Tag: Center for Science in the Public Interest

Have a GMO-Free Halloween!

I can handle ghosts, witches, and even bloody axes. But as a mom, the scariest moment on Halloween is when I see heaps of chemical-laden candy dumped from my little monsters’ bags onto the living room floor. After an evening filled with anticipation, laughter, and glee, what do I do now? Do I let them eat as much as they want? Do I allow them one consolation piece and scoop the rest into the garbage? How can I have peace of mind without utterly destroying this moment and this holiday for my sweet goblins?

What scares me the most about this pile of candy is not the sugar. In fact, I would rather see my kids eat cane sugar straight from the bowl than any of these brightly colored nuggets from shiny packages. The problem with Halloween candy is that it is the end result of our damaged food supply. The ingredient list for any given piece of candy may include high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, and inevitably genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course it won’t say GMO on the ingredient list. That is for you to figure out. If you wonder why you should care about GMOs, read Dirtier than the Dirty Dozen. Here are the ingredients for M&M’s® with the items likely to be genetically modified in bold:

MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, COCOA BUTTER, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, LESS THAN 1% – CORN SYRUP, DEXTRIN, COLORING (INCLUDES BLUE 1 LAKE, YELLOW 6, RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, RED 40 LAKE, BLUE 2 LAKE, YELLOW 6 LAKE, BLUE 2), GUM ACACIA. CONTAINS MILK AND SOY. MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS.

Not only do these little candies contain 10 potentially GMO ingredients, but they also contain nine artificial food dyes. Food dyes are made from petroleum and may cause hyperactivity, allergic reactions, or even cancer. The British government and the European Union have taken action to virtually end the use of food dyes in Europe but they are still used freely in the United States. I do not mean to pick on M&M’s®. I could have chosen any candy from the bag and the outlook would not be any better. I have often considered Reese’s® peanut butter cups to be one of the least toxic Halloween candies. But even these contain five potentially GMO ingredients and a preservative that increases tumors in rats and is listed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as an additive to avoid.

There are actually better options available: treats we can give our little ones that contain all natural and GMO-free ingredients. You will not find these in any major grocery store, but you can order them online. I recommend visiting the Natural Candy Store.  You can get non-GMO Project Verifiedminiature chocolates, snack size jelly beans, and organic candy mixes. You can even get super-fruit chews made with brown rice syrup and freeze-dried berries that taste just like Starbursts®. If you really hate to see those M&M’s® go, order a case of Sun Drops®.

Other options for Halloween treats include raisins, organic fruit leathers, pretzels, or toys. Whatever your approach, be sure to secure a stash of natural treats before Halloween arrives. Offer your kids a trade. Let them choose a number of treats from your bag and find a way to dispose of the chemical ones.

Luckily there are infinite ways you can get rid of that unwanted loot. The Halloween candy buyback program has become very popular. This is a way that your kids can get cash for candy (one dollar per pound) and the candy is donated to the troops. If you cannot find a participating location near you, create your own buyback program. Establish a rate (maybe a nickel a piece) with your child before Halloween night. I have some friends who have a “Halloween witch” visit in the night to trade out the candy for a toy. Others have their kids open all the candy into a pot of water and make a pretend “soup.” The possibilities of what to do are virtually endless. The key to success, I believe, is having a plan that everybody agrees upon in advance.

So make a Halloween plan. Get whatever you need in advance (natural candies, toys, money, or just an address for buyback the next day). Make sure that your little ghosts are aware of the plan and in full agreement. Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids something about our messed up food supply. And when that chemical-laden candy gets dumped, IT will have something to fear.

Join me in making this a GMO-Free Halloween!

Marshmallows and Early Childhood Education

I started my two boys at a new daycare center last week. Although the school does provide meals for the kids, I had secured a doctor’s note to allow me to bring all of their snacks and meals from home. My children and I eat gluten free and my oldest just tested to be allergic to corn and food dyes. With these food restrictions, I felt confident that my boys would be exempt from the majority of junk foods that may be presented in the classroom. I was apparently completely naive.

On the first day of class, as part of an activity to learn about mixing colors, my son was fed three jumbo marshmallows dipped in food coloring. This means that he was given the following ingredients:

 

  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Dextrose
  • Water
  • Gelatin
  • Artificial Flavor
  • Tetrasosodium pyrophosphate
  • FD&C Blue No. 1
  • FD&C Red No. 40
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5

If you would like to know about where these ingredients come from or their health effects, you should visit Center for Science in the Public Interest. They maintain a food additive database and also have app available called Chemical Cuisine.

On the second day of class, I had noticed on the class calendar that they would be celebrating an “un-birthday.” Preemptively, I packed a gluten-free cupcake in his lunch box in case the class would be having cake. That morning I had a more direct conversation with the teacher about the foods that my son needs to avoid. She seemed very accommodating and assured me that whenever they were going to have food in the classroom, I was welcome to bring a substitution.

At pick-up that afternoon, my son reported that he had been given “icing that he could have.” When I asked him what color it was, he said, “It was white so I could have it.” It turns out that what he was given to spread on his organic gluten-free cupcake was, in fact, Cool Whip®. This means that on day two he was given the following ingredients:

  • Water
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Skim milk
  • Light cream
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Natural and artificial flavor
  • Xanthan and guar gums
  • Polysorbate 60
  • Sorbitan monostearate
  • Beta carotene

On the third day of class, I asked to speak with the school director. I expressed my opinion that the use of sugar-laden junk food for classroom activities was not only unnecessary but also unacceptable. She graciously allowed me to say my piece. But in the end she made no gesture even to acknowledge the most simple of nutrition arguments: that sugar is bad for kids. Instead she explained that every family feels differently about these things and they will do their best to accommodate my needs. Again she resorted to the solution that I am always welcome to “bring in substitutions.” And exactly what substitutions would she suggest I bring in for marshmallows, food coloring, and Cool Whip®? I didn’t bother to ask.

As I walked out of the school that day, I saw a cart of animal cookies being rolled down the hallway for snack. I looked again at the weekly lunch menu posted by the door. The lunch was scheduled to be soup served with saltine crackers, a brownie, and milk. I walked out the door relieved that my boys each had a bag filled with nutritious food for their day.

But I also walked out deeply saddened by the food culture that has permeated all levels of our society down to the places where we care for, nurture, and educate our babies.

I knew that I was not going to change the environment of food at that daycare center. The director had made that more than clear. My remaining options were to either police the food allowed to touch my children’s lips on a daily basis or just get out.

I decided that my job as a mom trying to teach her children about nutrition would be much easier if that message were reinforced (or at least not contradicted) in the school.

So I spent the morning touring other childcare centers. Not a single one was free of all processed, GMO-laden, refined and sugary foods – not even the Montessori school with a tuition rate of $95 per child per day. Apparently the only way to keep your children away from these foods is to keep them at home.

But what fun is that?

In the end I found a center that seems to be much more in line with my  values. While they are not entirely junk-food-free, they are significantly more aware of the importance of nutrition and the value of teaching our children to eat right.

We will have a “first day of school take two” next week. I know that there will be ongoing discussion with my children and their schools about food and nutrition.

If you are a parent who also cares about what your children eat, please speak up! If we as parents stay silent on these issues, nothing will ever change.

My only hope now is that that the foods I see pass my little boys’ lips in the days, weeks, and months to come, have no resemblance to marshmallows, food colorings, or Cool Whip®.