You think I’m kidding? Or maybe you think I’m overreacting? Maybe I need to film my child’s reaction to food dyes, so you can see for yourself.
He came home from school with THIS.
A gingerbread house made with love, care, pride, and lots and lots of Red Dye #40. He acted like a different child all night – tic-like behaviors, shouting out random words like “MAC AND CHEESE” in his brothers’ faces until they cried, falling out of chairs, uncontrolled fidgeting, crying for no reason, and telling everyone who had regular voices to “stop talking so loud” when he was the one doing the shouting. He ended up wearing his Harbor Freight man-size headphones to the dinner table, in between choking on food and falling out of his chair some more. That is not my kid.
His school pretty much gave him food poisoning. Or set fire to all his little neurons or whatever.
We are a dye-free and preservative-free house. We try to follow the Feingold Diet, which is also often called “The ADHD Diet.” My son does not have ADHD, not even a little bit, but I learned that this diet often helps children with emotional regulation, motor control, and a large list of problems – many of which described challenges we may or may not have. I started to pay attention. I started keeping a food and behavior log for him. I started learning as much as I could about the Feingold Diet. I started learning exactly what dyes and preservatives are made from – petroleum – and why that is so bad for some children. I noticed patterns: all hell broke loose after fast food, liquid ibuprofen, popsicles, cupcakes, and more.
(And don’t you dare try to blame it on the sugar. I cook from scratch with sugar plenty and it does not instigate these reactions in my child. We have pumpkin pie with SUGAR every Sunday, and I make cookies with white beans AND SUGAR, and brownies with black beans or dates and cocoa AND SUGAR. We drink homemade hot chocolate made with cocoa and SUGAR. We make SUGAR cookies with vegetable dye frosting. Don’t tell me it’s the sugar.)
We have always taken food pretty seriously. I don’t post about it much here on this blog, because I hate “food porn”. It’s pretentious, which is exactly the opposite of the “okayest” mentality. But the truth that I hide from you dear readers is that I LOVE to cook, and we LOVE food. My husband was raised by a foreign-born mother, on a Mediterranean-type menu (chicken, fish, yogurt, fruit), while I was raised by Southerners on the (homemade) fried food and (homemade) vegetables-cooked-to-mush and lots of cheese and (homemade) carbs. I slowly changed my cooking to his tastes, and our children all naturally took to his tastes. We don’t eat out at restaurants – because twins. Because money. And when the migraines and anxiety and pressure of special needs and multiples makes cooking hard, simple things like scrambled eggs or plain yogurt are way easier than going out to get food anyway.
So I thought that this diet would be “preaching to the choir”. Turns out, I still had a lot to learn about the way dyes and preservatives are hidden in everything from the skin of our oranges to the packaging in our cereal. Even a conscientious “cooker” like myself was shocked at all the ways I had let my kids down. I mean, if your child is misbehaving because of you – the mother – poisoning him with something that is basically gasoline, and then you discipline him for that…? I mean, come on!!!
Before he came home from school with his Little House of Poison, I had spent the day with a migraine and twin potty-training boys who most decidedly didn’t have migraines, but did have plenty of energy. They were, nonetheless, sick enough to need a doctor’s appointment. The doctor recommended fever reducers, decongestant, and antihistamines at night. I was relieved that they didn’t need antibiotics – that fresh hell full of pink dye and artificial flavorings. Our pharmacy is in the same building as the doctor, which, for a mother of twins, is basically nirvana. I threatened them with my Batman Mom Voice to stay still while I perused the over-the-counter meds. Guess what? Every single Tylenol, Motrin, Sudafed, and Benadryl was dyed and flavored. Every single one. In a pharmacy. I walked out with nothing. If I have to halve and crush an adult-sized plain Tylenol in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle and mix it with juice, so be it.
I raced home from the pharmacy in time to greet my oldest son as he got off the bus. In his hand was the Little Gingerbread House That Could. That could leave a swath of destruction in its wake. I knew our entire night would be hellish, just from one glimpse of that house of horrors. I knew that it didn’t matter that I had a migraine, or that the twins were sick. The real horror movie would be this cute little house.
Sadly, I was right.
And just the day before, one of my son’s support teachers had given him packaged cookies and pretzels. Before lunch. Not ten minutes after, he was in the nurse’s office complaining of a headache. His homeroom teacher (who works so very hard, looks out for my boy, and is definitely on our team) told me that she knows it “isn’t like him to complain or to get headaches,” and she’s right. I took him some dye-free Motrin (which is why I had none in the house for the twins today), and they sent him back to class. He didn’t eat his lunch that day, because he said he was full from the cookies. Then we end up with a child getting off the bus who hasn’t had any protein since breakfast and probably has low blood sugar, AND has been given who knows what by a person of authority. Guess what? That night was hell too.
