No Love Lost: Our First Valentine’s Day Free Of Petroleum Food Coloring

Happy First Dye-Free Valentine’s Day, friends!  It’s a mouthful, I know, but I like the sound of that better than “Red 40 Day”.  This year feels like a real celebration – of love, hope, and gratitude.  I am actually enjoying my kid’s company while she’s under the influence of sugar.  Thanks for the miracle, Saint Valentine!  I am loving hearing about other families’ dye-free celebrations on the DFD Facebook page, too.  It’s just more proof that our kids can have fun without chemicals…and parents can actually enjoy an overly commercialized holiday too.

So, you may have read about our school party, and I’m sure you’ve been navigating your own family’s Red 40 Day activities…How did it go?  Well, during our daily rundown, my daughter told me that they had cupcakes, Sun Chips, watermelon, red grapes, and berries…and…she didn’t eat a single thing. (???)  I was a little worried that my pep talk that morning about avoiding dyed stuff scared her off of trying anything.  But she said she just wasn’t hungry at party time.  Later, one of the room parents told me that she helped my daughter avoid artificial colors and flavors, which I deeply appreciated.  The parents at our school rock.

When the Monkey got home, I had a bag of awesomeness ready for her – the Trade Deal.  She handed over the brightly colored SpongeBob “crabby patty” gummies, Blow Pops, and SweetHearts without fuss.  She was thrilled with the chocolate frog from Whole Foods…he didn’t last more than five minutes.  I gave her a bag of red heart Surf Sweets gummies, a sparkly cupcake necklace with a hidden chocolate cupcake recipe, some snazzy sequined flip flops, headbands, and a scented butterfly rainbow soap.  Stamp of approval all around…and no tantrums.

That same night, we went to a friend’s birthday party…whoa…two special events in one day.  We did the usual stop-off at Whole Foods bakery so she could pick out her own monster cupcake – she selected a double-chocolate “frosting delivery system”.  When we arrived, half of the kids were going crazy – like army-crawling under tables and grabbing ankles while people were eating, fighting, screaming in the echo-y party room, and bouncing off the walls.  My little lady was pretty quiet and stayed in her seat throughout eating time.  She didn’t make a scene when it was time to leave, and had zero meltdowns – YES!!!!  She also received two boxes of high quality choccies…I gave a chocolate to her after dinner (am I crazy?!)…and bedtime was a DREAM.  She easily fell asleep.  (I knew this would happen though, after witnessing her wolfing down a gigantic naturally-dyed birthday cupcake last month and then sitting down to quietly do her homework.  It’s not necessarily the sugar that’s making our kids act wacky.).

Valentine’s Day is all about love, and one way that I give that is by feeding my child dye-free stuff, and then teaching her why.  But I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with products marketed to kids.  I like providing my kid with those childhood indulgences that I adored, on special occasions (and for however many weeks after that it takes to eat the stash…until the next candy campaign starts).  But at the same time, I deny her plenty – because I cannot in good conscience say yes to putting every adorably-packaged chemical in her little developing body.  I dread ill-planned grocery trips with her during this month…

“In the springtime, the only pretty ring time, When birds sing, hey ding, a-ding, a-ding; Sweet lovers love…the spring.” – Willie Wonka (quoting Shakespeare from “As You Like It”)

I teach my child that love is about give and take.  But the food industry is taking our money and giving us non-nutritive crap in return.  And they’re cheating on us too, with their dye-free versions of our favorite products over there across the pond.  I think it’s time we broke up.  I’ve been shoppin’ around…and I know there are other more healthy, caring, and selective suitors out there.  I admit that I really wanna see them fight over my affections.  So for this post, I’d like to do a rundown of winners and losers…

I Love Them…

Louis C.K.:  That’s right, I love Louis – er, Mr. C.K…Mr. K.? – and all his potty-mouthed wisdom.  Louis spoke effectively to the issue of food’s relation to kids’ behavior in his stand up act…”We feed them food that tastes like insanity. It’s insanity, our food. You should be able to give a kid an apple and they go, “Oh, thank you. I love apples.” Kids can’t even taste…apples are like paper to them, because we fill them – we force them to eat – people force their kids to eat fast food! I was in this hamburger place – this woman is just shoving french fries –  She’s like, “Eat it!!”   The kid’s like, “Mom, it’s salty. It hurts. I can’t eat any more.”…”Shut up! Have a soda!”   We give them MSG, sugar, and caffeine.  And weirdly, they react to those chemicals.  And so they yell “Aaaah!!” and then we hit them… “Shut up! Stop it! Why are you like this?“…”‘Cause I haven’t had actual nutrition in eight years, mom…”  His hilarious and scary observation made me laugh and cringe.  Bless you, Mr. C.K.

