Friday, September 23, 2011

GM corn and our rights as consumers

If you're a regular reader, you probably know how I feel about corn.  And you might think that if Monsanto has developed a new GM corn that can resist even stronger doses of the pesticide Round Up, and resists at least two different corn-loving insects; well, since the corn itself attacks ME regardless, it won't matter to me if it's on the market or not.
You'd be wrong.
I won't be buying this GM corn because I don't buy corn.  But, I object to it on principal.  Frankly, it scares me to read that the federal regulators don't require any approval, and it doesn't need to be labeled.
It terrifies me to think that big corporations don't feel a need to label food with origins that they think I might object to.  As a consumer, I have the right to know what I'm purchasing.  What my purchase supports, what I'm putting into my and my children's bodies.
I have an obligation to make informed decisions regarding my kids' health.  That includes what I feed them.  There is a reason I try to buy organic.  But simply buying organic isn't good enough.  Regardless of my personal desires, I have to balance ideals with the cold hard facts of my checking account.  If I can't afford an organic certified label one week, I should be able to make an informed choice among the non-organically grown options.  Which means, GMO need to be labeled.
This isn't about whether or not there should be genetically modified organisms on the market.  I think most people agree that they don't want to ingest GMOs or feed them to their kids; but that's not the point either.  I may not want GMOs to be mass marketed, and I may be concerned about the possibility of GMO pollen contaminating organic fields, but that isn't the issue here either.
The real issue is that if GM corn is sold unlabeled, then we as consumers lose our right to choose.  We lose our right to make an informed decision about what we buy and what we eat.  As consumers, we shouldn't have to research every morsel that enters our mouth.  (Trust me, as a corn allergy sufferer I do have to research every product.  It's hard work and the company representatives aren't always happy about the research I ask them to do.)  I'm guessing that companies are assuming that as busy individuals, we don't have the time or inclination to make a phone call prior to every purchase ascertaining it's GMO status.  And I'm also guessing that they are assuming that once the reveal that GMO corn has been on the shelf and a pantry staple for a certain number of months or years, we as a society will be more open to embracing other GMOs.  And that, in turn, can lead to an easier approval process.  Which, of course, won't need to be labeled because as a society we will already have accepted the use of GMOs in our everyday lives.
This is what I object to.
I don't know the long term consequences of GMO.  And maybe there won't be any.
But maybe there are some unforeseen consequences.  As a consumer, as an American Citizen, I have the right to choose.  The right to protect my family, if it makes me happy and doesn't impede anyone else's rights.  As a city-girl (like most of America) I can't grow all my own food.  Which means I need to rely on grocery stores.  And I deserve to know what's in the foods I purchase.  I deserve to choose whether or not to support GMOs.  We all deserve the right to avoid ingredients we don't want whether it's for physical, spiritual, religious or ridiculous reasons.  And we deserve the right to seek out specific foods if we so desire.  (Like raw milk, or even GMO if you really wanted it)  In order to exercize our right to choose, we need information.  Which means, GMO should be labeled. 
While we work on that as individuals, companies can work on it as well. 
Trader Joes and General Mills have indicated that they won't purchase unlabeled GM sweet corn (the kind that's sold frozen and/or canned.)  Today I sent a message through the True Food website asking other food manufacturers to do the same.  If you want to maintain your right to choose, consider doing the same. 

Artificial looks....artificial

Sometimes, Bumblebee likes to play afterschool.  So I find a spot in the shade, pull out a book and keep half an eye out to make sure she's okay. 
Today, as I sat with my book, a preschooler ran past and popped some brightly colored object into their mouth.  I had to curb my first instinct, which was to pull it out.  Put down my book and looked around.  
Then the brightly colored object began melting. 
"Mmmm, that looks delicious," a woman nearby told the child and they grinned, with a deep purply looking tongue and reddish teeth. 
I couldn't disagree more.
Artificial food colorings are derived from petroleum.  Yeah, gasoline.  Crude oil.  The stuff poisoning the gulf coast. 
It's also implicated in a number of health issues, and banned in children's products in parts of Europe.  Blue dye happens to be a potent neuro-stimulant.  It gives my daughter nasty migraines, although some research shows promise in using it to actually treat migraines. 
I've noticed that in the allergy friendly world, parents rely heavily on food colorings to make foods appealing.  A child can't have nuts, but can enjoy skittles and lollipops.  We used to be frustrated that Penguin couldn't have dairy or gluten...or certain food dyes.  It took everything off the table when it came to treats. 
Luckily, there are a few affordable options out there.  Yummy Earth is one delicious choice.  Surf sweets another. The colors aren't nearly as vibrant, but they do look more appetizing. 
After years of dealing with food issues and having given up purchasing colored products completely after reading "The Unhealthy Truth" by Robyn O'brien; what surprises me most is my reaction when I see these once tempting delicacies.
My stomach flops.  Nothing about vibrant red cherries appeals to me.  Bright blue candy looks inedible.  Patriotic posicles look like table decorations, not dessert.  It's not just that it looks inedible, they look non-tempting. 
The intent of artificial colors is to enhance the appearance and increase appeal.  But artificial food just isn't appealing.  At least, not to my family. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Something Sweet...

