Corn-tamination Series: Avoiding Corn in Meat

There’s Corn In Meat?

Oh, of course there is. The degree  to which those with corn allergies have to worry about it will vary with the individual. Some are more reactive to corny washes than to corn feed, and some have to only worry about animals fed whole kernels of corn but not corn-derived vitamins or other corn products. It just depends on the person.

The two biggest ways corn gets into meat is the animal’s feed, and the disinfecting washes used on meat in processing. Not everyone is sensitive to both things or either of them. I started out having to worry about neither, and then progressed over a period of many years to having to worry about both, and to the point that not even the tiniest traces of corn based sanitizer used on the meat at any point were okay for me.

Finding Out Where the Corn Is Can Be Tricky

When I got more sensitive, I found that I even reacted to the pre-cut meat from local pastured meat ranches who swore to me that not only did their animals never eat any corn at all, but they didn’t rinse the meat off with any disinfectants.

I spent weeks on the phone trying to figure out what the problem was. The big clue came when I noticed that my reaction to a particular ranch’s beef was much more severe than to their pork. That ranch happened to have their own slaughter and butcher facilities (most ranchers send their animals to third parties for slaughter and butcher) so I called the facility manager. She kept insisting over and over that they didn’t spray the meat with anything, until finally, after the third conversation, she said, “Oh! you know, after we slaughter and skin, we do the acid wash. But that’s just white vinegar, that’s from rice right?” Wrong, vinegar is from corn and it’s bad news for me. Compared to lactic acid, which I still am sensitive to, it’s basically pure corn.

Turns out the reason the pork was better than the beef is that after the acid wash, a layer of outer fat is trimmed from the pork, while with the beef the butchering is done directly after. So more of the corny vinegar wash was trimmed away with the pork. It still really got in there, so I was unable to do it.

The Laundry List: How Corn Gets Into Meat

Here’s my understanding of how corn gets into meat in the USA:

  • Corn in the animal’s feed. Not everyone has to worry about this. I can’t eat corn fed meat but seem to be able to eat corn fed eggs and dairy. Many others cannot even do dairy or eggs from corn-fed animals. Note that some “grass-fed” beef is still “grain finished”: fed grain the few weeks before slaughter to fatten them up. So if you need to care about feed, also ask if it is grass finished. Some smaller farmers purchase their animals as weanlings from other farmers and raise them after that point. Also note that even though some feed labels do not contain actual corn kernels, they will still contain corn-derived vitamins such as tocopherol and ascorbic acid, and contain fermentation products that were fermented on corn sugar. Also some animals such as pigs will be supplemented with kitchen scraps that may be corny. Not everyone has to worry about this, but I seem to have to worry about all of the above, personally.
  • Corn in dietary supplements given outside of feed. Recently one of my corn-free friends ended up with 3/4 of a cow her allergic kids were reacting to, and the only variable that was different from their last (safe) beef was a “mineral lick” that contained a number of corn derivatives.
  • Corn fodder used in bedding that the animals may end up eating. 
  • Slaughter: Hot wax is often used to help in plucking poultry. The wax may not be corny but I’m not minded to risk it personally.
  • Slaughter: Antimicrobial solutions applied after skinning. With livestock (vs wild game), slaughtering and butchering are often done by two different people.  A guy will come out to the farm and slaughter and skin the animals, and for larger animals they will cut them into very large chunks. Then the chunks will be sent to the butcher to be further cut down and packaged.  The USDA requires some sort of antimicrobial solution be applied after skinning, and this solution is usually paracetic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), lactic acid, or citric acid. All of these are from corn, and I react to all of them.  Steam/hot water disinfecting is supposedly allowed but I rarely hear of it being done.  In some states, USDA rules *must* be obeyed even on custom processed animals. In other states, as long as you buy the whole animal you can dictate what is done to it, no problem.  When calling around, what you are looking for is “custom meat processors.”
  • Slaughter: USDA “roller brand” is applied to USDA certified meat classifying the grade. Not sure what this stamp is allowed to be made from but reports of people who had meat custom processed and reacted to it say that the stamp on their meat was made from grape juice, which of course has the potential to be corny.  Ask about the USDA stamp/”roller brand” and see if it can be skipped.
  • Slaughter: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands. Dawn, Dial, Bon Ami, and most other cleaners and soaps commonly used for washing hands and surfaces are corny.  The powder on powdered gloves is corny.   Some types of cutting tools are oiled with an oil that may not be safe for you.  If the processor uses gloves, identify a safe-for-you glove and provide those. Identify a safe-for-you detergent and cleaner and ask the processor to use those. If you can’t work that out, either consider finding another processor, or ask them to rinse their tools really, really, really well. Maybe see if they can use the tools on another animal first so that the corny detergent gets worked off of the tools. Of course if they are hosing their other animals off with a corny solution, that won’t help you as they’ll just be contaminating the tools more.
  • Butchering: Aging. Unlike lamb, beef has to be aged for 10-14 days after slaughter in order to be edible, otherwise the meat is very tough. Wet aging *should* involve just putting the beef into vacuum sealed packaging for sale and keeping it refrigerated for a period of weeks. If something is added in with the meat to “help” it age or inhibit “bad” bacteria, that would be a problem. Or if the beef were wet-aged in a different package from what it was sold in (unlikely), you’d have to ask About both packages. Dry aging involves hanging the carcass in a refrigerated locker at very specific temperature and humidity and.. letting it hang. This should be safe for corn, unless some kind of brine or antimicrobial spray is used during this process.Article on aging beef. Article on dry aging beef.
  • Note that the aging process makes breed high histamine so if you react to histamines in food, exercise caution with beef.

