A woman reads labels in a large grocery store

Following the clues

Part 1: Food is my hammer
Part 2: Seeing red
Part 3: The Weekend of Orange
Part 4: Why I’m passionate about what we eat

The appointment I’d set up with my son’s doctor actually came soon after the Weekend of Orange, and I was eager to report my findings: that two common dyes were used to color two different foods my son had eaten before two separate mother-of-all-tantrums.

The doctor’s eyes lit up.

“Well, if that’s the case,” she said, “try cutting out all artificial colors, artificial and natural flavors, and flavor enhancers.”

She explained that when kids are sensitive to one of these things, they often are sensitive to others. To get as much relief as possible, the thing to do is cut them all out. (For the record, she also suggested getting rid of gluten and dairy, but it would be a while before I was able to convince my husband to take on anything like that. It’s a whole separate story.)

After talking with her and starting to catch the dream of a future with fewer—or maybe even (gasp) no—tantrums, I thought, All right! I’m all over this!

That conversation took place right before my birthday, and our plan was to spend my birthday weekend at a cabin in the wilderness. This cabin was a recent acquisition of a work colleague and her husband, and it was located on a few wild acres beside a rushing river. It would be a true escape—no electricity, no plumbed water, no neighbors. Just the three of us stomping about and tubing.

I was in charge of provisions. With the doctor’s suggestions in mind, I headed off to Whole Foods on a mission. Our food for the three-day weekend would include only foods that met my new criteria: no artificial colors, no artificial or natural flavors, no flavor enhancers (like MSG and others). How hard could that be?

Oh, grasshopper.

I read label after label after label and was astonished at the many places I found additives—even at Whole Foods in so-called “all-natural” foods.

That first “enlightened” shopping trip took me at least an hour and a half—costing more in time and money than my usual grocery trips. But I returned home with several bags of additive-free (at least according to their labels) food.

Now the question was whether it would have any effect.

And whether my family would squawk over our new food choices … and whether Jon would balk at the higher price of our food bill.

Next: The power of peppers: my story


Meanwhile, just for fun: Look in your pantry. You might find artificial flavors and colors and natural flavors, which are not natural (more on that later), in surprising places … pasta sauces … salad dressings … spice mixes … crackers and chips … .

Today’s spoonful of sugar: This is one of our favorite pretty-quick-and-easy suppers–Chicken Skillet with Artichokes, Beets, Lemon & Olives. Only thing: If you’re with me on the additive-purge, read the ingredient lists carefully on your chicken broth/stock. My go-to is Swanson’s chicken stock, not the broth (why would anyone need to add “chicken flavor” to chicken broth?). Also watch out on the canned olives and artichoke hearts. Enjoy!

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash, illustration by SC

3 thoughts on “Following the clues

  1. Love you sharing your discoveries. Perhaps by now you have also discovered the “no sugar or artificial sweeteners” part, or even the “no processed food” part. Hard for a working mom I know, but worth it! Our pantry is down to one shelf because we eat only real whole foods now. Oven roasted fresh veggies and fish. Green smoothies. Raw Nuts. Homemade seed crackers. Lettuce wraps instead of bread. Celery sticks with almond butter.

    1. Beautiful — thank you for sharing your accomplishments, Cathy!

      Yes, I’m with you, especially when it comes to artificial sweeteners, and we strive to keep the sugar/honey intake low.

      But … maybe you’ll relate to this experience … it’s a dance, and it takes a bit to get all members of the family in the same rhythm. 😉

      Our pantry is emptier and emptier, but there are still a number of additive-free processed-food stragglers … we press on!

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