WTF did she give him?! And without my permission?
I could spend a loooooong time explaining all the things here that I have learned, but, dear readers, Google is your friend. I’m sure if you’re interested you will continue the research on your own. I don’t want to misquote facts and rewrite the wheel or whatever.
However, let me just scream in all caps for a little while. I’ve never done this before, so you can take it, right?
WHY DOES MY PHARMACY HAVE NO DYE-FREE IBUPROFEN OR DYE-FREE ACETAMINOPHEN? THE PHARMACY IS DOING ACTUAL HARM TO MY CHILD.
WHY DOES THE SCHOOL CONTINUE TO GIVE MY CHILD FOOD WHEN I HAVE SIGNED EVERYTHING I NEED TO SIGN TO FORBID IT?
WHY IN THE BLEEP IS THERE SO MUCH FOOD IN SCHOOLS ANYWAY?! FOOD SHOULD NOT BE USED AS REWARDS AND BAIT! AND THEN TEACHERS PUNISH THEIR STUDENTS FOR MISBEHAVING AFTER THEY THEMSELVES HAVE PUT THE STUPID M&M’S IN THEIR INNOCENT MOUTHS?!
I COULD HAVE PROVIDED NATURAL VERSIONS OF ANYTHING THEY NEEDED FOR THAT STUPID GINGERBREAD HOUSE!!!
THE VERY INSTITUTIONS THAT I TRUST THE MOST WITH MY SON’S CARE – MEDICAL AND EDUCATIONAL – ARE UNDERMINING MY EFFORTS TO HELP MY CHILD BE HEALTHY AND IN CONTROL OF HIS OWN BODY.
THE SCHOOL GIVES HIM THE CRAP AND THEN I HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE FALLOUT AT HOME. IT IS NOT FAIR TO MY OTHER CHILDREN, MY HUSBAND, OR ME. MOST OF ALL, IT IS NOT FAIR TO MY SON, WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHY HE IS ACTING LIKE THIS, AND FURTHERMORE, REALLY REALLY DOESN’T WANT TO ACT LIKE THIS.
I HATE MAKING MORE WORK FOR THE TEACHERS – ESPECIALLY SINCE I WAS A TEACHER MYSELF – BUT IF THEY WOULD STOP USING FOOD TO TRAIN OUR CHILDREN, THIS WOULDN’T BE AN ISSUE OR ANY EXTRA WORK AT ALL.
I HAVE PROVIDED MY SON’S SCHOOL WITH ALTERNATIVE SNACKS FOR HIM FOR ALMOST EVERY CONCEIVABLE FUTURE OCCASION, AND I HATE THEM FOR ALLOWING SO MUCH JUNK THROUGH THEIR DOORS THAT *HE* FEELS WEIRD AND OSTRACIZED SIMPLY BY EATING WELL AND OBEYING HIS MOM.
WHY DOES THE EUROPEAN UNION TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY AND OUR COUNTRY DOESN’T SEEM TO NOTICE ANY OF THE RESEARCH?! ARE ONLY EUROPEAN CHILDREN WORTHY OF HEALTH AND GOOD BEHAVIOR?
WHY ARE DOCTORS NOT ENCOURAGING (REQUIRING!) PARENTS TO TRY DIET CHANGES BEFORE MORE EXTREME MEASURES?
MY SON IS A GOOD KID WHO DOESN’T NEED TO BE BRIBED WITH TREATS TO BEHAVE OR PARTICIPATE.
ACTUALLY, *ALL* CHILDREN ARE “GOOD KIDS” AND *NO* CHILD NEEDS TO BE BRIBED WITH FOOD. THEY ARE NOT DOGS. NOT DOGS!!! FOOD IS FOR NOURISHMENT.
GET AWAY FROM MY KID’S MOUTH WITH THAT SH!T.
AND, last but not least, I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU OTHER MOMS TO CHANGE YOUR DIETS. Your family, your kids, your menu, and your grocery list are all personal to you, and I don’t claim to know what is best for anyone besides my own family. Even in my own house, I have one child who reacts to dyes severely, one child who seems like he might be benefiting from the changes, and one child who is exactly the same all the freaking time. So, no, dear readers, you can rest easy that I am not judging anyone. Every mother has the right to do what she deems best for her own family. I respect you. Now if only we could get the school to respect ME AND MY KID.
Looks like I have a lot of emails to write and a lot of visits to make.
Mr. Okayest said “This is your most yell-y post yet.”
For more information:
Die, Food Dye!
The Feingold Diet
The All-Natural Mom of Four
The famous 2007 Lancet Study and the impact of it