Did you know that the E.U. requires warning labels on foods with certain artificial food dyes? And that American brands have adapted their foods for sale in Europe? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched, then, to ask why they aren’t making the same changes to the products sold here, right? Well it turns out some companies are, though the incentive may be less goodwill and more fear of an anticipated crackdown after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced hearings on the use of artificial dyes in food, taking place next week. Artificial food dyes have been linked to ADHD, cancer and allergies for quite some time, and one can only hope the FDA will fully consider the science behind those concerns.
Not long ago, the husband returned home from Target bearing rainbow-colored goldfish crackers. Before I could, ahem, react, he quickly pointed to the label: “Colors from Natural Ingredients!” I was still skeptical so I turned it over to see — in fact, they use annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika, turmeric, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate. And they are just as boldly colored as can be — so clearly, the question of can we replace artificial dyes with natural ones has already been answered.
The trouble with food dyes, as with so many additives, is that they are not just in the obvious junk foods but so many other foods you wouldn’t even expect to see colors. Plain white marshmallows? Artificially white. The potato rolls we buy because they don’t have HFCS? Yellow #5 and #6. (Maybe it’s crazy to ask why can’t potato rolls just be white? Aren’t potatoes white?)
I’m able to avoid some of the grocery store battles by shopping at the organic market as much as possible. But on a recent trip to the regular grocery, the dreaded meltdown occurred in the cereal bar aisle when the boy spotted Nemo, Cars and other full-colored “fruit” snacks conveniently located at his eye-level. Now we sometimes buy Annie’s brand fruit snacks, which I fully realize are still not much more than a dose of sugar, but at least they’re made of natural sugar and colors. Trying to explain to a hungry and tired 4-year-old why some fruit snacks are only special treats he gets at birthday parties was an unpopular argument, to say the least, but I pressed on and later let him choose some of those colored goldfish crackers for his after school snacks.
Before I had kids I didn’t appreciate the power of marketing to young kids, thinking surely parents just needed to learn to say no. I’ve since been educated in the magical powers of branding (thanks, PBS, for making sure my son recognizes McDonald’s golden arches). Sure Annie’s bunnies are cute, but why settle for bunnies if you can get snacks that look just like Dora?! Wouldn’t it be nice to have to say “no” just a little less often? The folks behind the movie “Fresh!” are running an online petition you can sign to urge the FDA to ban artificial dyes in food. Click here to sign the petition today. (Deadline is Wednesday, March 23.)
The Foodie Tot and I did some baking over the weekend, making hamantaschen for Purim. No dyes needed as hamantaschen get their jewel tones from jams — raspberry, blueberry and poppyseed, this time. Here’s a little clip, enjoy!
(And please see these other great posts on food dyes in children’s food: