I’m Going to War Against Artificial Food

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.

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  1. I was going to say something about how I agree with you and why…but I am now totally distracted by the thought of real buttercream frosting. The kind that has a crunch in your mouth. Oh, yuuuuummmm.

  2. See if you can find a Holistic Mom’s Network in your area, they can help you to locate local healthier choices for your family, like grass raised beef, pasture (cage free) chickens for eggs and meat. It’s a little more expensive, but worth it.
    Also try to find a copy of Nourishing Traditions, but skim past some of the really hippy stuff and read the easier to do stuff. (it’s easy to make your own fermented veggies! and they’re really good for you)
    See if you can get on an Azure drop point, it’s a place you can shop for stuff that you would get at Whole Foods but it’s so much more reasonably priced, especially since you’re feeding a whole family. (I only have me and my nearly 2 year old, bying in bulk isn’t a good deal for me– yet My husband’s work feeds him)
    I know you’re not asking for advice, but this is something I am passionate about, I belive that though eating clean and healthy (and we’re still allowed some indulgences) we’re preparing our chidlren for a better life. I think you’ve touched on it so well, that our bodies can only hold so much. I don’t think your consumption of artifical dyes lead to Cordy’s intolerace of them, but I bet they’re in more foods now than when we were children. I’ve found that my daughter has issues with a red dye, I haven’t sorted which one yet, but if she has any she gets a rash on her skin where it touched, what’s that doing to her insides. ick!

    okay sorry for the long comment.

  3. Right on girlfriend. I started that path about 9 months ago and even though I slip and buy junk once in awhile, overall we’ve made huge changes and stuck with it. It’s made us all feel so much better.

  4. AMEN!

  5. I totally agree. I find it ironic that the Google ad underneath this post in my feed reader was an advertisement FOR HFCS.

  6. I love this post. I agree with you so much and have started to sift through the grocery store for alternatives that we can afford. It’s not easy but worth it with the noticeable behavior difference in my son!

  7. Cindy Rowland says:

    This post reminds me a lot of a movie I watched recently called Food Inc. Worth watching if you haven’t already. I think King Korn had an even bigger impact on me and how I feed my family.

    You might also enjoy some of my favorite blogs like A Life Less Sweet, Kid Appeal, and Food Politics. They rock.

  8. Amen, sister! I’m trying so hard to do the same here. Dragging my children & husband kicking & screaming behind me.

  9. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

  10. GREAT post. I am convinced that many of the behaviour and health problems kids have today could be greatly remedied with paying more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies. Way to go for trying to avoid it, I know it’s hard, but even baby steps help!

  11. Great suggestion by another commenter to find A Holistic Moms Network. I’m speaking at one in Brooklyn about food and learning. Give up the artificials, as my kids say.

  12. Deborah Moore says:

    I didn’t know that about Hersey’s!

    I think you are so right about bad foods catching up with everyone eventually. At 53, I am discovering food allergies.

    It is tiring reading labels. But I am encouraged that more groceries are carrying organic, whole foods.

  13. Condo Blues says:

    Come to the crunchy side – we have transfat free cookies!

    I avoid HFCS and transfats. Once I started reading the backs of food labels my hair curled as to what I used to eat – yikes! And some stuff (like bread) is really hard to find without HFCS although as far as I know Pepperridge Farm bread is HFCS free, I’m not sure about artifical colors though. We have an outlet in Columbus. We stock up and freeze bread for later.

    Do you shop at Aldi? Their Fit and Active brand products is mostly HFCS free (read the labels to be sure) it’s a little more expensive but it’s Aldi so it’s still pretty cheap. I buy my basic and staples at Aldi and the rest at Trader Joe’s and Meijer.

    I hate to say because I know you’re not found of cooking but the best way to avoid that stuff is to cook from scratch. You might considering buying a CSA (Community Sustained Agraculture = local farms) share during the summer. You get a TON of fresh sustainably grown veggies each week it might be worth the cost for a family.

  14. Baby steps are exactly right. I’m seeing a backlash, too. I grew up on kool-aid and boxed mac&cheese, and now I’m working toward cooking and baking from scratch, even growing our own and supplementing from the garden.

  15. Hi! Bill (wbgookin on twitter) suggested I follow you, so I came to your blog, and YEAH. I’ve found the same thing…we’re pretty convinced that artificial ingredients/colorings/whatever are causing behavioral problems in our kids. We tried cutting everything out- colors, flavors, trans fats, HFCS (heck, ALL corn syrup, what the heck, why not, right?) but..well, I have 4 kids. Limited budget. So we do our best, but we haven’t been able to narrow anything down. I’m seriously considering doing the elimation diet to figure it out. Since we’ve cut out a bunch of things, my oldest, who was diagnosed with sorta-ADHD-but-not-quite, has calmed down a LOT.

    Anyway. I’m babbling. Have you ever read ‘The Unhealthy Truth”? There’s a follow-up to that book, too, that I need to read. A lot of the dyes and flavorings and additives that are used now weren’t used when we were little…they’re relatively new. It’s scary stuff. And I avoid Hershy because they use vanillin. Hello, Ghiraredelli. :)

  16. Kelly Lester says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I am posting your story on our Facebook Fan Page and Twitter page too.
    Thanks so much for this great post!
    Kelly Lester

  17. Oh, good Lord, this coulda been my rant. I’m no hippie either but I had to finally say to my family this past summer ENOUGH with the crap that passes for food around here! I have slowly been moving them over to organics and more natural, less processed foods and it has not been easy. Just try giving them organic cereals! The tide is turning but it is a long hard uphill battle. And it isn’t cheap! Good post.

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