  • Butchering: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands.  Same story as above: Ask them to use safe for you soap, detergents, and gloves. Since the butcher will be doing a LOT more to the animal than the person who does the slaughter, it is particularly important that you work with someone who is truly custom and truly wants to do what YOU need. I found a place that is very small and actually only open “on demand,” that are very accommodating and are willing to do whatever I need.
  • Butchering: Meat grinders are washed and sanitized with corny solutions. Meat grinders being what they are, they are usually going to be washed and sanitized with something heavy duty and of course corny.  Additionally the act of grinding the meat exposes more surface to potential allergen contamination. You can ask the to just rinse the grinder really well with water after washing, but I ask them to skip all ground meat and instead do stew chunks. I can then grind those chunks into ground meat using my food processor, if I choose. How to grind meat in your food processor.
  • Butcher and slaughtering: Cross contamination if corny washes/cleaners/sprays are used. I prefer to only go with a facility that doesn’t ever use the corny washes if possible. If that weren’t possible, I’f try to get them to process my animal first, after washing all equipment in the safe soap/sanitizer I supply, so that any corny washes used for the other animals don’t get on my animal, but I’ve heard that cross contamination is frequent when the butcher typically used the corny washes and skips them on demand. I have heard stories from a number of people that their first meat order was a horrible failure because even though the processor didn’t use corny chemicals on their animal, there was corn just left over on their instruments and surfaces. In all cases, switching to a processor that didn’t use the corny washes *ever* was the solution.
  • Packaging: Butcher paper may have corn fiber in it. Waxed papers may use a corn-based wax.  Plastic liners may also contain corn polymers.  Stretch plastic wrap is  usually dusted with corn starch. All of the  other items may also be dusted with corn starch to keep them from sticking. You’ll need to get the item numbers and  manufacturers/suppliers name from your butcher and contact them about what’s in/on the packaging. My butchers have agreed to just put everything into Ziplock brand bags, which I know are safe for me.

The above refers to US practices as I live in the US, but many of the issues mentioned may be issues in other countries as well. The disinfecting wash mentioned seems to have been banned in the UK up until 2012, but is now approved by the Food Standards Agency. I think it is not yet common practice, and the European suppliers of lactic acid often use wheat rather than corn glucose to produce their lactic acid, however this may increasingly pose a problem for the more sensitive UK corn allergy sufferers.

So How To Get Corn-Free Meat?

Well, it depends on how corn-free you need it. Many people will not need to get their meat custom processed right away. I didn’t need to for many years.

If you (or your loved one for whom you cook) are reacting to your grocery store meat, there may be some steps you can take before you have to dive in to the expense and risk of getting meat custom processed.

