You know what’s awesome? Being told you’re a bad mom. That makes for a fabulous start to the day. And that’s what many moms took from the First Lady’s scolding of parents who feeding their kids Kraft macaroni and cheese, which the First Lady said isn’t “real food.”
Of course, she’s just echoing what other mommy bloggers do every single day on websites that make moms feel bad about their decisions. Take the website Mamavation, which this week told me and their millions of followers that I’m a bad mom because I let my kids have Goldfish crackers.
Uh huh. Chew on that for a few minutes.
In the judgmental little piece titled: “10 Processed Foods to NEVER Feed Your Kids,” writer Elizabeth Bruno (a self-described working mom and a
food scientistnutritionist doctor nurse biologisttoxicologist pirate enthusiast) promises to (emphasis and bracket mine) “take a closer look at what effect these foods are having on your child’s health, along with alternative choices [read: expensive organic food choices] you can make to safeguard their future.”
That’s right, people: it’s Yale or jail based on your decision about crackers!
Food Alarmists Love Extremity
First, let’s examine a favorite word used by alarmists: Never. Alarmist mommy bloggers love that word. And make no mistake, they mean it. When they say never, they mean you can NEVAHHHHH, NEVAHHHH feed your kids these evil, deadly foods.
Did I mention, never?
Never means never, people. That means, if your kid ever takes a teeny, weeny nibble of this stuff, you’re a bad mom. If he gets this food for a snack at a play-date or at daycare or at camp, you’re a bad mom. If she takes a taste of the normal snack food her friend’s munching on, you’re a bad mom… and should be shamed. Oh, and your kid’s probably going to die early. Cheers!
This is the strategy employed by most of the writers for Mamavation—a website filled with mom bloggers who generally fall back on the standard catchall “it causes cancer” line when writing about the “dangers” of processed foods while failing to ever mention that cancer rates continue to fall. These ladies claim the food you feed your kids is filled with dangerous chemicals and preservatives (notably, these women never seem to make the connection between preservatives and food safety). According to these perfectionists, if you want to be a good mom, you’ll spend hours tending your backyard garden, grinding your own wheat, and making things entirely from scratch. And if you can manage to have a goat or a few chickens in your backyard, you’re an even better mom. Gold star!
Mommy Bloggers Beware: Organic Is No Scientific Imperative
Bruno employs this strategy beautifully in her piece. Her listicle starts with a warning about Goldfish crackers, saying the nutrients added to the crackers, such as iron and folic acid, are dangerous. Her evidence? A hyperlink to another random listicle of twelve foods one should avoid for no other reason than the writer told you to. Note to Bruno, Buzzfeed-like listicles are not scientific evidence.
But her real concern with Goldfish crackers stems from the cheese the manufacturer uses on the crackers. She says ominously: “Moving on to the cheddar cheese–it’s not organic. That means the cows ate a diet of genetically modified grains and then produced milk for the cheese.”
A few thoughts for the scientifically-challenged Bruno (and any poor souls who think she’s an authority on these matters): First, there is ZERO nutritional difference between organic and conventional food. Here’s a slightly more a legitimate source on this issue. Second, GMO DNA, or the proteins encoded in them, have never been detected in the milk, meat, or eggs derived from animals fed genetically engineered feed. But more importantly, Bruno needs to take a deep breath and consider the millions of foreign DNA her body ingests everyday. Does she eat a banana? Well, then, she’s eaten banana DNA…and SHE’S NOT A BANANA! Oh no! Did she drink some orange juice (organic, natch!) this morning? Well then, Bruno has just consumed some orange-y DNA. PANIC!
Bruno should relax. DNA consumed by eating things doesn’t do anything. Our bodies are meant to receive and digest lots and lots of stuff and it does no harm. Here’s an excellent and very readable piece on how that works. And bonus, it’s written by a scientist, not a pirate enthusiast.
Not All Of Us Get Paid to Tout Organic Food
Finally, organic food is way more expensive than conventional food. Now, I get it, Bruno’s a blogger who gets paid to advertise organic food on her website (which I think is perfectly fine), so she’s going to push organic products and she probably receives awesome (and free) gifts from these companies for doing so. But please, Ms. Bruno, try to remember that not all moms are as rich as you. Some of us prefer to save money on our groceries so we can afford other things…like heat and shoes for our kids.
Bruno goes on to warn against pop tarts and soda and Lunchables and GoGurt and Happy Meals and chocolate milk for a variety of reasons. And you know what? I do agree with her in part, because I too hope kids eat more nutritiously and moms should recognize that these should be occasional treats and shortcuts, not diet staples.
But Bruno and her colleagues at Mamavation would be wise to watch their tone and consider being a bit kinder to moms who struggle with time and money issues. They can start by changing their hysterical rhetoric, not using the word “never,” or just maybe they could at least stop implying kids are on death row because they ate a cracker. Perhaps a few of these Mamavation writers could take a moment to remember that we’re all human and sometimes moms need to take a break. Some moms need to buy less-expensive food. It’s absolutely monstrous to tell mothers who struggle with their food budgets that they’re harming their children by buying conventional food, which is a perfectly safe and nutritious option.
Instead, Bruno and the Mamavation alarmists feed women half-baked science, consisting of a conflation of correlation and causation and a total disregard for the concept of dose (most food additives come in such small amounts that they do nothing to the human body and pass through quickly).
By muddling the message with their made-up stories of danger, Bruno and her pals turn women off to the message that women really ought to hear: You should take a bigger role in their child’s nutritional development and do your best to make sure they have a diverse, nutrient-filled diet.
Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and directs the organization’s Culture of Alarmism Project. She is the author of "From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back."