High-Fructose Corn Syrup: the Sequel

Here they go again: the Corn Refiners Association has aired at least two more TV commercials touting the ‘merits’ of high-fructose corn syrup; actually, they’re repeating the same message as before. For those who haven’t had a chance to view the commercials, her are a few brief synopses of the ads:

  1. At a children’s birthday party, one homemaker doubts that a second homemaker cares about her children as the second homemaker pours a cup of bright red fruit drink. Upon the first homemaker mentioning that the red beverage is sweetened with HFCS, she draws a blank when asked about its demerits; the second homemaker rattles off that it’s made from corn and okay in moderation.
  2. Two teen boys/young men are at a breakfast table; one mentions to the other that the breakfast cereal on the table has HFCS, but (surprise! surprise! surprise!) draws a blank when asked about its demerits; the other young man echoes the sentiment of the second homemaker in the birthday party spot, that the (clearly artificial) sweetener is acceptable in moderation.

Are you kidding me? I’d expect young men not to be fully educated on basic nutrition (I have three stepsons, one of whom passed away in February; young men tend to eat anything that will fuel them, whereas young women are encouraged to eat more conservatively and more healthfully); the homemakers’ ad, I found disturbing, especially since the second homemaker seemed to scorn the first one for being concerned about what the children at the party consume. The first homemaker in that ad could easily have had diabetic or borderline diabetic children whose diets require that they avoid HFCS; how presumptuous of the second homemaker to assume that none of the children would be affected by the artificially-sweetened drink.

Time magazine questioned the validity of the ads, as do other sources; for more information, please visit http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1841910,00.html The article also mentions that the ad campaign is due to go on for 18 months. As if 28 years of HFCS being ubiquitous in common food and beverages were not scary enough, now they intend to actively promote it for another year and a half, given the known and scientifically-proven dangers of it? Other links to the doubts and dangers of HFCS are:

http://www.gourmet.com/foodpolitics/2008/08/politicsoftheplate_08_01_08

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Fructose-again-linked-to-fat-build-up-study

http://whattoeatbook.com/tag/hfcs/

http://www.sweetsurprise.com (yes, I am being the devil’s advocate here and including the site that is linked to all those TV ads so that you can see their position on HFCS)

It should be noted that the Food Navigator site only talks about the link between fructose and fat build-up; if natural fructose in excess can do that, what of HFCS, which is always in excess? As for the ads, what’s so wrong with putting raw sugar or honey (two natural, minimally-processed sweeteners) on (preferably whole-grain) breakfast cereal or making lemonade or fruit punch from real fruit and real sugar or honey? And why does the Corn Refiners’ Association think people are so misinformed as to believe the obvious skewed ads, when a more intelligent conversation would present both sides clearly (let the ‘opponent’ talk of the doubts and dangers of HFCS instead of looking clueless in front of the proponent)?

V.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup: the Movie

I just saw a highly disturbing commercial on TV yesterday: a woman has unwrapped a popsicle and her male companion is trying to tell her that the frozen confection has high-fructose corn syrup in it, but he draws a blank when he tries to tell her the dangers of the (primarily artificial) sweetener. She tells him something to the nature of HFCS being just as safe as regular sugar and that occasional use is perfectly acceptable. He then asks her why she only brought one of the frozen treats. The URL for the site promoting HFCS is: http://www.hfcsfacts.com.

I went to the site and saw picture after picture of corn, as if HFCS were gathered by merely squeezing the juice from corn kernels and using the liquid as a sweetener. Obviously, the process of creating HFCS is a hell of a lot more complex than that. I then navigated to a page on the same site titled, “Top Published Myths About High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)”: listed are facts about HFCS versus their spin on HFCS that they deem fact. Feel free to read this at your leisure; this entry I found really disturbing:

“Myth”: HFCS is not natural. (quotes mine to emphasize their position versus simple logic)
“Reality”: HFCS, like table sugar and honey, is natural. HFCS is made from corn—a natural grain product. HFCS contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration’s policy for use of the term “natural.”
(quotes mine to emphasize their position versus simple logic)

Bullshit. Nothing about high-fructose corn syrup is natural except its source! If the Food and Drug Administration has such lax rules as to what constitutes a natural foodstuff, it’s no wonder that children in particular are developing adult degenerative diseases and disorders such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, asthma, bronchitis, and other disorders that their grandparents knew nothing of when they were the same ages. Yes, there are other factors that are readily controllable, such as the amount of activity children get and their individual metabolisms; still, food is the one substance from which we can never totally abstain for extended periods of time without detriment or death!