First try to eliminate some variables. Grocery store meat is going to be rinsed in citric or lactic acid several times and possibly have dyes applied to keep it looking fresh, and then packaged with a citric acid soaker pad and then wrapped with plastic wrap that is dusted in corn starch. Try a butcher counter, and from a real, artisan butcher who can tell you what happened to the meat from the time it came to him. That won’t cut out the initial corny wash after slaughter, but maybe you can get away with that part of it if it isn’t then hosed down in more corny washes and then wrapped up in more corn.

If you find a good butcher and aren’t able to tolerate “light wash” meats, then figure out if corn fed is a problem for you, or corny washes, or both. One way to tell, if you don’t have an allergy to chicken, would be to get an Empire Kosher chicken. Many Trader Joe’s locations sell them as do many kosher stores. Affordable Kosher here in Seattle sells them, and you can order from Affordable Kosher via Amazon Fresh. The empire chickens are fed corn, but are not washed in citric acid or any other corn-based solution. I don’t know what the plastic packaging is made out of, so what I’d do to really isolate variables is get a whole chicken, then rinse and skin it before cooking. Make sure to cook in a fashion that won’t introduce corn. I had a lot of false reactions for a while because the oven in my rental house had some kind of corny buildup in it and was cooking corn into everything.

If the Empire Kosher chicken isn’t working for you, and you’re totally certain you don’t have an allergy to chicken, then it’s probably safe to bet that corn-fed meat is your problem. I react to Empire Kosher chicken.  There may be some other experimenting you can do around that, just depending on the resources available to you.

If you find yourself in a situation where none of the store-bought meats are working for you, you’ll need to locate some farmers that raise corn-free livestock and then negotiate custom slaughter and butchering. To locate the farmers, use Eat Wild and  Local Harvest. Locating safe butchers and slaughterers is another story. I actually just lucked into my butchers- the folks I bought poultry from used them for their lambs and I was able to negotiate something safe.

My Story and Experiences

As I mentioned earlier, after several years of avoiding corn, I eventually became unable to tolerate even the tiniest traces of corn derivatives used anywhere near my meat. When you get to that point, the only thing left to do is to choose the animal you want from a rancher that has never fed it anything that could be a problem, and control every step of processing from slaughter to butcher and packaging.

Unfortunately navigating the custom processing is not easy, and also carries a hefty financial risk. You generally need to order a large quantity of meat such as 1/4 cow (what that looks like) or 1/2 of a pig (what that looks like).  In addition to paying for the meat itself (from hundreds to even thousands of dollars), you will also be investing in a freezer in which to store it. That’s a pretty significant expense if you get it wrong and react.

I am very lucky to live in an area where there are a number of farms who raise non-corn-fed chickens and pigs. Outside of this area it seems that corn-free chicken and pig feed are unheard of. Here we have two feeds that don’t contain corn available. Both are described on this feed ingredients document from the Seattle Farm Co-op.

I have recently tried some chicken fed one of these “corn free” feeds, Scratch & Peck, and had a reaction. I am pretty sure it was the feed- there are a lot of corny vitamins and additives in it even though there aren’t any literal kernels of corn, so that could be the issue, or it could be a cross contamination thing. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a processing problem. The chicken I eat is fed a corn-free variety from InSeason Farms, but I don’t know which one. Have asked my farmers for details.

I also failed some pork that wasn’t fed actual corn kernels, but was given kitchen scraps as a dietary supplement that likely contained corn, and was fed expired dairy products. Not sure which products exactly, but many brands of sour cream contain corn starch and other dairy products have corny vitamins in them. I also cannot seem to tolerate meat from animals that were fed corn at the beginning of their lives but fed corn free later. Apparently any amount of corn in their diet is a no-go. So for me, my meat can’t even eat “corn lite,” it has to truly be corn free.

Not everyone will be this sensitive- just covering the bases of what is possible here.

Getting a large animal custom processed was beyond me last summer, but since many local farms slaughter and process the chickens themselves, I was able to get several safe chickens. Those ran out around January, though, and then I was down to just eggs for protein. (I haven’t found any beans that I don’t react to yet. Not sure if that is a bean problem or a corn problem.)

