When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Where there's a Will, there's a way (part 2)

You may remember that a few weeks ago, Will took it upon himself to write a letter to the Nature's Path Foods company, asking them to please lower the sugar content of one of their kids' cereals so he'd be allowed to eat it.  (You can read his letter here.)  One day after school this week, Will was thrilled to find a fat envelope addressed to him in the mail pile:  the company had written back to him!  He excitedly dropped everything he was carrying, tore open the envelope, and was initially thrilled to discover the pile of children's cereal animal mascot tattoos that spilled onto the hallway floor.  He grew quiet, though, as I read through the reply letter with him, and by the end, he looked at me disappointedly and said, "But Mom, they didn't answer my question."

He was right.  The letter was very friendly, and informative, and helpful to a certain extent.  It thanked Will for his comments, talked about how the company doesn't use high-fructose corn syrup and in some products, uses sweeteners such as fruit juices, and suggested a list of their low sugar cereals that our family could eat instead of the Koala Crisp that Will is so eager to try.  The Consumer Services representative also let Will know that the company is "working hard to develop new products" to satisfy those consumers looking for low sugar foods, and that his comments had been passed on to the product manager.

From Will's perspective, the problem with the reply is that he told Nature's Path Foods in his original letter that he already eats some of the low sugar products they suggested he try.  What he was specifically asking was that they make the cereals marketed to kids, the ones sweetened with cane sugar in the appealing looking boxes, healthier so that he could eat them.  I'm guessing that for him, the only satisfactory reply would have been a "Yes, we'll get right on changing that for you!".

It's hard to explain to a determined child why lowering the sugar content of a colourful box of kids' cereal is not accomplished by the writing of a letter.  What seems to Will to be a simple problem with a simple solution is actually only a small part of an enormous issue.  Grocery store shelves are full of products geared towards children that are higher in sugar than similar products marketed to adults.  At what point did we decide as a society that foods for kids should have the highest sugar content?

I was a kid once; I used to beg my mom to buy me Count Chocula cereal because it looked fun.  My mom was wise and never put that cereal box in her grocery cart, but even though I had never tasted it, I still wanted it.  Food companies know this; they grab kids' attention with cartoon character mascots, rainbow colouring, and promises of candy-like "magical deliciousness", and then, if their parents agree to buy those boxes, the companies keep kids wanting more of the products inside by appealing to their sweet tooth.  Once children get used to having this daily high dose of sugar, is it any wonder they don't develop a taste for less sweet foods that are better for them?  Lifelong healthy eating habits start with wise choices when children are very young.  It's up to us as parents to show the food companies, with letters like Will's, and more importantly, with our buying habits, that we want something better than what's in most of those bright boxes aimed at our kids.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with Nature's Path Foods in general -- I think as far as cereals go (which, to me, have limited usefulness as a "healthy" breakfast food, anyway), some of this company's products are among the healthier ones available on grocery store shelves.  But the irony of them mailing Will tattoos of the animal mascots for the very cereals I won't let him eat due to their too-high sugar content is not lost on me.  Fortunately, Will is too smart to be distracted by some cute, shiny tattoos, and for him, this issue has not been put to rest.  I'm sure right now the wheels are turning in his ever-busy brain, driving him to find a way to make this situation right.

Will lamented to me the other day that now he probably won't be able to eat that Koala Crisp cereal until he is a grown-up.  (I'm pretty sure he won't still want to eat it then if it exists in its current form; I know the mere thought of eating a bowl of Count Chocula for breakfast now puts me into a sugar-induced stupor.)  What I hope for, though, when Will is a grown-up, is that through the actions of concerned, health-conscious consumers, the food industry will have changed significantly for the better.  I hope some day Will will be able to buy the fun-looking packages for his children and feel good about what's inside them.

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