I’m that mom. You know, the one quizzing her kid at the grocery store, reading labels, translating our complicated food system so a 4 year old can relate. That’s me. (At least it is on the days when we have a little extra time. Otherwise, it’s “No…” and “Because I said so.”)
To the people trying to squeeze past us in the narrow aisles, I’m annoying. (And to be honest, I’m annoying to myself at these moments.) But I have to do this now, while she’ll still listen to me, while I’m still her favorite person (on most days). After all, it’s me against the junk food giants with their billion dollar marketing budgets. They want her to listen to them when they tell her it’s “healthy.” They want to be her favorite people (cartoon characters, I mean). They want her to give them our money and they don’t care what happens to her body or her brain. That’s my job.
The only way I know how to do my job is to lift the curtain on the Wizard and help her learn to think critically about the food she’s eating. Our conversations go something like this:
- I ask her to pick out fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow. Not only do we have a beautiful selection of vegetables to cook with when we get home, at the register, when she complains she didn’t get anything “special,” I tell her “Oh but you did. Look, you got the purple cabbage, the cherry tomatoes,” and so on. (It seems like a trick, but she really was excited about those things when we started.)
- She wants Froot Loops. I read the label to her and ask her to give a thumbs up for food that can be found in a kitchen, a thumbs down for anything else. “That’s weird,” I say, “how come there wasn’t any fruit listed?!?” “Ewwww!” she says, with a double thumbs down. (Now we know why it’s not spelled F-r-u-i-t Loops.)
- At the natural food store (there is no rest for the weary) she wants the canned pasta Arthur is hawking. “Wow, I didn’t know Arthur could cook,” I say. What follows goes sort of like this:
- Me: Did Arthur help make that?
- Her: No! (What a silly mommy!)
- Me: Does it taste better because he’s on the package?
- Her: No!
- Me: Look at this one without Arthur. Same food, but it costs less. Do we want to pay more for Arthur on the package?
- Her: No!
- Me: (Silent WooHoo!)
I don’t know if this is best, but it’s the best I can do right now. Hopefully these teachable moments will lead to a healthy awareness of our food system and a lifetime of healthy choices.
For more information on food marketing, check out these resources from The Center for Science in the Public Interest:
- Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
- Report Card on Food Marketing Policies
- Food Marketing (a handout)