Friday, January 30, 2009

Take Our Challenge to Go Corn Syrup Free in February!

There have been a lot of Eat Local challenges, in Indy and around the country over the past year. The books, magazine articles and general media attention to the efforts of people to eat local has certainly helped to build the movement. The National Public Radio show Splendid Table, was among those presenting a year of local eating through their Locavore Nation project. You can read and listen to more at Splendid Table. Look for the January 17th episode, which also features great interviews with Barbara Kingsolver, author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and maker of the documentary film King Corn, Aaron Woolf. Both offer great reasons for eating local.

I was then shocked while listening to the January 24th episode of the Splendid Table. Host Lynne Rossetto Kasper laughed off a listener's suggestion that the show follow-up the Locavore Nation project with a new project, in which a group of volunteers would eat nothing that contains corn syrup for one-month. Lynne's response to the suggestion was, "Lots o' luck. Because when I think about it, I think the only thing that doesn't have corn syrup in it is tap water, and I'm even a little dubious of that."

Now, let me say that I have enjoyed listening to the Splendid Table for years, and will continue to do so. AND,  I am astonished that they would let such a splendid opportunity to educate the public on just how many grocery store mainstays do unnecessarily contain corn syrup, and how exceedingly easy it is to avoid this glut of corn syrup if you are eating local, fresh foods. While I have not read every label on every product at the market, I would stake my reputation on the fact that not a single product at the Indy Winter Farmers Market contains corn syrup.  

When I brought this up at last week's annual Slow Food Indy meeting, a room for nearly 60 people roared back at me that they were corn syrup free and had been so for a long time. And so I decided to bring the challenge to all of you. 

We want you to post your commitment to go through the month of February without eating any products containing corn syrup, and most especially free of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). February is an especially great month for this challenge, as it will give you an excuse to leave behind the handfuls of store bought Valentine candies, and look for local folks making tastier treats that truly offer something from the heart in their homemade, handmade preparation.

How do you participate?
Just post a response to this blog post and tell us:
1) You don't have to give your name, but we'd like it if you don't mind.
2) How many members of your household will be participating, and ages if you don't mind. 
3) Are you already corn syrup free? Do you have tips for others.
4) Each week I will ask for posts on your experiences of going corn syrup free that week. You then post your stories, tips, even your pitfalls to help others possibly avoid them.
5) We'd love to know what you are surprised to find contains corn syrup, especially HFCS.

THIS CHALLENGE IS NOT INTENDED TO PASS JUDGEMENT ON WHAT ANYONE IS EATING. It is simply to open discussion, and to invite interested readers to make new discoveries about the food options we are given through mainstream food production. Perhaps some readers will decide they want more personal control over what they are ingesting, perhaps not. We just figure every one should have the right to know what they are eating, and to decide what they want to eat.

Why care about eating or avoiding corn syrup?
The corn syrup lobby has come out to avidly defend itself this past year, with claims that corn syrup is no more fattening than regular table sugar. This may be true. I am not a scientist, nor any sort of expert on the matter, and I am not a nutritionist. I would suggest that way too many products contain entirely to much sugar or other kinds of sweeteners as well. The bottom line is the sugars are being added as fillers and preservatives, and I don't believe the negative health repercussions of this are under debate. Instead they are just primarily being ignored while rates of diabetes and diet related illnesses continue to soar.

But let us set aside matters of personal health for a moment, and consider matters of social and environmental health. Foods containing corn syrup (certainly HFCS) are of the industrially processed, mass produced, petroleum reliant, cheap at all costs to labor and society model. While the sticker price in the grocery may be low, the true costs of these foods is hidden in the damages to our environment, in our reliance on oil, in our reliance on overseas production, in the damage to our health and well being, and in the loss of culinary skills, knowledge, and traditions. These types of food products encourage us to give up our food independence and self sufficiency. They are not foods that support local growers, local artisans, sustainable production, stewardship to the environment, or preservation of food traditions or cultures. Foods containing corn syrup are very unlikely to meet the standards of "good, clean, fair food."

Yet they are ubiquitous. You are likely eating any number of products containing corn syrup, and you don't even know it. Unless you take a moment to read labels, you will find corn syrup and HFCS has made its way into the most unsuspecting places - yogurt, bread, "healthy" prepared meals and snacks, and even vitamin water drinks found in yoga studios and fitness centers across the country. It is not a necessary ingredient, it offers NO health benefit. It is no better for you than eating sugar at best, and at worst who knows. Unfortunately, it is often the most disadvantaged members of our communities who are most reliant on these foods, and we think that is a great social injustice. 

