Over a year ago, someone commented on my post detailing the challenges of finding corn-free meat by asking why one would not become a vegetarian instead of going to all that trouble.
My diet, and the diet of many people with corn allergy, is so limited that that would be a guarantee of malnutrition. I already fight malnutrition constantly. Adding an extra limitation beyond what I am already dealing with sounds downright dangerous.
This comment was written on a blog that is literally about how challenging a corn free diet is, on an article that goes into depth on just one single aspect of how challenging it is. Either I’m not conveying the magnitude of the problem well, or the person writing didn’t bother to try to understand the problem before offering a solution.
So here’s one more attempt to explain it.
Why is a corn-free diet so limited?
I do have a lot of challenges besides corn. But let’s pretend for a minute that my only issue was a severe, anaphylactic, airborne, and highly sensitive corn allergy. With only that:
- I would be unable to eat almost any food from the grocery store, even whole organic produce, because of the possibility of corny packaging, organic sprays containing corn derivatives, waxes, and cross contamination. People with a more moderate sensitivity to corn will still have many challenges finding foods in the grocery store that they can eat safely. In fact, those that can eat some foods but not others from the regular store have more to keep track of than those for whom this just is not an option.
- This includes being unable to use pre-ground flours or any grains, beans, nuts or seeds that have been shelled, husked, or cleaned using machinery. Because of growing practices, threshing equipment, and packaging, dry beans are incredibly hard for those with corn allergies, even moderate ones, to find. I don’t think anyone has found a brand that works for many super-sensitive people since the Straw Hat beans changed the threshing equipment they were using. Some of us are using local farms who either sell us the dried beans in pod, or get fresh beans and dry ourselves.
- I would be unable to tolerate almost most–or possibly any–vegetable oils. Most super sensitive people can tolerate Jovial olive oil, but some people even react to that and have no safe vegetable-based oil. Those people use the fat rendered from their safe meat, and this is one of the reasons why meat is such an important staple to us. Otherwise all our food is broiled, baked, and braised dry. Those that tolerate several vegetable oils still have dozens they can’t use due to contamination.
- Because of this, I would need to carefully cultivate a network of farms, local and mail-order, who grew completely no-spray produce. If the farm is mail-order I need to negotiate safe handling and packaging in transit. Even the less sensitive need to exercise care in where their produce comes from and what is done to it. For example, citric acid washes and gas ripening cause problems for many.
- Since very few (or zero, if you’re in a cold climate) crops grow year-round, I would need to preserve what food I can eat while it is available so that I can eat it the rest of the year. This is something many people with a corn allergy need to do to some degree, not just the super-sensitive.
- I would be limited in what methods I can use to preserve because Ball and Kerr canning lids are not safe. Most of my food would need to be frozen, necessitating that I keep multiple freezers in my home in order to store what I will eat for the year. Some people with corn allergy can tolerate the ball lids, but packaging and preservation methods still require care.
- This preservation would take about 4-8 hours a week of my time throughout the year, depending on the season. This is one area where sensitivity will determine how much stockpiling you need to do, but then again your average person doesn’t need to do this at all.
- In addition to the actual preservation work, I would need to spend at least 8 hours a week year-round researching new sources of food, creating backup sources of food I already have and trying to track my nutritional intake to prevent against malnutrition, and keeping up with product changes and what things the corn allergy community are reacting to or doing well with. When one is new to the allergy or has had a sensitivity uptick, the time spent is often much, much more. Many people spend years feeling like all they do is research how to eat food safely. This is true across all levels of sensitivity.
- Oh and also work a full time job, either inside or outside the home. I am counting stay-at-home-parenthood and caring for oneself as a disabled person full time jobs.
That’s a lot already. And many of us are dealing with other intersecting health issues that limit our dietary choices or ability to prepare or afford certain foods.
Why is MY diet so limited?
This is already not the most balanced diet, and I know it. I’m working very, very hard on better food sourcing and even some healing protocols (sorry to be vague but I’m not discussing it until it works for me!) to try to fix this. But until then, this is what I have to work with. Removing my fat and protein staples from that list is NOT a good plan healthwise in my opinion.