Jason’s Deli:  I was delighted to find this gem of a family restaurant when we first moved to Atlanta.  The folks there are so helpful and don’t bat an eyelash every time I ask to see the ingredients list of their macaroni and cheese or (free!) chocolate ice cream.  They get it.  It’s part of their mission to nix artificial food additives such as dyes, HFCS, and other additives.  And their salad bar is food of the gods for parents.

Minnesota:  “Star of the North”, indeed.  Schools in Minnesota aren’t waiting around for the government to tell them to clean up their school food – they’re already ditching the food dyes and changing their Wellness Policy!  There are many reasons to love Minnesota, a wonderful band called The Jayhawks is but one, but this just warms my heart.  HERE is an excellent CBS news story which we used at our school’s Science Night display.  I really hope other school districts will follow their lead.

Our Nutrition and Wellness Committee:  Speaking of great schools, I am so proud and excited to be a part of my daughter’s new school.  I joined the N&W committee and have been nothing short of impressed by their work.  They steadily work towards healthier choices for our kids through seeking grants, providing Farm To School awareness campaigns, and creating events to engage staff too.  We’ve also met with the county menu coordinator about updating a la cart food choices to limit fats, sugars, and additives.  Our parents were talking about healthier lunches long before the new federal lunch guidelines were signed!

…I Love Them Not

Sadly, the list of losers will be longer than the winners, at least for today…but you gotta try a few losers before you finally see the light and learn to respect yourself, right?

School Lunch:  Even with the new federal school food law, we’ve got a long way to go.  Our cafeteria manager is concerned for kids’ nutrition and our school’s kids generally eat pretty well, with a few exceptions.  I still see cake with rainbow sprinkles, deep fried tater tots, and brightly-dyed ice cream in our cafeteria.  And a handful of kids bring in prepackaged chemical junk for lunch from home.  Luckily, my kid prefers a home-packed lunch.  I believe with all my heart that if we can get the kids on board with clean eating, they will bring that knowledge and their new preferences back home, where the family’s grocery shopping habits can eventually change our “foodscape.”

Wang Chung:  Okay, I’m a child of the Eighties – I remember when Whitney Houston was still just a teen model, and I had a real appreciation for pop music and MTV…still do (the pop music part…I don’t recognize MTV anymore).  A recent Pop Tart commercial, cute as it was, had me asking out loud “WHYYYYY, WANG CHUNG?!”  *Heartbreak*  It shows a gray World Of No Fun being invaded by a Cool And Colorful little dude, who introduces the inhabitants to what they’ve been missing from the new and improved Pop Tart.  They ironically eat some, and transform into whackadoo spazzes (sp?) that are bouncing all around and upside down…the way my kid would look after eating a bite of that neon-colored confection.  Dear Wang Chung – ya gotta pay the bills, I get it.  But please just take a peek in the Real Food section of the want ads next time…pretty please?

Parents on YouTube:  Here’s a real cringe-worthy find that Mr. C.K. would appreciate…As I was perusing videos about food coloring on YouTube, I found lots of home movies of kids going bonkers while under the influence of food coloring.  To my dismay, the parents were laughing behind the camera and posting comments like, “OMG, watch my kid going crazy on food dye, LOLOLOL!”  I found myself watching, horrified, with an expression on my face not unlike the one I get when I try to watch those painful mishaps caught on tape on the Tosh.0 show.  It Just. Ain’t. Right.

“Natural” Markets and Products:  As much as I love to shop, I gotta call B.S. on this.  I am so tired of manufacturers and stores claiming to be “all natural” when clearly, they’re not.  I was surprised during our holiday trip to California, when I walked into Henry’s, thinking I was in a haven of goodness…it says so right on the front of the store – “Natural Market“.  Nuh-Uh.  I found stacks upon stacks of brightly dyed red and green candies, cookies, cakes, all made with petroleum colors like Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.  I have to add that I’m disappointed that Whole Foods Market still sells so many “natural” products which contain “caramel coloring” – known by its proper name in Europe as “ammonia caramel.”