"I want to bake something," said Penguin. 
The thing with allergies is that EVERYthing we make gets made from scratch.  It's a hot day.  Turning on the oven may not have been high on my list of priorities.  And baking means extra dishes to wash, standing over a hot sink.  There's still dinner to cook, too.  And I'm fairly certain there are some not-corn-free cookies in the cupboard. 
But while she might have a few secondary options, if I want something sweet, I can eat ingredients or I can bake something.  And since I was craving something sweet (besides a handful of chocolate chips), I grinned at her.  A slow, shy grin was returned. 
"Really?" She asked, and I nodded, asking what she had in mind. 
Something different, she told me.  But not too different.  Something like...hmmm...Chocolate chip cookies. 
And since chocolate chip cookies just happened to be exactly what I've been craving, I told her this was a good plan. 
She asked if the 'something different' could be putting them in a cake pan instead making little cookies.  And since that meant one batch of cookies instead of 2 or 3 panfuls, I told her this was another good plan.  I figured worst case scenario, there would be sweet and chocolatey crumbs for me to munch on, warm dough for my husband, and she could resort to Soy Creamy ice cream. 
She didn't have to.  The chocolate chip bars came out delicious.  Between the four of us, we polished off the entire pan full. 
Well, except for 1 small corner which I'm currently eyeing.  Hmmm.  As the one with the most allergies, I'm pretty sure I get dibs.  
Sometimes, being allergy free has it's advantages.  

Navigating Maize

I'm again frustrated with the lack of appropriate wording for corn allergies.
The only word we have for a potentially debilitating reaction caused by an ingested substance is 'allergy'.  But when it comes to corn and corn derivatives, allergy doesn't describe the half of it.
You see, food allergies indicate potential anaphylaxis.  And while with corn, we do have the potential for anaphylaxis, most professionals also associate true food allergies with food proteins.
Corn derivatives like xanthan gum, citric acid and microcrystalline cellulose are 'pure'.  They don't have protein.  But they still manage to pack quite the whollop.  So, Corn avoiders tend to avoid all corn derivatives, at least until they figure out which ones they, personally, can tolerate.
Most allergists run diagnostic testing when determining food allergies.  They start with skin tests, and then draw blood.  The intention is to measure the antibodies present and then determine the likelihood of a severe reaction.
However, as this South African Journal notes, corn/maize frequently reveals a false negative result.  Double blind placebo trials reveal reactions.
In short, corn/maize does NOT follow the typical allergy rules.  It's not always protein mediated.  And the typical allergy testing rarely reveals a positive result.
There are also multiple potential allergens in corn, although studies have not been done to evaluate them thoroughly. 
While I know all this, not everyone in the medical community seems to.  Even worse, the companies who produce and package my food, and everyone else's, tend to have a very tenuous hold on the understanding of corn and it's potential for causing reactions.
This understanding is encouraged by the belief that food proteins are the problematic substance when dealing with food allergies; and that the Top 8 are the main (frequently misunderstood as 'only') foods responsible for 'real' reactions.
So when I contact a company and say "Is there corn in this?", they respond with "Of course not, it's a bottle of fruit juice."  When, in fact, there may be 3 or 4 different corn derived ingredients either on the label or used as a processing agent.
(If you're wondering, off the top of my head:  Ascorbic acid, citric acid, xanthan gum, and vitamin enrichments are the first 4 ingredients I can think of found in juice drinks that are often corn-taminated)
Some companies get it.  When they say "There are no corn derivatives" they mean that they pick the fruit, squeeze it directly into pure, clean glass bottles and seal it up for distribution.  They KNOW what's in there.

Shopping with a corn/maize allergy (or whatever it is you want to call this condition) is a completely different experience from what shopping used to be.  There are entire aisles in the grocery store that are off limits. And even the aisles that are inviting seem ominous.  New products are tempting, and yet need to be cautiously evaluated.  First, the label is scrutinized.  Questionable ingredients noted.  The company then needs to be contacted to verify the source of questionable ingredients, and to ask about processing.  And then comes the moment of truth.  The deep breath, the taste.  And hopefully, if the evening passes without reaction, a full out meal. 
And then it gets added to the normal rotation.  However, just because an item is familiar doesn't mean that a shopping trip is filled with confidence or that each purchase is quick and safe.  Every single time I go to the store, I read ingredients.  I scan for red flags that sound 'different' from last time.  If packaging changes, it means I need to contact the company (and/or double check with the corn-free community on delphi)  to see if any portion of the packaging process has changed. 
If corn were like dairy or eggs or even gluten, answers would be easier to get.  The protein would be the main item of concern, the answers would be straight forward.  They are for my daughter.  But corn...corn is complicated.  It has so many facets and is used so many different ways. 
Learning life without corn derivatives is truly like navigating a maze, except that rather than navigating a complicated labyrinth to discover a vicious minotaur, the maze itself is the danger and once we find the center, the danger is long as we continue to stay vigilant. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to make a sandwich...with food allergies

