I was in the grocery store stocking up on supplies for a hot dog dinner with my daughter. Perusing the condiment isle, something caught my eye: a slick label and the word "organic" emblazoned on one of those upside-down plastic squeeze ketchup bottles.
I laughed. Now this is rich.
I compared prices, amid the myriad varieties of mustard and mayo. Seven hundred and fifty milliliters of organic ketchup cost almost $7. For twice the amount in the same brand, the regular ketchup was $5.50. It's not the first time I've run into junk food purporting its virtues.
Recently, I let my daughter choose her own crackers. She came back to the cart with a notorious snack cracker; its box screeched that it was made with whole grains. Given these claims, I figured it was time to look at the fine print — you know, that write-up on the back called the nutrition label.
Between the organic ketchup and the plain ol' stuff, the organic kind contained more sugar. I pitted the whole grain crackers against the ones made with real vegetables and the original ones I grew up on.
The real veggie crackers contained more sugar and more protein, but less calcium. The whole grains had less fat. At least the price point was the same for each. What's a girl to do? Especially, a girl who is also a parent to a little girl?
A plethora of products and services exist to tap into our greatest fears and insecurities. There's always something telling us it will make us thinner, faster, smarter, healthier, better if we just spend our money. This label "organic" — while it may very well be true — is a buzzword that many companies are savvy enough to tap into.
I checked. The ketchup is certified by the Oregon Tilth, but does that necessarily mean it's somehow better for your kids than the regular kind? This is a product that lists liquid sugar as one of its main ingredients, after all.
Obesity is spreading
A 2011 report from Statistics Canada found that close to nine per cent of children in this country are obese, and not a week goes by when a headline doesn't proclaim this problem's catastrophic proportions.
It's often referred to as an epidemic. As a result, there's a lot of pressure for kids to eat all the right food. No longer is it enough to feed them vegetables, but these greens also have to be organic. Well, that's just swell. But what's a hot dog without ketchup?
My partner — who is a professional chef — assures me homemade ketchup is easy to make, and much healthier. I welcomed him to come over any time to make it for us, but it's infinitely easier for me to squeeze it from a plastic bottle than it is to whip it up from scratch.
Modern life is busy. We don't always have time to make condiments ourselves, while we also check the nutritional information on everything we allow into our kids' mouths. Labels like organic or whole grain catch our eye, and they quell our guilt. But it might just be a false sense of security you're paying for.
As a parent, you want the best for your children. As a consumer, you owe it to yourself to eke a nugget of time to compare prices and nutritional information and determine for yourself what's marketing and what really matters to you.