Girl Scouts of the USA:  You may have read my post on our girl scout “cookie conundrum” recently, about my daughter being in scouts while not being able to eat, or sell, most of the cookies.  Well that was bad enough, but I recently found out, while registering my girl for a scout summer camp, that we must pay more for camps since we opted out of selling cookies.  What the WHAT?!  That’s right!  If you don’t sell cookies, you are punished with a higher camp rate.  I think this is RIDICULOUS.  CAMPS AND COOKIES DO NOT INHERENTLY GO TOGETHER!  How many MORE mixed messages can we give our girls, GSUSA???  No wonder our relationship with food is a rocky one…get ’em hooked when they’re young.

Cheese Crackers:  While this subject is less sexy and not likely to conjure up images of Valentine’s Day, it’s been bothering me…I need to vent, okay?…Recently some DFD readers who are parents of dye-sensitive kids have shared information about an additive called annatto – a natural yellow colorant used in organic products.  It can reportedly cause head-banging and rage in some kids, even worse than petroleum dyes.  And then there’s that freaky claim that it’s possibly connected to kids pulling out their hair and eyelashes (which my daughter used to do)…*shivers*.  So I decided to avoid it too, since I don’t really know much about its safety.  Well, crap. It’s in everything that is yellow at natural food stores.  Try finding an organic or non-organic cheese cracker for your kid that doesn’t have annatto – even the white cheddar ones have it.  I finally settled on Back To Nature white cheese rice crackers, in the No-Fun shape of just “round”.  Take note, animal-shaped cracker makers!

Valentine candies:  The marketing by candy companies is bad enough during the holidays…it’s ridiculous around Valentine’s Day.  More mixed messages…the warped relationship between love and food.   And I have to be the meanie that says our kids are quite a bit harder to love after ingesting all that stuff.  You know it’s true.  You love them, but at the same time, you want to hide from them, after a party.  Or heck, during a party.

SpaRitual Nail Lacquers:  While I’m trash-talkin’ about food losers I’ve ditched, I might as well include their flashy counterparts, the fakey cosmetics posse.  I dropped many extra dollars on some cute mini bottles of nail polish recently, at an Aveda Institute salon.  I like Aveda products for the most part (although I could do without the suffocating clove scent), and I generally trust their advice.  But a closer inspection of the SpaRitual bottles they sold me brought up a mini red flag…They claim that their polishes are “vegan.”  Quoi???  Looking at the ingredients list, I spied several synthetic colorants.  Apparently they didn’t realize that D&C dyes are tested on animals.  I tweeted this to them, but somehow they either didn’t see it or aren’t interested in addressing it.  Now it’s usually no biggie, and I don’t care if you use petrol chemicals in your products, you’re not really my type anyway, but…don’t lie to me.  That’s almost as bad as Kraft cheating on me with dye-free mac and cheese in their European markets.  Almost

Luckily, our generation need not lie down and take it, like our parents.  We don’t have to blindly follow a destiny that has been typed out for us in the form of a conversation heart or fortune cookie – no.  We’ve got information…We’ve got tools…We’ve got beet juice, dammit.  The next time you find yourself at the precipice of a food rebound, call my friends here for backup…they won’t help you with a post-breakup binge but they’ll come rescue you from yourself, anytime, day or night:

Label Watch

IATP Food Selector

Fooducate app

CSPI Chemical Cuisine app

Food Facts app

One of the joys of identifying losers is telling all the world about their loser-ness.  If you’d like to share your hard-won wisdom about products that done did you wrong, post your finds on my DFD Facebook page or send me your e-mail addy and I’ll give you access to pin their mugshots on the DFD Pinterest “StoreBot” pin board!  Others will learn from your mistakes, thank you for taking those battle scars for the team, and support you on your path to a healthier relationship with food.  And if you should have a moment of weakness, just tweet those food manufacturers…get it off your chest…tell them how they screwed up…and then tell them you’ll take your money elsewhere.

So, what are the winners and losers in your past?  Have you been loyal to a product for years only to find out that it’s slowly killing your soul?  Have you found true love in the bulk bins?  And if you’re celebrating your first dye-free Valentine’s Day, what did that look like?


2 Responses to “No Love Lost: Our First Valentine’s Day Free Of Petroleum Food Coloring”
  1. Nonna says:

    I was so, so sad to find that my favorite cracker products, with the ‘Ritz’ brand name, contain Yellow food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and hydrogenated oils.

    See the color difference in this recipe for home-made ‘Ritz’ crackers:

    • Indie Mama says:

      Yeah and so many kids love those Ritz crackers too…I found something similar in Publix, their Greenwise brand round crackers, but it’s still not quite the same, but close. Thanks for that link!

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