No corn.  No gluten.  The first thing to go, without a backward glance, was sandwiches.  Bread is chock full of both those items, in fact...since wheat and yeast and salt make up the gist of most sandwich bread recipes, it seemed impossible to ever find a substitute, beyond rice cakes that is. 
However, life went on.  I didn't really look backwards. 
At least, not until Bumblebee passed the peanut challenge.  Something about peanut butter simply begs for a sandwich.  It's good on a spoon.  It's divine dipped in chocolate.  But it's better on bread. 
The trouble is that most yeast is grown on corn.  I really didn't even want to go there.  And experimenting with a yeast dough using only flours I, personally, am safe consuming seemed simply overwhelming.  It's not like I had a lot of experience with what it's supposed to look like.  And if I screwed up with expensive flours...well.  Lets just say I wasn't anxious for this specific learning experience. 
I'm still not interested in a yeasted dough. 
But, it's been 7 years since I was first diagnosed with corn allergies.  5 or 6 years since I went gluten free and got corn savvy.  I've learned a thing or two about cooking, we have cookies and cake and muffins. 
And so, the corn free, gluten free peanut butter sandwich was born. 
Most people start with a store bought loaf of bread.  Me?  I start with a cup of water.  I beat in a few eggs.  Add my preferred blend of rice and tapioca flours, some sugar and oil, and a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg.  Bake.  Slice.  Smear with peanut butter and...yum. 
It's not that healthy.  There's an awful lot of sugar and carb content.  But, it sure is satisfying. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dropping the Donkey

Aesop has a fable about a miller and his son who take a donkey to the market.  Along the way, they receive repeated criticism and advice for their handling of the donkey.  In the end, the donkey falls into a river and floats away. 
Some days I can really relate to that miller. 
With the food allergies and the migraines, I kept circling back to square one, but at least I felt in charge.  We were solving a puzzle.  Most of the pieces fell into place under the headings of either "corn" or "gluten". 

I still deal with the whole donkey-in-the-river scenario sometimes.  I feel like I need to use mind over matter to deal with symptoms rather than the simple (and sometimes not so simple) act of avoidance.  It's not entirely rational, but I spent a long time working with professionals on the premise that my symptoms were just stress related.  Just because they aren't doesn't undo that work.  

You'd think I'd have learned. 
The trouble is, when you are in over your head, you turn to others for advice.  Sometimes, you get lucky and stumble into people who know the best next steps.  And sometimes, you don't. 
This is what seems to have happened to us with Bumblebee. 
We've spent 4 years working with professionals who felt that labels hurt kids.  That anxiety is rational.  That we, as a family, were doing something wrong. That we needed to really think about it.  That we should analyze our actions. 
We've been told to and tried rationalizing, bribing, and taking away priviliges.  We've tried encouragement and sticker charts and good-will offerings.  We've tried starving her into verbalizing if she won't touch dinner, and we've tried being a family of short order cooks.  We've stood firm.  We've given in.  All on the advice of others because what we were doing wasn't working. 
It turns out that rather than getting advice on how to TREAT anxiety, I should have been learning about how, exactly, Anxiety Disorders work.  (And it is worthy of those capitals, believe me)  Because the current belief is that they aren't rational, by any stretch of the imagination.  There isn't control over her feelings and since those feelings are overwhelming, she didn't have control over where they led her. 
By treating her like she did have control, or bending over backward to 'compromise' and then being frustrated at her refusal to cooperate; we've got a child who's no longer in tears.  She's angry, she's sullen, she doesn't want to treat us with respect because she doesn't feel respected.  She put up with food allergies, and dietary mayhem for years.  And us?  When she felt 'sick' we dragged her off and abandoned her at school, where she was overwhelmed and didn't have the tools she needed to deal with those feelings.  It doesn't matter that I was dying inside each day I left her, or that everyone told me it was the right thing to do.  To her, what matters is that she felt alone and overwhelmed.  And then once in awhile, she is terrified and needs us again...and at the same time, she hates us for being needed. 
Rather than getting her through with our own problem solving techniques, we asked for advice.  And based on the results, I feel like I'm watching my daughter floating down the river on Aesop's donkey. 

The good news is, we're no longer looking for what's wrong with us.  We aren't hunting in the dark for a magic cure.  There isn't one.  We just need to fish that donkey out of the river, dry her off, and set off again.  And maybe this time, we'll make it to market unscathed.