In my dreams, I eat everything I’m offered without a thought to what preservatives might lurk within. In reality, I belabor food choices with label reads, polite cross-questioning of wait staff, and cautious tasting. It is behavior that I find to be tedious, boring, and bordering on rude, but it is necessary to keep myself from getting sick. I trace my sensitivities to the wild world of 1970s processed food, with particular emphasis on the Pillsbury Space Food Stick and the Carnation Breakfast Bar. Drake’s Funny Bones didn’t help either (they are actually back since 2013!).
How we ate back then. Breakfast was whole milk, orange juice, and a sugary cereal (often topped with more sugar) or the aforementioned Carnation Breakfast Bar. Lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (sugared peanut butter and sugared jelly, never all-fruit preserves), Campbells soup full of MSG, sugared applesauce, potato chips, and a candy bar for dessert. Dinner was Hamburger Helper with the staunch backing of preservatives like disodium EDTA, sulfiting agents, and Red Dye #2 with an iceberg lettuce salad doused in bottled dressing that also depended on the likes of EDTA and MSG.
By age 21 as a newly married gal in the early 1980s, I had developed daily headaches I couldn’t shake. A chance encounter with a can of garbanzo beans enlightened me. I tried to make a new sandwich spread – “hummus” – for lunch, hoping to shake up my daily tuna fish salad lunch. When I got the same daily headache, I dug the garbanzo bean can out of the trash and saw the ingredients: garbanzo beans; water; salt; calcium disodium EDTA. Then I got the Hellman’s mayo out and saw the same preservative: calcium disodium EDTA. After researching, I learned that disodium EDTA, which had already been banned in the UK and Australia, was a culprit in causing headaches.
Long story short, I changed what I ate to exclude preservatives and most processed food, and as a result, I got rid of my headaches. Decades later, I did the same thing with sugar to end the inflammation that had caused recurring bouts of arthritis. Problem solved, but boy do I ever miss those preservative-laden foods!
The success of my preservative-free lifestyle doesn’t preclude me from regularly dreaming of the favorite foods of my youth. I linger in the candy aisle – oh, those Friday nights on the couch with my little sister, sharing a package of red licorice over an episode of The Brady Bunch and then The Partridge Family. Same with the cereal aisle, where I am full of nostalgia for Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Honeycomb, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I ate so many bowls of Lucky Charms when I was expecting my daughter that she should have been born a leprechaun.
Let me be clear: if Carnation Breakfast Bars re-appeared on the market, I would break my rules and eat a few. Those were the days, my friends.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books including the “11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook” and “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.” She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through murky and unfamiliar financial and career worlds. Read more at her website.