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Reclaiming of the green (and tell the FDA “no dyes”)

In a different mood, I might appreciate the irony of such a blatant food-dye holiday falling two weeks before the FDA is set to examine the connection between artificial food colors and children’s behavior. A holiday where people don’t just buy synthetically altered food, but deliberately tint it bright green themselves (a nifty American spin that no doubt would stump St. Patrick).

Shamrocks on her head,
not in her cereal bowl

Yet last week’s crush of screaming green food came right after we’d returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. There, neon colors filled kids’ cereal bowls at the hotel breakfast buffet. School buses of field-trippers chowed pseudo-food at museum McDonald’s. And stroller-pushing parents handed Coke bottles to thirsty kids. It was everyday insanity amplified by the temporary crazy of St. Patrick’s Day. So I wasn’t feeling the fun. In fact I was rethinking green’s status as my favorite color.

But I’ve been trying to remind myself that nature had the color first. That nature owns that color. And that St. Paddy’s celebrations can be just as fun without the petrochemical fix. Last Thursday, Tess and her classmates had a visit from the requisite leprechaun, who toppled books, cut a pair of tiny boots from green felt and left glitter in his wake. But all the kids found in their leprechaun traps were Irish pins and plastic shamrocks. No candy. No dyed-green food. No party, even. Did the kids care? Not a whit.

Now, with the FDA hearings upon us (March 30-31), I’m choosing to believe that we can reclaim green for the natural color it is. I’m under no illusions. Bureaucracy is slow. Artificial colors are rampant. And change needs more than two days of talks. But, in the last couple of months, there’s been a buzz about food dyes that I haven’t seen before. (Including this recent study showing that food, not drugs, may be more effective in treating ADHD.) So, hey, I’m looking on the bright side.

But let’s make sure the FDA has plenty of information: Check out this petition from the makers of the movie “Fresh.” Add your signature and/or comment, and the filmmakers will overnight the petition on March 22 to be received by the FDA on March 23. [Update on March 22: “Fresh” organizers say they’ll also provide the FDA with an electronic link for comments received between March 23 and March 30, so there’s still time to weigh in.] Whether you have a personal story to share, or just want artificial colors out of our food supply, it takes just a minute to lend your voice. I’ve added my name and a link to Spoonfed discussions on the issue:

Dyeing to know: Easter egg science lesson (April 2, 2010)
Food-dye research. Artificial colors in the United States vs. overseas. And using natural egg dyes as a lesson in fake vs. real.

Color me annoyed (April 9, 2010)
Green popsicles and blue ice cream underscore the prevalence of food dyes in school and summer camp.

The color of trouble (January 22, 2011)
A comprehensive overview of food dyes and the problems they cause, with a bonus farewell to neon birthday cake. (And, incidentally, the most-shared Spoonfed post ever.) An excerpt:

“Artificial colors are the charlatans of food additives: enticing, seemingly harmless… then wham. Linked to long-term health problems, these petroleum-derived chemicals often have immediate and devastating effects on children’s behavior and ability to learn. And unlike when we were kids (and our parents were kids), artificial colors are in everything, from food to toothpaste to medicine, even things that are white or look natural (check your pickles and “blueberries” ). Since 1955, that’s added up to a five-fold increase in dye consumption.”

Any St. Paddy’s tales to share? Vacation observations? Other insights while we ponder the crazy stuff that passes for food?

This post is linked into Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays.

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{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Becca March 21, 2011, 9:58 am

    Food dyes are everywhere!!! I bought a can of Planters NUT-rition energy mix as a treat to mix it up from the typical cans of nuts we buy. I knew it had honey roasted and chocolate covered nuts in there, but food dyes??? My husband noticed “BLUE 2 LAKE, YELLOW 6 LAKE, YELLOW 5 LAKE, RED 40 LAKE” on the list of ingredients. I still can’t figure out why the dyes are in there. They’re not a part of the chocolate, so maybe one of the honey-roasted products? I’m still boggled.

    • Christina March 22, 2011, 12:06 am

      Becca, it is mind-boggling what we learn by reading labels, isn’t it?! And yes, I’m betting it’s the “honey-roasted” nuts. Though, really, that color could be on the other nuts, too. It’s ridiculous. If it helps: We buy nuts in bulk. Also things like seeds and dried fruit. Then it’s easy to make up your own trail mixes.

      • Christina March 22, 2011, 11:28 am

        Becca, just realized, too, that red was listed in those colors. Red (and maybe other dyes?) is sometimes added to chocolate.

  • Melissa B March 21, 2011, 11:45 am

    Thanks, as always, for staying vigilant on this topic, Chris! Our family has direct and very convincing experience with the negative effects food dyes frequently have on children’s behavior. I have signed the petition, and I am now thinking of proposing to our daughter’s school that all foods with artificial dyes are prohibited from group functions. :)

  • jenna @ Kid Appeal March 21, 2011, 12:47 pm

    put original life cereal on the list of head scratchers when it comes to chemical food dyes. why brown whole grain cereal needs two petrochemical food dyes is beyond me. are oats not brown enough? I posted this story about a readers experience doing a real red food valentines day party and plans for real green food st. pat’s day party. http://tinyurl.com/6cad4vw

    at our school’s health fair, i’ll have a table with packaging set up, reading ingredient lists with parents and students to help them identify some of the sneaky non-food items included in the ingredient list.

  • Melissa Graham March 21, 2011, 2:18 pm

    It’s just crazy. I’m just so glad that finally people are starting to wise up. Hopefully, these hearings will have an impact.

  • Kira March 21, 2011, 6:53 pm

    I still find it baffling that people WANT to purchase oddly colored “food” items. Several of my friends had mentioned the McDonald’s shamrock shake, and how excited they were that it was back on the menu for the limited St. Patrick’s season. Pretty sure it’s just their standard vanilla shake dyed a bright green color… gross on all counts! How have people’s preferences shifted so far from real food that an individual would look at that menu item and want to eat it? :(

    • Christina March 22, 2011, 12:12 am

      Kira, Shamrock Shakes apparently have limited distribution (locations, not just the season). Why on earth, I have no idea. Maybe to make them more desirable? (Stalking the elusive Shamrock Shake…)

  • Barbara Grant March 23, 2011, 11:38 am

    For St. Pat. day I make homemade chocolate chip mint ice cream. To make it green, I pureed about 1/4 cup steamed spinach with some cream and added it to the mixture. It looked great and there was no spinach taste. I think I could have even used more spinach.

    • Christina March 23, 2011, 10:24 pm

      Barbara, we were at an ice cream shop where many of the flavors were all-natural, so the mint chocolate-chip was white, not green. “This is mint chocolate-chip, but it’s not green like you’re used to,” the owner said to my daughter, who looked at him like she had no idea what he was talking about. Because, of course, she didn’t. She’d never had green mint chocolate-chip ice cream before. Might have to try it now, though, with your spinach trick.

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