The Halloween Switch-a-roo

November 5, 2013 § 5 Comments

It never ceases to amaze me how utterly maddening the search for Sugar Awareness can be. Just when you think you’ve found her, she dodges away licking a lollipop and singing “Got-cha!!”

I’ll give you a for instance. As we all know, Americans just experienced one of the most unabashed displays of sugar worship known to our calendar: Halloween. As I’ve mentioned before, despite the sugar onslaught I do love Halloween. In our house we devote an inordinate amount of time to Costume Development… for example my older daughter Greta decided to go as a medieval princess character from a favorite movie. Consequently a large portion of my October was spent communing with yards and yards of burgundy velveteen while Greta patiently sewed imitation pearls to the bodice, one… by… one.

30 Pounds of Fructose

30 Pounds of Fructose

Ilsa, meanwhile, announced early on that she wanted to go as “a pair of pants” with her good friend Brett; they would each be one leg of course. Therefore, when I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in gold brocade and eyelets, I was hemming an enormous wad of elastic into a pair of polka dotted trousers that would have fit Andre the Giant.

This is the fun part. The candy part, however, presents problems that can’t be solved by embroidery and clown shoes. Thus, about a week prior to the holiday, I was delighted to receive a flyer in Ilsa’s backpack advertising a “Candy Buy-Back and Fall Festival” at a nearby dentist’s office.

YES! I’d heard about Halloween candy buy-backs before and was soooooo curious: would anyone actually go? Would it be a dreary, grey event, kids lining up to reluctantly part with their hard-earned fructose and food coloring, before taking an oh-so-exciting tour of the dentistry facilities? How could you actually make getting rid of candy… fun?

Well, unfortunately, I’m here to tell you how: you give them more candy.

But let me back up. My friend Robin and I arrived with our corresponding kidlets to what looked surprisingly like a fun event: there were kids everywhere and loud, weird music playing (the theme from “Grease” was blasting from the DJ’s console when we arrived). There was a variety of low-tech games and activities such as a ring toss, mini-bowling and a spin art booth. At a craft table kids were coloring pictures of pumpkins and weaving friendship bracelets from embroidery floss. There was a booth for face-paint and temporary tattoos and every twenty minutes or so they’d announce a door prize, which varied from an iTunes gift card to a new haircut.

It was surprisingly festive. I was totally impressed. It was a beautiful fall day (unlike Halloween- upon which it rained) and it was working. Kids were showing up, turning in pounds of candy, and they were clearly having fun.

My eight year old was determined to do it ALL- Ilsa hit every table and played every game. When it was all over she left with face paint AND a tattoo AND a colored paper pumpkin AND a spin art masterpiece. The only thing she didn’t leave with was less candy.

In part that’s because of the truth of that old saying about bringing a horse to water. After explaining the principles of the Candy Buy Back to Ilsa the night before (one dollar for every pound), and weighing her candy (which amounted to juuuuuuuuust over one pound), she was of the considered opinion that it “just wasn’t worth it.”

I didn’t blame her. Because of the rain we had come home with substantially less candy that other years, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to talk her out of her entire haul… But because the buy-back candy was being donated to make care packages for U.S. military  (I had a lot of ambivalence on that count as well- couldn’t we just send them a nice brisket, maybe?) I did manage to talk Ilsa into cheering some nice soldier somewhere with a single, solitary piece of candy. She picked a Dum Dum lollipop.

Do you know how small a Dum Dum is? It is pretty much the smallest piece of candy you can possibly find that isn’t a breath mint. So if you’ve ever supposed that going an entire year without sugar would henceforth transform one’s kids into sugar-shunning tofu-heads, let me correct your misapprehension.

(For our part, at home, we’ve instituted a two-piece-per week rule. At that rate I figure they’ll finish off their candy bags just in time to start buying candy with their social security money.)

Meanwhile Ilsa’s friend Brett- who has an allergy to nuts and consequently couldn’t have most of his Halloween candy anyway- turned in his pound and got a nice crisp dollar bill in return, as well as a dentist’s idea of a goody bag: toothbrush, flossers, and a two-minute timer.

Replacement Fructose!

Replacement Fructose!