As of the last update of this post, I have successfully had chickens, lamb, and beef custom processed. The chickens were processed by the farmers who raised them, while the lamb and the cow were slaughtered by a contractor and then transported to a butcher for portioning out. The beef was dry aged for 14 days before butchering. The lamb was delicious, but also served as a lower-risk test to see if I’d covered all the bases with my instructions than an entire side of beef. The lamb cost me about $575 after the slaughter, transport, cut and wrap fees. I only got a quarter cow for my first beef order and all told it cost me about $560 for 175 lbs of beef. It worked out to about $11.50/lb for the lamb, where you’re usually paying $16-$20/lb in the store, and $3.20/lb for the beef which is a steal for grass fed and finished.

Question List

Here is the list of questions I advise people to ask of potential meat processors. First I have just the questions for copy/pasting. Below that, I’ve gone into each question and my commentary.

Ask First

  1. Who kills the animal and skins it? Then who cuts, and who packages?

Depending on the answer, you may need to ask up to 3 people these questions.

Kill/Slaughter

  1. What do you use to clean your knives, surfaces, and other equipment, including the interior of the truck for transport?
  2. Do you use any kind of antimicrobial wash after skinning?
  3. Do you use a roller brand after skinning?
  4. Are gloves used?

Butcher/cutting

  1. What detergent, soaps, and/or lubricants are used on surfaces, machinery, and cutting implements?
  2. Are gloves used?
  3. Do you dry age or wet age the meat?

If wet aged

  1. Just to double-check, you wet age by putting in the final packaging that you sell the meat in, right?

 

If dry aged

  1. What do you clean your aging locker with?
  2. Do you every apply any antimicrobial solution, brine, or anything else to the meat before or during aging?

Packaging

  1. Are gloves used?
  2. What brand packaging do you use?
  3. Would you be willing to use packaging I provide?
  4. Does the meat come in contact with any other packaging like wax paper?

What should these answers be?

In many cases it will depend on you/your sensitivity. Here are the answers I’m looking for:
Continue reading

Corn Free Medication: Getting Prescriptions Compounded

Compounding pharmacies are pharmacies that get the pure active ingredients for a medication and put them together into custom formulations for you. Since corn products are in so many medications, a compounding pharmacy is often the only way to get a corn-free version of a medication. Rather than repeat good information that’s already been given, I’m going to direct you to an excellent blog post on getting medications compounded corn free and then add my own notes to it:

Getting Medications Compounded on News for Corn Avoiders

My Additional Notes

  • Your doctor may not know how to write a compounding prescription. Here is a link on how to do so to print out. Basically, they need to write “Compounded medication. Free from corn, [other allergens].” Then the *generic* name of the medication, and the amount and prescribing instructions. As long as they write compounded, though, your pharmacy should be able to call them and get any details worked out.
  • Some insurances cover compounding prescriptions with no problems, some won’t cover them at all, and some only cover if the drug is in their formulary, meaning it would normally be a precription. So compounded meds like acetaminophen or Benadryl are often not covered because they are usually over the counter. You’ll just have to talk with your insurance. In general compounding pharmacies do not bill insurance for you, so you do have to pay up front and then submit later.
  • Call several pharmacies until you find one that is willing to work with you. Explain that you need everything done just right because you react to a number of preservatives, excipients, and sweeteners. If they are disbelieving, move on. Ask about whether you can bring in your own filler to use that you know you tolerate, since you may react to all the fillers they use normally. If they are hesitant, move on.
  • Some compounding pharmacies charge more than others. If you have a few that seem like they can work with you, ask them the price for a 90 day supply of the first drug that you want (probably Benadryl, since there is no corn free version available off the shelf) and use that as a comparison point.
  • When you fill your first prescription, less is more. Go small because if you react, the pharmacy will probably not give you your money back. Maybe they will, but I wouldn’t count on it. With compounding unfortunately you can’t really fill just 1 or 2 pills for just a few dollars, as they have to calibrate the machines and all that jazz for 1 pill or for 100. So usually there is a minimum charge for that, and then a discount for quantity. So for example, a 90 day supply may end up being not much more expensive than a 30 day supply, but a 10 day supply could cost the same as a 30 day. Usually the price breaking point where you are paying a decent amount per pill is about 30 days. Or that’s been my experience.
  • If you are getting a capsule with a filler included in addition to the medication, be sure the filler is safe for you. Lots of times pharmacists try to insist that microcrystalline celllulose and lactose monhydrate are corn free. Many corn allergics react to them all the same. (Note: They may also be safe for you, it’s just not impossible to react to them. You will need to make sure.) The gelatin or veggie capsules may be corny, even if the manufacturer states that they are not. If it is possible, see if you can get a sample of the filler and capsules they want to use, without the actual meds, to trial to make sure you tolerate them. If you can’t tolerate any fillers they stock, they should let you bring in your own. Or really just start out with bringing in your own to reduce variables.
  • Many medications can be compounded without a filler. Do that when possible. Benadryl usually requires a filler because the amount of active ingredient needed is too small for the machine to measure. Some pharmacists will hand-stuff the pills without the filler but very very few.
  • If you are someone who is really having a lot of trouble finding a filler you tolerate, due to multiple sensitivities or an extremely sensitive corn allergy, you may need to go to some effort to find a pharmacy who is willing to make some pills for you without filler. Normally for very small doses like 100mg or less (so that would be most antihistamines) people say that a pill “can’t” be made without a filler. What they mean is that it can’t be made EFFICIENTLY. When using a capsule machine, one mixes up enough med+ filler to just exactly fill each capsule with the right dose and then does all the pills at once. If one were to sit there and hand stuff each individual pill, they could do it without the filler. Now finding someone who is willing to do this may be hard, but is technically possible. People have accomplished it. So if you need to, and a

