I was recently asked to take a survey about a new fruit snack. Normally I’m willing to be pretty open to new ideas for kids foods, trying to find the positive in them and give constructive feedback. But this time something in me changed.
The description of the product was “fruit-flavored snacks for kids” and I immediately stopped reading. Fruit-flavored. Meaning not real fruit, or probably not enough to meet FDA standards to call them fruit snacks.
I’m finished with fruit-flavored.
I’m finished with high-fructose corn syrup serving in the place of other sugars that weren’t created in a lab.
I’m finished with artificial flavors made from ingredients like petroleum (artificial vanilla, anyone?). Yes, there’s oil in your food.
I’m finished with artificial colors used to make foods look more “appealing” which in reality only make food look more unnatural. These same FD&C colors also make my five year old hyperactive, foggy-headed, and cause skin and gastrointestinal irritation that can last for several days until these chemicals work their way out of her system.
I’m finished with substituting a cheaper, less nutritious ingredient in place of a primary ingredient that makes the food what it is. (I’m looking at you, Hershey. Why the need to switch to vegetable oil in place of real cocoa butter?)
I’m finished with eating meat from animals that have been shot up with antibiotics and growth hormones so they can barely survive in miserable, crowded feed lots until they’re turned into food.
The truth is, I’m not completely finished with all of those things. Unfortunately, I can’t simply declare that my family is going all-natural and will be shopping only at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods from now on: our paycheck doesn’t stretch that far. I like eating out sometimes, too, and I know I can’t always ask for a full ingredient list for any items we order.
But I can take baby steps in moving toward that goal. So many products marketed to children are little more than nutritionally void junk, including fruit-flavored snacks. Sure, they may put a little fruit juice in it, touting 10% of a child’s RDA of Vitamin C or whatever, but does that 10% really make up for the HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) and artificial colors my child would also be eating?
Mira doesn’t show the same sensitivity, but Cordy is extremely sensitive to artificial colors, especially FD&C Blue #1. (Made from tasty, tasty coal tar – YUM!) Give her a stick of rock candy (100% sugar) without any colors, and she’s fine. Give her the same rock candy, only one that is dyed blue, and within the hour she’ll become more hyperactive, less focused, more irritable, and generally unpleasant to be around for the next few days. I won’t even begin to tell you the long trial and error it took to figure that out. Now Cordy has to avoid anything with FD&C Blue #1, which can be hard when her favorite color is blue.
It would take little effort for food manufacturers to rethink their policies towards additives in food marketed to children. When I spoke to PepsiCo at BlogHer this summer, I was invited to share my opinions of their products on a video that would be presented to the executives of the company. I told them that I do like many of their products, but would like them more and be far more willing to purchase them if they would work towards removing artificial additives from their foods. Even if it raised the cost of their products slightly, I think they would see a positive response from the consumer.
Since becoming a parent, I’ve become more concerned with nutrition and label reading, and as a result, I’ve decided against many of their products for my family. Should PepsiCo decide that their Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips or Cheetos don’t need to be artificially vibrant orange to still be delicious, we’ll eat them again.
I’d also like to see companies like Disney get more involved in removing artificial additives from foods with their licensed characters. We pass by the Disney Princesses fruit snacks in the grocery each week, and I’ve had to tell Cordy more than once that she couldn’t buy those because the artificial ingredients would make her sick. Thankfully, she’s a happy convert to Annie’s bunny fruit snacks, which are completely safe for her to eat.
Sure, not all kids will have as dramatic a reaction to artificial ingredients like Cordy does. But I consider Cordy’s sensitivity to be a barometer of things to come if we as a society don’t start taking a closer look at what we’re eating. I ate boxes and boxes of Fla-vor-Ice popsicles as a kid, and now I have a child who can’t tolerate them without a reaction – did I somehow poison her system from years of abusing every cell in my body with junk food? While I’m not a scientist or a psychic, isn’t it possible that our bodies will eventually hit a point where they can no longer tolerate this junk? Who’s to say that many of the health problems we see today – diabetes, cancer, etc – aren’t showing up more because of all the chemicals in our bodies?
I never intended to be a crusader, a hippie, or a “crunchy granola”-type person, and I’m in no way claiming that my family’s nutrition is excellent. (It’s not. Proof: I just had McDonald’s for a quick lunch.) But I’m more aware now, and I’m standing up to say I’m sick of just how much junk is out there. I’m tired of reading every single label in the grocery, searching for hidden ingredients and deciding if a food is good enough or not for my cart. I feel like I can’t trust anything on the grocery shelves.
I want better products to choose from. I want to buy deli meat without wondering if it has gluten or some other filler in it. I want cherries that haven’t had a color makeover to bright red. I want more natural sources of food coloring used in products aimed at children.
And dammit, I want real buttercream icing. You know, made with real butter and powdered sugar. And chocolate with cocoa butter. If I’m going to have junk food, I want it to at least be real food.
Vote with your wallets, people. If you can’t afford all natural, pick the worst offenders on your grocery list and start there. Making your grocery list healthier by one or two items is still one or two items for the better.