And then of course, there’s the quality of life/labor issue. Less animal-based protein and fat means less satiety, and also more veggies, fruits, nuts, and mushrooms to purchase (expensive and often just not readily available) and preserve (labor intensive, takes a ton of freezer space.) Because I’m allergic to most of the vegetables that grow in the winter, my preservation schedule is compressed between the months of June and November, meaning that I spend the summer and fall crunching on planning and putting food up for 8-16 hours a week during this period. On top of work.
As just one example, I have to shell my walnuts and pecans myself with the help of some friends. We’ve got it down to a science, but it still takes one person about 40 minutes to shell 1 lb of nuts. And that’s just one food out of the dozen+ I need to put up.
At a certain point, you end up having to prioritize and go without some items when they aren’t in season.
There are also supply problems. I am not entirely sure that my source for walnuts will remain available to me. Each year I ask my friend in California to procure them for me, I am never certain if it will be the last time he’s able to do it. If he is unable to do it, I am faced with either going without, or flying down there myself to get them, pack them up, and ship them back to myself. That’s just one example of the kind of predicament people with corn allergies run into in sourcing safe food.
It’s not that I am against consuming fewer animal products. I would be happy to. I am not someone who delights in eating meat. But I don’t see how to do that in a physically and emotionally healthy way, and I do delight in being alive and somewhat functional.
I am, however, interested in whether it is possible.
If you think that it is possible to have a vegetarian or vegan diet with a highly sensitive corn allergy, here is my challenge.
Challenge 1: Design a vegetarian (or vegan), truly corn-free diet.
Design a balanced diet that is corn free enough for the super sensitive. Meaning, it needs to be sourced entirely from spray-free farms. No packaged or processed products whatsoever. No pre-ground flours, no pressed oils, no husked seeds or shelled nuts. I’ll allow penzey’s kosher flake salt and the Jovial olive oil, although grudgingly as there isn’t one brand of salt or oil every single person tolerates. You don’t have to go out and locate the local farms, I’ll go ahead and assume you can find them (even though this is more than half the battle for many of us). Just create the list of foods. If you would like to include foods that do not grow in your area, you will need to locate the mail-order farm, and you will need to contact them and verify that they are truly spray free.
Now write down the growing season of the foods in your area, and calculate how much of those foods you will need to put up during that season to cover your diet plan through the rest of the year. Go ahead and allow yourself a diet plan that changes seasonally, as you’ll pretty much have to do it that way.
Then come up with an estimate of hours spent and space needed to keep the foods in your plan.
Next, run that diet plan by a certified nutritionist or through a nutritional calculator to verify that it’s truly balanced.
Lastly, sent that diet plan, including the geographical location, crop calendar, preservation schedule, hours spent, and space required, over to me via my gmail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll verify that this diet can actually be followed based on the basic info I provided, and by checking that any mail order sources are actually tolerated by those with corn allergies (often we ask lots of questions and get what seem to be the right answer, then react anyway). If I find a problem, I’ll give you that feedback via email and allow you to make changes.
Once you’ve managed to achieve something corn free, balanced, and that seems possible to achieve, I will publish your response on this blog along with an apology to everyone who has suggested a vegetarian diet that I’ve dismissed, and you will be a hero of the corn allergy community, because you’ll probably have located at least one new source of safe food for us.
Bonus Challenge: Walk the walk.
If you are truly committed to the cause of vegetarianism, lead by example. Follow the diet you’ve come up with for one year, including sourcing the foods on that list direct from no-spray farms, and putting that food up in summer to be eaten during winter. Using corn safe preservation methods. Tell us about your experiences at the end of it. Please. Your reward for this will the utmost respect from me and the corn allergy community, and the satisfaction of knowing you’re an inspiration to others.
Challenge 2: Design a vegetarian diet for me.
Come up with vegetarian or vegan diet plan that is complete and balanced based on *my* restrictions as outlined on my list of safe foods. You can only use what is on the list, nothing more. Calculate the hours spent and space required to preserve as mentioned above and include the nutritional analysis. If you manage this, I will follow your diet plan for a year. But only if you do, too.