It’s un-corny

cornI hate being a food-allergy family. We resisted for so long, but we can’t resist anymore. My daughter is allergic to artificial colors. They make her crazy and self-destructive (See Dethroning the Drama Queen). And I just discovered that I’m allergic to corn. It was a huge contributor to my migraines. (See A Hill of Beans)

So now, like so many moms, when I go to the grocery store, I read every single label on every single product I buy. Or don’t buy. The other day I went shopping and I told my husband I’d be fairly quick. I only had seven items on my list. I was wrong. With the new regime, I had to read every single label, and reject product after product. It took me an hour and a half to buy those seven items.

I’ve discovered something, too. My daughter is upset that she can’t eat gummy candy or M&Ms or colored sprinkles anymore, but she can still eat a lot more foods than I can. Artificial colors are much easier to avoid than corn. They put that $#!^ in everything. And so many times this week, it’s been me fighting back the tears, because there was another stupid thing I couldn’t eat.

I used to think the worst thing that could happen to our family, food-wise, would be having to quit eating gluten. And we came chillingly close. My naturopath suggested that a gluten allergy could be responsible for both my bipolar disorder and my daughter’s epic tantrums. She said I might not need medication if I quit gluten. I love bread and pasta and I crave flour. I resisted. Then I mentioned it to my psychiatric NP and she freaked. “There is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that there’s ANY link between gluten intolerance and bipolar disorder!” Relieved, I told her I’d rather take pills and eat bread anyway.

The thing about gluten, though, is that so many people have problems with it that the food industry is falling over itself to make products that are gluten-free. And the allergy shorthand on food labels always indicates whether there’s wheat in a product. Or milk. Or soy. Or eggs. Not so with corn. I have to comb the ingredient labels because corn comes in so many forms and in so many components of packaged foods. There’s corn syrup, of course – I drink diet soda, so that’s not a problem for me, but corn syrup shuts me out of most commercial ice creams, ketchup and sliced bread. Corn starch, once my go-to thickener, appears all over the freakin’ place. Because of corn starch, I can’t use Bisquick anymore or buy mainstream bottled salad dressing. It took some doing, but I did find a mayonnaise that was corn-free. And then there are “corn solids” and “modified corn starch.” I don’t know what either of those do but apparently they are a crucial ingredient in so many packaged foods.

It’s not like I buy exclusively packaged foods, either. I love to cook. I make my own marinara and barbecue sauce and vinaigrettes. I make all of our dinners and cookies and now all ice cream from scratch. But I do buy packaged foods. I have no interest in making my own mayonnaise, for example. When I found out our blue cheese dressing was made with corn starch, I looked up recipes. It’s easy enough, but the scratch version only lasts three days. I don’t want to make dressing every three days. And we like to have happy hour at home on Fridays, where we make (okay, warm up) frozen appetizers and have drinks. I like the convenience of that. I am unlikely to make my own feta cheese and caramelized onion tarts in puff pastry.  I like that the fine folks at Trader Joe’s do it for me.

Trader Joe’s is actually a pretty good place to find corn-free products. Natural markets, however, are filled with corn-containing products. I went to the natural market to get artificial-dye-free foods for my daughter, and I could guarantee that none of the products I picked up would have artificial dyes, but corn was still all over the place. And it’s not GMO corn that I’m allergic to, as my chiropractor suggested. I know that because my son threw some natural Oreos into the cart, and, without reading the label first, I added them to the ice cream I was making. Then I read the label and it said “organic corn” something. I thought maybe it wouldn’t bother me. I was wrong. The day after I had it, I had a horrible headache. Now I know.

My husband joked with me that I’ll probably lose some weight, now that I can’t eat anything anymore. Losing weight would soften the blow a little, but I’d still rather be someone who doesn’t have to ask for ingredient lists at every restaurant, or read every label, or forego foods that I can’t guarantee are corn-free. I’d like to be someone who can just eat. For my daughter, everything that’s made with artificial colors is also made without. For me, no. They just do not make corn-free versions of most popular foods. I resist the urge to cry at the supermarket, and at the frozen yogurt place, and at Cold Stone Creamery. At the mall the other day, as my family enjoyed its froyo, I sat there, eating an Auntie Anne’s pretzel that the nice Auntie Anne’s girls looked up for me, and tried to accept that this is the way it has to be.