But something was amiss… what was it? It took me a minute, but then I put my finger on it: grown-ups were wandering around eating enormous sugary donuts on paper plates. Robin directed my attention to the refreshment table by the DJ where electric-colored cupcakes, gigantic pastries, and gallons of apple cider rested: a sugar buffet of the highest order.

And then we noticed the prizes for the cute kids games: can you guess? Lollipops. In fact, all the kid games were being run by other kids, so whether you won or not they were pretty anxious to give all-comers a prize. Upshot: Ilsa donated to the soldiers one lollipop; by the end of the event she had accumulated five or six new ones.

Now I should qualify this by pointing out that, unlike the refreshment table, the lollipops being handed out did not contain fructose. They were clearly labeled as being sweetened with Xylitol, which is a ”tooth friendly” sugar alcohol. I’m not a fan of sugar alcohols because they have been known, to varying degrees, to cause gassiness and other gastric distress. But beyond that I’m just… skeptical. As No Sugar proponent and author David Gillespie rightly points out, after over a hundred years of ever-increasing sugar consumption, we’re only now just figuring out the health costs of fructose, so who knows what eventual side effects may be the result of such recent lab-borne ingredients as sugar alcohols?

But you know, we had a fun afternoon. Ilsa came away sad not to have won a door prize, but delighted to have a ghost popping out of a pumpkin painted on her cheek. When we first arrived the volunteers informed us they had already collected 27 pounds of candy, and by the time it was all over they said they had lost count. So for the low-low price of perhaps- what?- thirty-five dollars maybe, this dentists’ office had removed untold amounts of fructose from the diets of the kids running around. It’s actually a pretty noble thing, especially when you consider that, among many other things, more fructose= more business for dentists.

But then there’s that big, problematic refreshment table. I’m not suggesting they serve brussels sprouts and marinated kale mind you, but could they have had cheese and crackers and a big bowl of apples from a nearly orchard, maybe? Some of those cute little mini bottles of water? How hard would that be?

Not as hard as figuring out how to send a brisket to the troops, anyway, I can tell you that.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 87

December 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

There are times when I think we live in our own little small-town Vermont oasis, cushioned from the crazy things that are going on in the modern world. And then there are times that I know we do.

Take last Friday night for example. We took our kids to a city forty minutes away in New York, because we had see the Muppet Movie… and that was the closest place to see it. We had to navigate the run-of-the-mill-mall, of course, that post-apocalyptic wasteland of crap you don’t need and stuff to eat that isn’t food. It was fine- we have yucky malls in Vermont too.

Then there was the theatre: each movie was allotted what I would call a large walk-in closet of a seating area, presumably so that they have room to show forty-seven different movies simultaneously. I was surprised to be treated to an incessant stream of commercials jabbering away on the screen, instead of the customary silence before the previews start, or the local powerpoint slide show that graces our local two-screen theatre in Vermont.

Then there were the previews. A full half-hour of them. Huh. Would they show commercials during the movie too, I wondered?

At long last we got to the part in which sky-scraper-sized containers of Coke and monster-truck-sized boxes of Sour Patch Kids float cheerfully through space, alterting audience members to something they have surely overlooked: that the football-field sized counter in the lobby- you know, that sensory assault of colors and chemicals you walked past to get in here? Yeah- you can buy “refreshments” there.

It was there, I noticed, that you can now buy a tub of popcorn larger than your head– it’s about the size of a horse’s grain bucket. To go with it, you can buy a soda of Brobdignagian proportions that takes two hands to carry.

Lucky for us, we had already eaten. But after the movie ended my older daughter Greta really REALLY wanted a drink, so I approached the neon counter and ordered a small bottle of water.

“That’ll be $4.75, please.”

??

“Yes, $4.75.”

!!

Pause.

“Greta honey, we’re going to have to have to find you a drink somewhere else.” On the way out I explained to her the definition of the phrase “captive audience.”

Is it me, or is the world just getting too obscene to believe? Since when does a bottle of water cost nearly five dollars? (The large, in case you were wondering, was $6.75) Using this principle, a shower should cost about a thousand dollars.

And speaking of general societal insanity, let’s talk about the holidays. At our house, we’ve been inundated with reams of Christmas catalogs, a good third of which exclusively feature pornographic desserts- A cheesecake composed of fourteen distinct flavors! Brownies with caramel dipping sauce! A pudding inside a cookie inside a cake! The copy features slogans like “Chocolate: Happiness that you can eat!” and “Have one of each!”