    Here is a youtube video showing how pills are made by one compounder.

  • In addition to the capsules, medication, and filler, watch out for them stuffing cotton into the bottle to keep the pills from rattling around. I swear the cotton my last pharmacy used was corny somehow. Also watch out for whether they ship their meds with packign peanuts in the box. Those are made from corn starch.
  • There are some pharmacies that say they do compounding but do not actually order the pure medications. They get their medications from a distributor that actually already has excipients, fillers, and inactive ingredients in it. McKesson one such company- they distribute powder-form drugs with fillers already in it at specific concentrations, and the fillers are often corny. When you contact a compounding pharmacy make sure that they are getting the PURE medications.
  • Note that some pure medications are corny. Acetaminophen is made with acetic acid, which can be from corn. Antibiotics are cultured on corn sugar. Any mineral that ends with “citrate” or “lactate” will be that mineral + citric acid or lactic acid from corn. If you need the drug you need the drug, but be aware that the pure meds themselves can cause a reaction.

Up to $100 off on EpiPens 2-Packs!

Mylan is offering a “copay card” that can get you $100 off of the copay your EpiPen 2-Pack or EpiPen Jr. 2-Pack prescription. The cash price for each 2-pack is generally in the range of $200-$250, so this is a *significant* savings. The  offer is valid for up to three 2-packs per prescription.

To apply for the card, go to the Copay Card Activation Site,  fill out the form as instructed, and download and print your card. You can then begin using it right away. The card should have instructions for your pharmacist, and a number to call with questions.

Terms and Conditions of the program. 

The press release from Mylan on the program.

The offer expires December 31, 2013!

Making Corn Free Hot Sauce

This will probably never be a recipe blog. I just don’t have enough safe foods to really have what you’d call “recipes.” Most of my meals consist of 3 safe foods prepared very simply, without cooking oils and with minimal spices. My taste buds are kind of broken after a long winter of very few foods I could tolerate, so these days the simplest things just taste wonderful to me. I’m okay with a number of things people find appalling to even consider: salad without dressing (if the ingredients are fresh and quality), cooked lettuce (tastes just like spinach!), food braised in water instead of sauteed in oil, and raw honey eaten by the spoonful as a snack.

But I do like some spice in my life, so of course my first post about food I *do* eat instead of food I *don’t* eat is about hot sauce.  I loooove hot sauce and put it on pretty much everything. The only time I refrain is when a food is still a “trial” item, as one of my first reactions is mouth and tongue burning and hot sauce confuses the issue. The sensation of spice is markedly different from the sensation of tongue swelling/burning, but I prefer to not confuse the issue.

Make sure to use safe-for-you ingredients. Peppers should be unwaxed and unsprayed. Vinegars, citrus juices, and additional vegetables and spices should be tested individually for safety before putting them in the recipe.

This is the first hot sauce I made, and followed the recipe exactly:  How to Make Hot Sauce on Omnomnomicon

It turned out wonderfully, but of course I am allergic to garlic now. Or, I reacted to several garlics, might still be corn. Haven’t checked.

