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Confession From a Junk Food Feeder
by Susana Molinolo

I'm a freelance writer and editor, which translates to no financial security when I am not working. So, when I found out I was pregnant I decided to take a job at a health food store I'd worked at in the past. I knew I'd want to have some income for stuff once the baby was born. Here in Canada, if you work for a minimum of 600 hours in a 52-week period, you are eligible for Employment Insurance benefits during maternity leave.

Working at a health food store is kind of like being in a cult. In this case, the cult was obsessed about what went into its body. Some of the other staff were vegan freaks, some of the stock kids were raw foodists, others ate no fruit at all opting for health food bars and ginseng tea. The most extreme behaviors came from the clients. There were the ones who wouldn't let you scan their food, so you'd have to type in the five million numbers on each bar code; there were the ones who wanted you to know that the water we sold was crap; there were the vegans who'd freak out when they'd see the customer ahead of them buying organic meat. Me, I'd been a vegetarian for over 20 years, so I fit in just fine.

My only weakness was my curiosity. All those healthy cookies, the variety of ice creams, bottles upon bottles of vegan moisturizers, and a bulk section that could feed a small country. Every shift I'd try something new. It was fun being able to put my knowledge to practice when someone would come up and ask me for advice on a product. Stuff in health food stores comes with a hefty label, so people were always grateful to be steered in a better direction.

As my belly grew, I became more obsessed with learning about organic baby products and figuring out how we were going to raise our baby. By the time I stopped working, I swore that I would never buy my baby commercial junk food. No, for my baby it would only be whole foods, or if it had to be processed, it would be organic and preferably fair trade.

Food was a non-issue for the first seven months of my son's life because nature was taking care of that. Eventually we started him on mushed organic banana, which he loved. Following our naturopath's guidance we slowly introduced other foods, which we steamed and mushed and pureed and blended with love. Though he was interested to try these new things out, he was still getting most of his nutrition from breast milk.

Well, fast forward to my son aged 15 months. We are walking through a very ugly mall in downtown Toronto on our way to the passport office. It's midday, not a good time to arrive at this place of business, and I realize that I have forgotten the pannier full of goodies for said errand. So we duck into a tuck shop and the only thing I see that I could imagine feeding him are Pringles. I read the ingredients and think At least there's no food coloring or MSG. I give him one before we reach the cash. He puts to chip to his mouth, skeptical, like he is with all new foods. And within a second the chip has disappeared into the cave. He is crunching joyously. You see, as oh-so-wholesome as I tried to make his diet, I'd turned my son into a salt addict. Though he'd never eaten Pringles up until then, he'd had plenty of organic rice crackers and corn chips to know: salt is yummy. Thanks to Pringles, waiting for our turn at the passport office was tolerable.

A couple of weeks later my son got a bout of diarrhea. He'd never been sick before, so this situation took a toll on him. He stopped eating, and the pseudo-weaning program we were on went to shit. I wanted him to eat and drink so nursing went from first to fifth gear in one day. Twelve days later he was finally cured, but his taste buds had altered. You see, besides breastfeeding the only other thing he'd have was anything with salt. Buying Pringles had become a daily activity. My new weaning program became trying to get him off the chips, but it was so difficult. Everywhere we turned there seemed to be a shiny red Pringle container screaming his name. Oh, and did I mention it was the large container we were inhaling daily. Plus, one morning as I was reaching for a bowl for our cereal he saw it, the container of Pringles that I'd shoved from my knapsack to the cupboard the night before. It wasn't even nine a.m., and he wanted a fix.

I finally decided I had to put an end to the Pringle errands because of the shame. We'd be out in public, and suddenly, when he wanted a snack, my son would point underneath his stroller (where we kept the stuff) and turn into a Tasmanian devil until he got his fix. It wasn't the behavior that I was embarrassed by; it was pulling out the container and showing the world that I fed my kid junk. It made me feel like a terrible parent. Though I'd see people letting their toddlers drink pop, eat donuts, have McDonald's, it all looked like good parent stuff to me. I felt like what I was doing was detrimental. I was plagued by the "How did I stray so far?" question with every chip he ate.

It's now been five days. No Pringles. Though I must tell you, it's a real effort. We avoid the chip aisle in all supermarkets and convenience stores, and I can't even say the word "chip"—for now. Today we bought health food store potato sticks, and luckily they got us home from the park in one sane piece.

Susana Molinolo is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor. She's a columnist for weewelcome.ca, a site for mamas-on-the-go, and the editor of Transitions Magazine. Susana is mama to Sebastian, 19-months, and baby #2 is due August 14.

feature added on 2006-05-07 :: ::

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