatives, it's only the one that gets the most press because of Dr. Feingold's work.  Even cancer may be associated with certain colorings, but studies are still in the works. 

Meanwhile, I don't think making bland food look brighter is worth the risk.  So, this year, the Easter Bunny is searching out safer treats...resorting to beets and turmeric and black carrot juice to color Surf Sweet or Yummy Earth candies with, and maybe he'll splurge on Annie's Homegrown gummy bunnies. 
It won't cost a fortune, because kids don't need a lot of sweet.  My kids, anyways, will find plenty of non-edibles in their Easter baskets, and the plastic eggs he hides around the house.  You don't need old fashioned jelly beans to have fun.  And carrot cake can be just as exciting without multicolored springtime sprinkles. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gluten Free idiots

Gee.  Just when you thought things were settling down and the Gluten Free community was getting some respect, a famous chef comes out of the closet with his REAL feelings on the subject. 
I won't repost his full condemnation.  You can read it at ABCOr here.  Or here
It's obvious this guy has anger management issues. 
But the gist of the post isn't generic anger or irritation.  He's not just angry.  He's mad enough to do something.  And dangerous enough to apparently smile while poisoning anyone with Celiac who walks through his door. 
The worst part is...he seems educated.  He knows what gluten is.  He states that he will reassure gluten free diners that their food is gluten free, and then he will knowingly serve them homemade high-gluten pasta (extra gluten in dough can improve texture), and take their compliments. 
What he doesn't realize is that Celiac disease is not anaphylaxis.  It doesn't strike immediately.  The gluten has to hit the intestines before it does it's damage.  And different people react differently. 
Some might have no symptoms at all.  Some poor bloke could eat weekly at this restaurant, assured that the pasta is gluten free, and die from intestinal cancer.  Because of the damage caused by the gluten he unknowingly ingested.  Others will have their romantic night out spoiled...just about the time they're settling in for a movie, or bed.  Or possibly not until tomorrow morning's early meeting that can't be missed. 

Yes, grains have been a part of the human diet for hundreds of years.  And Celiac has existed for just as long (there are reports in the Bible of wasting diseases that are suspected cases of Celiac disease.  That means it's at least 2000 years old.) 

But the sanity of a gluten free diet isn't the question.  Any individual in America has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We have the right to protect our lives the way we see fit.  (By pursuing whatever diet...medically proven or fad...that we believe will be most suitable to our needs)  We have the right to CHOOSE what we eat.  Now, we don't have to choose to eat in restaurants.  But, if we do, we have the right to know what exactly they are putting in the food if we choose to ask.  And we have the right to pursue happiness.  Some chef who has decided that a medical diagnosis of Celiac Disease is ridiculous and therefore derails attempts to live a normal life within the constraints of a medically restricted diet interferes with our right to pursue happiness. 
In fact, he could cause irreprable harm.  Not just to a person's health (eventually, there is an exposure that you really don't come back all the way from) but to their psyche.  If he's assuring a gluten free consumer that they received a gluten free meal, while they are developing symptoms, they will blame the symptoms on something else.  Like nerves, or eating out in general (the stress or the airborne particles) or kissing their significant other.  A well placed reaction can lead to a fight between even the most understanding of spouses.  Just because it's disappointing to have well made plans go astray for bathroom access. 

I don't think this man is alone in thinking people following a gluten free diet are "idiots".  (liberal hippie idiots, in fact)  And that's the real danger.  I've seen the poker face that slides over someone's face when I clarify that no, we don't make exceptions for parties.  No, we don't make exceptions for really good pizza or really expensive cookies.  It's all or nothing for our family.  Mr. Violets and Bumblebee eat all the gluten they want outside of the home and ask for no accomodation.  Penguin and I eat none.  At all.  Period. 

The reactions are miserable and it sends the wrong message. Some people think the diet is too restrictive.  I think that it's only restrictive when there are people we can't trust to respect our choices and physical needs.  And statements like the ones made by Chef Cardone make those of us with dietary needs feel that we can't trust others, even ones who seem supportive. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

April Fools

Most people diagnosed with a corn allergy for the first time, breathe a sigh of relief.  At least it isn't something really hard, like gluten or dairy.
And then they read the list, and check their calendar.
Today's April Fools day, and I can't help but thinking it should also be Corn Allergy Awareness day.  (Or maybe April 2nd should be...when the realization that it ISN'T a joke sinks in).  Because as surreal as food restrictions seem, especially ones that extend to medication and what an animal ate before it was slaughtered not to mention the slaughtering process, they are real.  And many of us lead a surreal life in order to actually live...or at least, in the hopes of actually LIVING.  Breathing.  Dreaming.  Enjoying.
It seems crazy.  Which is why it's important to keep our sense of humor.  It helps deal with uncomfortable situations like the side-long glance when you turn down water for a corn allergy (Yeah, well, certain brands...)  Or when you have to go sit on a porch because the host decided to pop some corn, or did some nice deep cleaning before you got there.  You see...April 2nd really would be the ideal awareness day...humor mixed with reality, and acceptance.
And since April is also the month for Autism Awareness, let's expand it to be the month to solve puzzles in healthcare...and accept that there is more than we understand about the body, not just something to blame on stress.