Anyway since then I haven’t even been using a recipe- I chop the heads off of peppers and puree them with a vinegar (I use bragg’s apple cider vinegar and/or my own homemade kombucha vinegar, then heat on the stove for a time, probably 20-30 minutes, maybe longer if I’m getting in to a movie or something. (If you have an open kitchen, do this when it’s okay for the whole house to smell like hot vinegar.)

I taste-check every 10 minutes or so. Do this by dipping one tine of a fork in the sauce and barely licking it. Do NOT take a whole spoonful right away and do NOT stick your face over the pot to smell it. You’ll probably do this at least once without thinking, and regret it. Hot pepper and vinegar fumes are pretty caustic.

It’ll boil down over time, and I just taste and add more vinegar if needed and sort of spice up with whatever tastes good, then boil down more as needed until it tastes right to me. You’re basically trying to really infuse the vinegar with the peppers, then add other flavors and then cook just enough to infuse them without destroying them.

I think last time I added molasses, honey, salt, and a tiny bit of lemon juice at the end. I feel like maybe there was another spice there and that I told someone about it last week and they thought it was ingenious for me to put in hot sauce, but I can no longer remember.

But in general the recipe is very forgiving and you can get away with a LOT of experimentation. If you have a safe oven *, roasting the peppers first is really awesome for making a smokey taste.

Here is a recipe for hot sauce that involves lime juice instead of vinegar. Basically you just need some kind of acid.

*The oven in my rental house was baking corn into everything I made. I tried and tried to clean the death out of it, but eventually I just gave up and bought a really nice toaster oven

Avoiding Another Lean Winter: Planning out Your Schedule for Preserves

Eating corn free generally requires eating seasonally and at least semi-locally. Things that have been transported a long distance, or grown by a large corporate-style farm, generally have corny things done to them. But of course most foods aren’t available locally for the entire year, so you’ve really got to plan ahead to preserve, or you’ll end up with very little to eat.

Folks who are able to eat grocery store produce are in a somewhat better position, but even if you can eat grocery store food right now, I encourage you to at least store a little bit away in case of emergency. Allergic sensitivity can change rapidly.

Last winter I moved into a larger rental house with a big kitchen and lots of storage space in order to accommodate my increased sensitivity to corn, and during the winter a leak in the basement caused mold to run rampant in it. I am allergic to mold, and the exposure brought my histamine levels up so high (we call this a “full bucket” in the allergy world) that I became hypersensitive to the tiniest traces of corn in foods, meaning that I could no longer tolerate a number of foods that I had previously been okay with. Additionally, I developed (or discovered) new allergies to basically most of the winter vegetables. So the foods that I had available to me locally and totally corn-free were all poison for me anyway.

For about 8 weeks I ate literally two foods, without spices or cooking oils. There was actually few days where I started reacting to my two safe foods, too, and just ate small amounts at a time and waited for the throat constricting to pass before eating some more.

After I figured out about the mold and shut it away from the rest of the house, I was able to add a couple more foods back: Organic lettuce from the grocery store, local unwaxed apples, even some big-box organic berries. Not all brands of course, just a specific one.

But now that summer is here, there are all *kinds* of foods I can eat, and I intend to make sure that I have *plenty* put away to get me through the barren months of winter. And being the Type A personality that I am, I made a spreadsheet with fancy formulas to help me calculate how much I need to preserve each week.

I’ve made this sheet available as a google doc, so you can take advantage of my formulas. Hope it’s useful!

Food Preservation Planning Worksheet

This year I think I am mostly freezing stuff. I can and have done water-bath canning, but I honestly just don’t *like* doing it much. I also have a pressure canner for low-acid things like meat, but haven’t figured out how to use it yet. I have two 5-cubic-foot freezers, but I’m doing a *huge* meat order this summer now that I have some safe sources worked out, so those may fill up fast. Maybe I’ll have to can more.

My tolerated foods can be something of a moving target: I have discovered  a few new food allergies over time, and  also I will sometimes notice build-up reactions to foods that are ever-so-slightly corny and have to cut them. So rather than cooking entire recipes to preserve, I tend to try to store single ingredients without spices as much as possible. This helps cut down on the possibility of having to feed 20 pints of chicken stock to my non-allergic boyfriend just because I’m no longer tolerating a spice in it. Instead I cook the chicken down without even salt and add spices later.