Oh, yeah, back to Ms. Popsicle: she mentioned that occasional use of HFCS is perfectly acceptable and poses no threat. This argument is highly flawed from the get-go because it’s in nearly every prepared food with any degree of moisture in it: how the hell can you have occasional use of HFCS when it’s in sodas, juice beverages, ice cream, cookies, fruit-, vanilla-, and chocolate-flavored yogurt; bread, crackers, pasta sauce, ‘granola’ bars, barbecue sauces, salad dressings, pancake syrup, breakfast cereal, coffee flavorings, cocktail flavorings, iced tea drinks, ketchup, peanut butter, applesauce, sports drinks, flavored water, baked beans, canned pasta dinners, pet food, – and, oh yeah, popsicles? Many homemakers turn to processed foods as a quick way to feed their families, not realizing that they’re disrupting the systems of their spouses, companions, children, and even pets.

Sugar is what fuels our bodies; about this there is no argument. Honey is processed by bees and has been processed by bees for approximately 100 million years, give or take a millennium. Ancient people and animals have eaten honey as a natural source of sweet energy for thousands of years; even King David, when he was just a member of King Saul’s court, ate honey when his troops were forbidden to do so by Saul. His behavior was much more cheerful after he ate the golden bee-processed food. The ancient Indians (from India, not the First Nations of the Americas) derived raw, brown sugar from sugar cane. Millions of years of updates and 2.0s and beta testing by the Creator of the universe and everything within it, and scientific evidence that bears this out, have concluded that sugar in natural forms, such as sugar cane, honey, and fruit, are healthful for the body provided they are not eaten in excess. It is nearly impossible to eat natural sugar in excess because the body will not let you overdose on natural sugar; your body can only process so much before it says to the brain, stop, I’ve had enough for now. Only when the body is malfunctioning will your body overdose on sugar.

Yeah, I said it: overdose on sugar. Sugar doesn’t have the allure of the illegal street pharmaceutical, but it messes up the body the same way when the sweetener is unnatural, such as the highly-processed, chemically-derived high-fructose corn syrup. Feel free to go to the following URLs for more information on how HFCS disrupts everything about the human body:

http://www.menstuff.org/issues/byissue/highfructose.html#facts – a highly fertile source of links to many of the URLs mentioned here.

http://www.westonaprice.org/motherlinda/cornsyrup.html – tells you briefly how HFCS is made (small hint: it isn’t bees disco-dancing at an apiary [bee farm])

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee – While not related to HFCS except as a sweetener, it nonetheless is a contrast, showing how a natural sweetener is produced.

http://www.westonaprice.org/modernfood/highfructose.html – Shows proof that HFCS wreaks havoc on the body and tells how.

Check the menstuff.org one first, as it has many links. Meanwhile, let’s leave Ms. Popsicle alone with her unaware companion. Better yet, Ms. Popsicle should 86 the frozen ‘treat’ and she and her companion can go to a farmers’ market, natural foods store, or berry farm, buy a few quarts of fruit, and make their own frozen fruit bars.

V.

A Loaf for the Vegans

PeaNot “Meat” Loaf

Ingredients:

1/2 cup peanuts
2 TB olive oil
One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One cup mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth, as needed
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
2 TB ketchup
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8×8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8×8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the peanuts into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you’ve chosen in the olive oil until soft. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and vegetarian gravy, if desired.

Cold leftover slices of PeaNot “Meat” Loaf make a great sandwich filling.

I generated this recipe courtesy of http://www.veganlunchbox.com/loaf_studio.html. I apologize for neglecting the vegetarians and vegans out there in not having a dinner loaf recipe as a meatloaf alternative. Feel free to use ingredients your family likes or can eat.

V.

Summer Gladness

Now that the first half of summer is over and done with, I now get to enjoy the second half of summer. I am now out of a cast and into a soft brace, I went to my county fair (and enjoyed the best butter-bathed, fire-roasted corn and some red birch beer), I just turned 37, and I’m enjoying a glass of beer to cool off in the summer’s heat. My two peach trees have given up scores of peaches to be enjoyed fresh and in a peach cobbler (which my two living stepsons and their best friend devoured – what is it about young men’s appetites that compels them to eat massive amounts of food? A young woman of similar age is encouraged to eat as daintily as possible; no such luck for the young man), I’ve picked a load of string beans, and the corn is just starting to become taller than me (I’m 5’7″, or 1.7 meters).