I'm sure many of you will have plenty of other comments on the matter to post, so I will open it up for discussion. My hope to have at least 10 families commit to the challenge, and I hope a few will be just beginning to explore where corn syrup has snuck into their diet.

I will repeat: THIS CHALLENGE IS NOT A JUDGEMENT ON HOW ANYONE IS EATING NOW. It is further encouragement to keep eating local, as much as you can. The more locally you source your foods, the more homemade, small-scale the production line, the more likely you are already well on your way to being 100% corn syrup and HFCS FREE! This challenge goes hand-in-hand with eating locally, and it's one of the many reasons that eating local offers such great health benefits.

A little more info for your interest:
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – also called isoglucose and glucose-fructose comprises any of a group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to increase its fructose content, and then been mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose). HFCS is used in nearly all industrially processed foods and beverages, including soft drinks, yogurt, cookies, salad dressing and tomato soup.

You can read the following two articles at Jen Dalton's blog, or link here: High Fructose Corn Syrup & Austism and High Fructose Corn Syrup & Mercury.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Todd said...

We're up for the challenge!

We're already High Fructose Corn Syrup-free, but today Todd had a sweets craving and bought some macaroons. I read the label and lo & behold the 9th ingredient was corn syrup! In the future we're certainly going to scrutinize all labels more closely before we buy.

So far we can't get our 16 yr old son to commit to the challenge, although he is making an effort to cut back on soda.

We love to eat locally, are actively involved in Slow Food Indy, operate a small vegetable/herb farm & CSA program in Carmel Indiana, and participate in local farmer's markets.

Laura, thanks for spearheading this. We're sure others are up for the challenge as well.

Todd & Kathleen Jameson
(ages 48 & 46)

Myra said...

Corn syrup is not the sort of food you think of as thought provoking, but it has done just that at our house.
We already avoided most corn syrup and a quick check of pantries and freezers this morning revealed no hidden surprises. A few expected culprits that have slipped in will have to be addressed – ketchup and graham crackers. After a family discussion we have committed to the challenge in varying degrees. The sticking point was eating outside of home, specifically school for our children ages 3,5 and 8. They attend a school where lunch and snacks are provided. I offered to send things in for lunch and help them navigate the choices. The oldest was quick to decline. Our kindergartner is giving it a try and already asking about whether various things might contain corn syrup. She tried to catch the adults asking about coffee, then following up with “what about flavored coffee?” The youngest is talking about it, but is unlikely to forgo some food related activities with his preschool peers e.g. birthday muffins. So while all five of us are fully committed at home and in situations where parents are with children, only 1 of 3 children is making an attempt in independent settings. We see already that our conversations are going to touch people well beyond our family table – preschool teachers, in-laws, friends at a Super Bowl party, work colleagues…for us this challenge is not about giving something up or avoiding it, the challenge is in provoking thought.

Myra & Taylor

Indy Winter Market said...

I hope to see more folks signing up soon. Thank you Todd, Kathleen, Myra, Taylor and family. Myra, I agree entirely with your sentiment that the challenge is in provoking thought, and I believe it is also about raising conversation just as it has done in your family and beyond. To me it is about raising awareness as well. Two years ago I barely gave a thought to corn syrup in what I was eating and drinking. Someone brought it to my attention, and it lead me to greater awareness on a much greater scale of food issues. To me, this challenge is about offering that opportunity to others, be it people reading this blog, or the teachers, colleagues, friends or family members of people reading this blog. Thank you, and I hope you will all continue to share your experiences, conversations, and discoveries over this month.

annie said...

I'm happy to add Corn Syrup to the list of ingredients that I look for on labels and forgo. I've been meaning to think about it anyway, great time to try when there is the support of other people.


Thomas said...

I have been eliminating corn syrup from our menu. Apart from shopping from local resources and fresh foods, I found that Trader Joe's is a great help. Especially when it comes to cereals and other processed foods.

Indy Winter Market said...

Thomas - we are glad to have you join the discussion. Is there a restaurant you would like to mention in this effort? We'd love to promote and support it!