We were roaming the stores on Saturday when a sweet, well-meaning salesperson handed each of my kids animal crackers in a box that looked like a circus car, complete with a little white handle top. They were overjoyed and walking around, swinging their boxes of cookies, and talking about which animal they would eat first. We sat down a few minutes later to drink some coffee and tea. My daughter handed me her box, I slid it open, and gave her a cookie. Did the same for my boy.
“You don’t want to do that.” Says my husband.
“Look at the ingredients.”
And there were my old nemeses: No. 2: High Fructose Corn Syrup and No. 6: Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil.
I said to my kids: “I’m sorry but that one cookie’s going to have to be it.”
“Because it has yucky ingredients that over the long term can make you sick.”
“Mommy, if they know kids eat these cookies, then why do they put yucky ingredients in them?” said my five year old.
There you go. If a five year old can point out the disconnect here, why can’t the food manufacturers? We all know why: MONEY.
Key disclosure: My household went fully militant about food after I had a health crisis in 2007. And by crisis, I mean CRISIS. The kind you don’t want to have with a one- and three-year-old in the house who need their mamas for a long time to come. And so, with a few exceptions at birthday parties, holidays and the like, no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, and low sugar and white flour. Mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Organic if it’s affordable.
I’m trying to balance letting my kids be ‘normal’ children who love to eat sweets and enjoy ice cream and cookies once in while with eating patterns that become habits that last a lifetime. My own parents’ permissiveness about cakes, cookies and candy translated into a lifelong sugar addiction which I was only able to kick when I was looking death in the face. And even now I struggle with those cravings daily.
Remember all the hoopla about the trans fats in Oreos a few years back? Well, have you checked the labels of your average candy bars lately? It’s highly likely that the ingredients will include some form of corn syrup and/or partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring and coloring. (Ditto for some of the top brands of yogurt marketed directly to children. And don’t get me started on Nutrasweet.) Who are the primary consumers of these crap-laden foods? Children, of course!
Which one of our stomachs didn’t turn when the research came out last year about the far higher prevalence of obesity among Black and Hispanic children? And that on the whole, obese children will have more and longer hospital stays? My oncologist friend once told me that the medical community is now seeing diseases among children that they only used to see in the elderly a few decades ago. And that blame for these illnesses can be laid squarely at the door of what our children are eating and being exposed to in their environment.
Why wouldn’t manufacturers want the BEST stuff for our children? Because it translates into less dollars. Why does it ALWAYS have to be about dollars? (Am I starting to sound naive? Trust me, it’s one of my best qualities.)
How do we change this aspect of our society? If you have any ideas, let me know. For now, my efforts are mostly on the homefront.