Inundated

But the craziness doesn’t end there: it’s also at school. Holiday fundraising catalogs come home featuring “great gifts” such as cheap chocolates, chemical-laden soup packets, and mixes for cakes and cookies which aren’t hard to make in the first place. Flyers supplied by the local supermarkets encourage us to buy certain name brands to “Help Our Schools!”: “Bagel Bites,” “TGI Fridays” appetizers, and “Yoplait” yogurts filled with high fructose corn syrup. I love our school, but I resent the fact that I’m being encouraged to buy crap for our kids in the name of school spirit.

How are we supposed to eat healthy when so many forces are conspiring to make us just go along with the status quo? When a bottle of water costs five dollars? When the celebration of Christmas- or anything, really- is equated with eating dessert? When getting a snack from the concession stand requires the use of a hand-truck?

It’s one of the hard questions that never goes away… how do I raise a healthy child, in every sense, in mind, body and spirit? If we focus too much on good nutrition, will it backfire? How much are we willing to pull back from society at large, in order to eat healthy? For my part, I can only hope that our Year of No Sugar hasn’t backfired terribly, turning my kids into life-long sugarholics just to get back at me for it. We’ll see.

But I have hope. Just before the movie began, as the giant-junk-food-in space floated across the screen, Greta leaned over to me and whispered with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye, “Hey- It’s Sugar Heaven!

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 68

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

It seems appropriate that we are hunkered down here in the house today, like everyone else we know, waiting out the rain and wind of Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Rather-Wet-Zephyr Irene. I’m perfectly happy to sit still for a while- for the last few days we’ve been racing around at a breakneck pace trying to squeeze ten pounds of summer into a one pound bag and frankly, I’m bug-bitten, sunburned, and exhausted.

Among other things we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Washington County Fair. Although it’s a hallowed, end-of summer tradition around here, we’ve never been and in fact, I realized, I’ve never been to a county fair of any sort. But now I’m hooked.

It’s hard to explain what is so compelling about the whole county fair thing: barn after barn of impressive, almost regal animals- from looming oxen to preening roosters- each one unique, each one cleaned, brushed and shining, ready for their fifteen minutes of fame. Everywhere you go you encounter that familiar, homey smell of manure and hay. Young children look oddly serious in their white shirts with paper numbers, purposefully leading their animals here and there. You have to stand back and be grateful for a moment that such an old fashioned-seeming event as this is going strong in the age of “I don’t have time for that.”

Because of course what this event celebrates is time. You can’t have an animal and care for it properly without time. And appropriately, this reminds me of food and how, as a culture, we supposedly have no time for that either, anymore. This connection makes sense: every one of these animals originally gained it’s position on the farm as either a direct provider of food or to aid in the production of it. Wandering around the goat and sheep pavilion it gave me pause to read the signs above the brilliantly groomed animals detailing their names, the intricate names of their breeds, and then that their job was: “Meat.” To a modern sensibility this seemed incongruous- isn’t meat a lowly thing, not to be named or well cared for, but to be shunted to a back lot, fed a diet of mud and antibiotics, slaughtered in secret, before being shipped anonymously out, to be consumed without a thought?

Pardon me- as a former twenty-year vegetarian I tend to get a little melodramatic on the subject. Today, as an enthusiastic meat-eater, I am no less concerned with the animal’s well-being and the obvious relationship that holds with the fact that we are then putting that animal as food into our bodies. After all, they taught us in elementary school that “you are what you eat,” so who wants to be a poor, miserable, doped-up, factory-farm creature?

But we just don’t have the time or money to worry about that- that’s the cultural message we hear from all around us- our society needs to make progress, move forward, spend more time interacting with technology and less and less and less time worrying about the Hot Pockets (Now in “Nuclear Waste Flavor!”) they we are putting in our mouths.

I know. I’m sounding evangelical and I apologize. The funny thing is, that even at this event which seemed to celebrate the very point that I’m ham-handedly trying to make here- ie: that good, healthy food connects to a longstanding agricultural tradition of good, healthy animals- even here we were simultaneously confronted with the equal and opposite message- namely: eat crap! It’s delicious, cheap and fun!

