Drinking Kool-Aid and Watching the Smurfs

Childhood isn’t a place too long gone for me; it’s what the attic of my head is wallpapered in.

For many of us, childhood was one of the brightest, most promising times.  Therefore, it remains today as a safe, heartwarming place in our minds.  A place where we can return to, like remembering a good dream, whenever we want.  And thanks to the people who are still alive who share those memories with us, we have access this seemingly imaginary fantasy world that we were all once a part of.  In a land called The Eighties.  Or Nineties.  Or Sixties.  (There are several to choose from.)

My literary teacher Michael Chabon explains it (he doesn’t know who I am, in reality) in a way that would make me jealous that he thought of it first, except for the fact if it weren’t for studying his style, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today.  He refers to mutual collected memories in his book Manhood for Amateurs as “an entire network of tunnels, secret passageways, into the past”. 

We carry the exclusive memories of each other in the hard drives of our own minds, sporadically reminiscing to make sure of the validity of the events, and to glean from the enhanced emotions attached to them. 

The way my mind works, I can’t just simply open a file in my head entitled “Childhood: 1981-1993”.  Instead, these scattered gems are embedded along with all other memories and knowledge.  So when I click on one file, there’s sure to be a random childhood memory hanging on to it. 

And sometimes I just have flashes of them.  Like the Spring and Summer of 1989 (2nd grade) when I played baseball.  The pings of the aluminum bats, the crickets singing their alien songs in the moist, freshly cut baseball fields.  The sun going down as each game began. 

And when I go to that place, I remember how I had the biggest crush on Meg Guice, who never had a clue.  Yes, those were the days were drinking Kool-Aid; my favorite flavor being the short-lived “Sharkleberry Fin”, only second to Hi-C’s “Ecto Cooler”.  When Saved by the Bell hadn’t quite arrived, so The Smurfs pretty much taught me what I needed to know about society. 

Memories of being in Cub Scouts, riding the bus from school every Tuesday to the First Methodist Church, where my parents (the scout leaders) met us there with the aforementioned Kool-Aid and some adventurous craft assignment, like a bug collection (in which Matt Hall brought in a dead bat) or brainstorming about the upcoming Pinewood Derby race (which I won 1st place overall in 1991, thanks to my dad’s craftsmanship). 

I could go on, but I have a feeling by this point, some of your own childhood memories have been stirred up.  Don’t let me interrupt that for you.  Have fun.

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Red Food Dye: Red 40 Comes from Petroleum and Crimson Lakes Comes from Scale Insects

Mommy, where does red food dye come from?…

I often feel like Dr. David Banner, who theorized he needed more exposure to gamma rays in order for his body to be able to harness its superhuman strength during a time of an adrenaline-fueled crisis. He therefore took matters into his own hands by using scientific machinery to get a good dose of gamma radiation. Of course, in turn he became the Incredible Hulk.

In the way that he had to scientifically experiment with his own body to test his theory, so have I, in several cases. Today’s report: The Case of Red Food Dye.

Between the ages of 9 and 11, I was a nervous kid. I had nothing to be anxious about. Definitely a happy childhood. But for no apparent reason, at times I would break out into anxiety attacks. I didn’t know why I was so afraid or why I was crying. And I had constant stomach problems. Which helped keep me nervous all the time.

Petroleum = Red 40

Then fortunately through my mom’s circle of Mom Friends, she heard the urban legend that red food dye in Kool-Aid and other kid’s foods was causing health problems in children. So I was banned from red Kool-Aid and any kind of candy or snacks that were the color red, or specifically contained the food dye colors Red 40 or Crimson Lake.

And what was the result?  My anxiety attacks and stomach problems cleared up.

Red 40 (Allura Red AC) has been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, and even lower IQ’s in children. Turns out, the Red Food Dye Urban Legend is not simply an old wives’ tale. In the UK, Red 40 is planned to be officially phased out by the end of this year in children’s products, including medicine. However, in America, the dye is still approved by the FDA.

What’s so toxic about Red 40? Here’s a clue: It’s derived from petroleum.

Crimson Lake (Carmine) has been linked to severe allergic reactions, even known to cause anaphylactic shock, which is a very serious condition. Europe discourages the use of the dye in its food products, yet has no regulations against it. The American FDA will begin requiring companies to specifically label food products with the dye, starting in 2011.

What’s so toxic about Crimson Lake? It’s derived from female cochineal (scaled) insects. They produce carminic acid, which is a deterrent for their predators. That acid is where the dye gets its official name: Carmine.

Scale insects = Crimson Lake

We eat petroleum and insects every day.  In red licorice.  Big Red chewing gum.  Yogurt.  M&M’s.  If it’s not naturally red, it’s probably Red 40 or Crimson Lake.

But really, is knowing this going to stop us?