No, I didn’t get to spend the summer riding my bike or roller skating or even working a summer job so i could at least try to go back to college for the fall, but at least if I can start a temp job soon I’ll most likely be able to go to school come spring semester. I am happy, though, that my youngest stepson is going to college this fall as a criminal justice major. Yes, I spent the first half of summer indoors, going out only for doctor’s appointments; now I get to see how my chickens have grown (two of the seven, unfortunately, have passed away) and I get to gather their eggs. I also get to see how my garden has grown, both my external garden and the garden that is creative writing, as I also spent much of my indoor time writing a novel. Bear in mind it’s nowhere near finished, but at least I’m learning much about novel writing that a class may or may not teach me.

Summer doesn’t have to be shot to pieces just because you didn’t get the summer you always wanted. Not every summer is the one you want, but every summer is the one you need. I needed to learn to depend on others, to see what people with obvious physical disabilities live with daily, and to laugh at myself, plus I managed to make over 400 additional friends on MySpace. Now, go outside and play.

V.

Dependent Independence

Back in June I was riding my bike when my bike decided it didn’t want me to ride it any more: while I was turning a corner, it threw me off, causing me to bounce on concrete (which humans were probably never meant to do) and into someone else’s yard. Two nice men took my bike home and called 911; moments later, the ambulance came to take me to the hospital. From then until recently, it has been a journey of forced dependence for me.

From the time I went into triage until I left the hospital, the doctors and nurses were so kind and helpful to me. When I found out I had indeed broken my leg, many questions went through my mind: how do I deal with a broken leg for the next six to eight weeks? Will I be healed in time for me to go to the county fair (I so love to see the chickens and the cows at the fair)? How much will I be able to do by myself? Will I be able to eat my pseudohusband’s cooking?

Two fiberglass casts and an air cast later, I fixed myself a bowl of ramen noodles, the first ‘cooking’ I’ve done in nearly two months. Oh, how good it tasted! I shared some with my youngest stepson, who will be in college in the fall. If you have never broken a bone in your life, consider yourself blessed. If you have ever broken a bone in your life, consider yourself blessed, too; the blessings are different, but they still count.

Being used to doing for myself, I figured that I would get a temporary job for the summer so that I, too, could go back to college for the fall; breaking my leg prevented that, since my leg obviously needed to heal. I had to learn to trust my pseudohusband enough to let him wait on me hand and foot. Such subservience, however, got annoying when he fixed my food portions for me without regard for my appetite or my desire to lose weight so I could be kinder to a knee I sprained a few years earlier, or when he fixed me a batch of brownies and substituted baking mix for flour and molasses for vanilla (the brownies were a mile high, dreadful, and dry; I like my brownies moist and a touch creamy)! Occasionally, my stepson would help with the house chores or the cooking (such a sweet young man; I expect him to do what he can, unlike his mother, who expects him to do everything for her). Still, they mean well; I just found relying on someone else difficult.

As the weeks dragged on, I learned to ask for what I needed; I grew up in a home where I was not expected to ask for help and if I did ask for help I was chastised. I learned that we all need someone to lean on, a lesson many modern women in general and black American women in particular either were never taught or forgot. I also learned just how inconvenient society is for people with disabilities, even with the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the adjustments to buildings that have resulted from this act. For example, I was at a chain department store shopping when the motorized scooter I was in conked out in the middle of the store; fortunately, a store employee pushed me and the scooter to the front to guest services. This store only had three scooters available, and the other two were being used. I had to use a manual wheelchair to get around the store, much less convenient since I had to carry a shopping basket in my lap and push the chair simultaneously, limiting what I could buy.

Yes, any reasonable person knows that people with disabilities deserve equal access and convenience that able-bodied people enjoy; when faced with a temporarily disability, the tune is very different as you wind up singing the song of the woman in the scooter who can’t reach her favorite magazine because the top shelf is too high to reach at the bookstore or of the man who has to either ask someone to tend his garden or learn to live with weeds because he can’t tend his own garden. There are many young men and women coming home from various military conflicts with both temporary and permanent disabilities; while you lobby your representative or senator for revisions to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, making all buildings fully accessible and convenient for the disabled and improving customer service for the disabled, help your young soldier/sailor/airman(woman)/Marine who has come home in more than one piece by getting that copy of his/her favorite magazine, or fix a meatloaf dinner with garden fresh vegetables for your granddad or grandma who is not as speedy as he or she used to be. Best of all, let your disabled loved one do at least something for himself or herself, to the best of that person’s ability.

I still have a few weeks left to heal my leg, but I am now allowed to bear half my weight on my air-casted leg. I still have a long road ahead, but I took that detour and it has made all the difference.

V.

