Ivan Royster: Leading the Fight against “Corn Sugar”
09 May, 2011
Last year, we reported on the amazing story of how one “ordinary” man, Ivan Royster—living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and working a job at the local university library—became outraged over high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and decided to do something about it. He’d seen type 2 diabetes firsthand in children. He did some research and found that HFCS was a common ingredient in many baby foods, children’s foods, condiments, snacks, sweets and sodas—and that it was suspected by a widening number of scientists and professionals to be a link in the rise of diabetes incidence.
The result was a Facebook page that Ivan put up, detailing what he had found. The Facebook page ended up netting 120,000 followers—enough for the New York Times to do an article on it and invite the Corn Refiners Association to respond. (The page now has nearly 200,000 followers.)
Since that time, Ivan has not ceased his efforts. Top on his list currently is a petition he has posted online to stop the relabeling of HFCS as “corn sugar”—an issue currently before the FDA. Such a move would mean that unsuspecting shoppers, inspecting product labels for high-fructose corn syrup, would no longer see the ingredient listed, although it would still be there under an alias.
Some time ago the FDA approved the name change, but the Sugar Association protested, so the issue was put on hold. “If it weren’t for the Sugar Association stepping in and saying, `Hey, let’s really evaluate this,’ we never would have known about it,” Ivan told Organic Connections. “The FDA had already approved it, and we wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. The FDA didn’t even send any letters out to the media; it was done secretly. The Sugar Association got wind of it and right then they stayed it for the time being.”
Ivan decided not to wait for the FDA’s final decision, which is still pending. He posted an online petition against the relabeling for people to sign, which will ultimately be submitted to First Lady Michelle Obama, the FDA and the HHS (US Department of Human Health Services). It can be found at www.stopcornsugarnow.com.
Ivan has also put up a blog called The Ban of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in the US. Among the research shared by him on the blog, he is now posting interviews he has been conducting with doctors and other professionals.
“Over the last year I’ve been talking with people and professionals from all over the world, and then a couple of weeks ago a light bulb went on: I can share this information with everybody else. So last week I wrote out my first interview with Dr. Andrew Siegel from New Jersey concerning what he thinks about high-fructose corn syrup, and posted it on my blog as a way to put more information out there to get everybody’s voice heard on the issue. I’m thinking of doing that once a week—rolling out an interview with a new professional, whether it be a doctor, a nutritionist or just an average person, regarding what their views are on high-fructose corn syrup. The overall response to last week’s interview was phenomenal.”
During the time that Ivan has been involved in the HFCS issue, he has corresponded with concerned consumers all over the world. Recently, he realized a common thread exists in a lot of the communication, which he had not noticed before—and he intends to find out much more about it.
“You’d be surprised how many different e-mails I get from people from all around the world telling me about their illnesses,” Ivan said. “I think there is something else going on that the light hasn’t been shined on yet.
“People are writing from different places and different walks of life, but the overall general message is the same. It’s like, `I was having a screaming headache,’ or `I was having screaming pains in my stomach,’ or `I just don’t have any energy.’ Then they say, `Once I cut out the one thing, high-fructose corn syrup, six to seven days later I’m feeling great again. The only thing I’ve done differently was I cut out this stuff—I didn’t change anything from my diet; I didn’t do anything drastic; I just cut this one product out. And all of a sudden now, I’m feeling better and the doctor is amazed at how everything changed and everything got back to normal.’ It’s just this one story told over and over and over again. The common complaints are headaches, stomach pains and lack of energy.
“So I assembled all this information together, because I never get rid of my e-mails. I want to obtain permission from people to put these stories up for somebody else to see who’s more familiar in this practice, and we can start some type of research going.”
Also in his correspondence, Ivan has run across many people who say they can’t afford to shop organically in order to ensure they avoid ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, and shortly he’ll be addressing that issue as well in his blog.
“Another question that’s coming up is people want to know how to avoid HFCS,” Ivan related. “People say, `I just can’t afford to go to the gourmet supermarkets. What else can I do?’ That brought up a new mission: the poor people who don’t eat sustainable, local and non-GMO foods because of the cost.
“I tell people that I don’t have a lot of money, so I want to let them know what I do. For example, there are some really good farmers’ markets out there. That’s how I get through it. I went there on Saturday and spent about eight dollars and I got a lot of stuff. Whole Foods is another excellent place. When you mention `Whole Foods,’ people get a little nervous and say, `I can’t go in there’; but one of the great things I have found about Whole Foods is they have bulk aisles—they have a bulk spice aisle and a bulk refined grains and oats aisle, which are phenomenal. I’ve saved a lot of money in there.”
Ivan has also realized that, in getting away from processed foods, it’s necessary to cook. So he will be sharing what he has learned along that line as well. “We’re going to have to go back to traditional methods of just cooking from scratch,” said Ivan. “I don’t have a lot of time to cook during the week, so I make time on Sundays and I spend four hours at my stove. So, on any given Sunday, you can see a bowl of spinach going and squash and various other foods. I’m cooking everything and bagging it and putting it into the freezer for the week. When I get home during the week, I don’t have to worry about going off to the supermarket or doing anything else—I just grab a bag of squash, warm it up, and there I go.”
Ivan concludes with his philosophy of what has kept him motivated and moving on his mission.
“I try to change people’s opinion of government, and some of them say, `I like the idea of a petition but it’s never going to work. Big sugar and big corn are always going to take over.’ I just try to reassure them that maybe that was the case in the past, but with enough of us, we can change that. Much has changed even since last year; there are a lot of companies now that, out of the blue, are simply taking HFCS out of their products. So things are happening; the public are waking up; more shoppers are looking at the labels and not buying it. People call me up and say, `I just wanted to say thank you. You changed my life. I stopped buying this and I feel better than I ever have.’ Stuff like that makes you feel good.”
Sign Ivan’s petition against the relabeling of HFCS at www.stopcornsugarnow.com.
Read Ivan’s blog at http://blog.banofhfcs.com.
Access Ivan’s famous Facebook page at www.facebook.com/#!/BanOfHFCS.