Don’t know what’s in season in your area when? Here’s one way to find out. There may be better charts out there for your area, but that has all the states in the US pretty well covered.

New to the idea of eating locally/seasonally? Here’s a great intro article to get you acclimatized, with links to more resources.

On having an “invisible” illness.

Not all allergic reactions are visible. In fact the worst and most dangerous of my allergic reactions are *not* visible, because they involve the inside of my throat and mouth, my lungs, and my brain. You can’t see any of those things, but I will stop breathing all the same.

Many folks I know who have life-threatening allergic reactions experience only neurological or gastrointestinal symptoms which are in fact incredibly dangerous if allowed to continue, but not in any way visible. Getting people to understand what they go through and believe that the precautions they take are necessary and not just paranoid or attention-seeking is incredibly difficult in that kind of situation. Even well-meaning and otherwise reasonable loved ones will often conclude hypochondria, except that it *isn’t* hypochondria if you are actually sick!

Once upon a time, three years ago now, I had a severe and visible allergic reaction to the tiniest trace of corn derivative. It actually didn’t turn out to be that dangerous (never progressed into any internal issues), but it *could* have. At the time I took pictures because I thought it was weird and actually kind of hilarious in a sick way, but it turned out to be a very good way to get people to understand that yes, this allergy is real, and yes, it is possible to be *that* sensitive.

angioedema

If you or a loved one are an allergy sufferer, and have a visible reaction, I highly encourage you to document. Obviously do what you need to do to assure your safety first, but get pictures if you possibly can. It may come in handy later.

Corn Free Travel: To Baltimore and Back Again

Subtitle: Traveling When You are Allergic to the World

When you say something like, “I really hope I survive this trip I’m taking,” people assume it is hyperbole. I mean sure, we could all be hit by a car or struck by falling airplane shrapnel at any second, but in general, for *most* people, the actual possibility of death due to circumstances completely beyond our control is not a reality.

But when you have an anaphylactic and highly sensitive allergy to something that is found in body and personal care products, laundry products, water treatment chemicals, sanitizers, cleaners, fuels, and antimicrobial agents, it’s actually *not* hyperbole. I haven’t yet had an anaphylactic reaction to airborne–versus ingested–corn, but I’ve definitely had severe enough reactions (tongue and lip swelling) to demonstrate that it’s a possibility. So yes, I could literally die due to what someone else is releasing into the air via machinery or aerosol. That could realistically happen.

It’s pretty heavy when you really think about it, and I have no advice for coping with the weight of that. I just mostly do what I have to do and try not to think about it. I have my precautions in place as far as taking preventative medications and carrying emergency medications and gear on my person at all times and hope for the best. Once the precautions are in place, I mostly cope by just pretending it’s not happening.

I do well enough most days. There are a lot of things I’m not able to do anymore that I used to be able to, such as eating in restaurants or drinking in bars, and while I’m not happy about that, there really isn’t much to be done so I don’t see much of a point in complaining about it. I just do what I have to do.

As much as this allergy has shaped my life, I still don’t have to be entirely defined by it. I still have my hobbies and my career, at least mostly. Researching my health issues to figure out the next step to take takes up more of my time than I’d like, and I honestly can’t focus on work 24/7 the way I used to, and I can’t go out to lunch or happy hour with my coworkers or potential employers, so networking gets a little awkward. But I’m doing okay so far, for the most part.

One of my hobbies in the past has involved world travel for specific events related to my music fandom. In particular, I have gone to the same music festival in downtown Baltimore, Maryland every Memorial Day weekend since 2010. I started making plans for the 2013 festival almost as soon as I returned from the last one in 2012 . This year the possibility of being able to make the trip safely was looking pretty slim, though. I started getting more sensitive to traces of corn in food right after I returned from the festival last summer, and by midwinter I was reacting to more foods than I didn’t, and even reacting to *water*. I was unsure as to how I could possibly navigate a cross-country trip safely.

But you know, I’m pretty stubborn and pretty resourceful, and this was really important to me. So I made it happen. Here’s a breakdown of the challenges involved for me.

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