You know where I’m going with this. As we made our way further and further from the animals and closer and closer to the midway, we encountered an astounding array of junk for our perusal: buckets of fries! Giant bags of Kettle Korn! Slushies that glow in the dark! Sodas too large to carry!

My kids were anxious to get to the rides, and were impatient with me stopping every thirty seconds or so to take pictures of the gastronomical Sodom and Gomorrah. I couldn’t help it- what has happened? I wondered wide-eyed, what have we come to? In his interview with Nightline, Dr. Robert Lustig compared our modern food court to an opium den; here at the carnival this unsettling image of debauchery and debilitation seemed entirely too appropriate.

Likewise, the audience in attendance that day showed ample evidence of enjoying a diet closer to the midway side of the fair than to the 4-H side. Being substantially overweight was not the exception, I realized looking around, but the norm. It made it easier than ever to believe the recent prediction that by 2030 half of Americans will be obese. Not overweight, mind you: obese. Are we worried yet?

Earlier that morning as we prepared to make the forty-minute drive to the fairgrounds, I had quietly grumbled to myself, annoyed at the work involved with preparing a picnic lunch to bring and lug around with us all morning. It took time. It was heavy. All I wanted to do was leave– why couldn’t we just be normal? I whined to myself. Why did I have to torture our family with this No Sugar Madness? Wasn’t I just being selfish and pushy and fanatical?

But let me tell you how happy I was to have that lunch when we started to get hungry… which wasn’t very long after we had arrived and meandered through a few exhibits. Already we were famished. We sat on a picnic bench under the shade of a big pavilion and devoured our cheese and tomato sandwiches, crackers with peanut butter and a small basket of plums like it was air- we breathed it all in. And after eating? I felt really, really good.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 42

April 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

I know it might be a little odd, but I place a tremendous amount of importance on how I, as a parent, deal with holidays. If I have somehow failed to measure up to the idea in my head of how nice I’d like say, Easter to be, I will suffer some pretty severe self-recriminations.

I remember last Easter, for example, we happened to be traveling. Our transatlantic flight was scheduled to land the day before Easter, and so Mommy-the-Easter-Bunny spent a superhuman amount of time worrying about portable easter baskets, and trying to find suitably non-fragile, Easter-y items that would fit in her carry-on (can you imagine if Easter didn’t come because American Airlines LOST IT??)

After all my agonizing I was proud of the modest arrangement I managed to concoct on the run and while suffering from a truly harrowing case of jet lag. My ten year old Greta hopped out of bed, surveyed the tiny festive scene, and immediately summed up the situation: “That’s it?”

Oh well.

This year, I’ve been equally worried about what the Easter Bunny may have in store for us, and how it will measure up. After all, what is an Easter basket without CANDY? I keep thinking to myself, wait! Didn’t we just do this? At Valentine’s Day? At Christmas? I was shocked by the not-inconsiderable amount of treats which came home accompanying both my daughters’ brown bags of Valentines this year- and of course we’re not talking Grandma’s brownies here, we’re talking crappy pink lollipops in the shape of Tinkerbell; essentially a chemical oddity on a stick. Since when, I thought, did every Valentine have to come with an ad for the sugar industry- and Disney- attached? Probably it was only a matter of time. I’m fairly certain St.Patrick’s Day Pixie Sticks and Groundhog’s Day gummies will be next.

But after assembling their baskets this evening and putting them out I am cautiously optimistic. No, there are no jellybeans, chocolate bunnies, or Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (my personal favorite). Not a Peep. In fact, there’s not an edible thing in them, although I briefly toyed with the thought of putting some carrots with the green tops hanging down in, just for fun, but thought better of it.

Instead, I have Easter-themed videos, some small, amorphous, but very Springy-looking stuffed animals, sparkly egg ornaments, some pretty Easter Mardi Gras necklaces (thank you Easter Grandma), and a hangman game for them to share. I put all the things out and stood back, almost afraid to look- would it be, somehow, lacking? Would the sugar-less-ness of it all just be too, too obvious, and slightly sad?

But I didn’t think that. The baskets looked perfectly festive and Easter-like, I realized . Thank God.

So I’ve at least passed my own test this No Sugar Easter… I wonder what the kids’ verdict will be.

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