Rebirth

Happy spring, all. Last week was Earth Week. Okay, technically April 22 was the official Earth Day, but in my city the celebration started that Sunday at my local zoo and continued throughout the week. My local PBS station aired a documentary on the rebirth of the Cuyahoga River.

Yes, I live in Cleveland, where apparently back in the ’60s the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it actually caught fire. Seems to go against the laws of both physics and God for water to catch fire, but back then I guess people assumed that anything dumped in Nature would go away. The problem with such thought, however, is that ‘away’ eventually becomes ‘here’: did they seriously assume that ‘away’ was a magical place where garbage and pollutants disappear?

I was born in 1971, so messages about ecology and the environmental movement are pretty much second nature to me. Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear, and the crying First Nations man were all reminders that we mustn’t pollute. I learned about nuclear power plants in the ’70s, recycling and recycled products in the ’80s and organic gardening and animal welfare in the ’90s along with the rest of my generation; still, I am saddened by people, particularly young people, who blindly believe that they can trash the Earth and whatever is in it without consequence.

Consider the increases in cancers and developmental disorders in children — I never heard of autism until a teacher discussed it briefly in junior high; now 1 out of every 150 children is diagnosed with disorders within the autism spectrum. Whether it’s because these disorders are more readily being tested for now or whether a child’s diet and environment is a contributing factor in the increase in diagnoses of childhood diseases as well as formerly adult diseases manifesting themselves in children is currently unclear. Still, it’s always a good idea to make sure that your child’s or grandchild’s personal environment is as toxin-free as possible.

I may not be able to put solar panels on my roof or install a greywater irrigation unit under my bathtub or kitchen sink, but I can grow my own vegetables using organic soil amendments (such as what my ducks and chickens leave behind after they eat, if you catch my drift) so my late stepson’s daughters can have healthy food to eat to augment the diet their mother feeds them. I may not be able to run all my errands by bicycle, but my pseudohusband has a fuel-efficient vehicle and we tend to combine errands so ‘Mr. Car’ won’t be overused for city traffic. I may not be able to buy a completely organic free-range diet, but with my vegetable garden, my chickens for eggs (and possibly meat, if push came to shove), and fruit trees and berry bushes, I can eat pretty nicely (if only for a few months in any given year). It’s almost never the big things that you try and maybe don’t complete that affect your eco-footprint on this planet, but all the seemingly little things you complete daily that impact the Earth and all within it.

If all you do is call your senators or congresspeople to urge them to pass bills that help the Earth or veto bills that harm the Earth, it is still more than what you would have done if you had done nothing. If all you can do is plant a window box full of lettuce seeds and a hanging basket with strawberry plants, you at least will have Strawberry-Lettuce salad and you know what went in it because you grew it yourself. If all you do is teach a child that throwing trash in lakes and rivers will harm the water or even kill animals that live there, you have at least planted a seed for the future. Do something to make the Earth a better place to live and you make your life here better.

Be reborn this spring; lobby for Earth Month.

V.

He Now Has His Wings

I just came back from my oldest stepson’s funeral: he passed away nearly three weeks ago at age 26.  One of the things that fascinated him was space (yes, the final frontier); another thing that he had hoped to do was to travel around the world.  He now has his wings and can now realize both passions.

I knew him as a quiet young man who only let people in when he felt he could trust them.  I also knew him as a man who was a bit of a practical joker and as a man would move Heaven and Earth to take care of his two young daughters.  I learned at the funeral service that he did volunteer work in Mexico, building homes for people who needed them.  I also learned that he was a role model for young people who used to do drugs in that he inspired them to get off drugs.  He was well-loved by his three brothers, his mother, his stepfather, his father, and me.

I sometimes wonder, If I had fixed one more meatloaf dinner or done his laundry one more time or let him know that his daughters occasionally were ill-behaved or urged him to go to rehab, would he still be here today?  I now know that he was a young man in chronic pain who used painkillers just to function daily.  One night he took too much, fell asleep, and never woke up; his younger brother and his children’s mother found him the next day.

I now grieve, not for the quiet young man in pain I knew, but for the vibrant young man I wish I knew.  More than that, I grieve because I wish I could have told him that he was a good young man and that though he and his father sometimes didn’t see eye-to-eye his father undeniably loved him.  Now I have to tell my two remaining stepsons that they are just as much a blessing to me as they are to their mother — I missed that chance with their big brother.  Don’t pass up opportunities to tell your loved ones how you really feel about them.  Tell them now before they get their wings.

V.

dedicated to

June 4, 1981   Jeremy Edward Bourke   February 12, 2008