Artificial coloring: Cosmetics for food

Juushika Redgrave. Flickr. September 30, 2006.

Americans are all about visual appeal.  The risks of grooming vary from slight such as lipstick, eyebrow tweezing, and shaving through moderate such as hair coloring, hair plugs, and  dermabrasion to serious such as Botox, liposuction, and face lifts.  Is it any surprise that we like our food to be colorful?  Why else would neon green candies shaped like worms appeal to children?  If lime green fails to appeal, there are always electric blue frozen ice pops.  Teens may enjoy bright orange soda pop or vivid pink snack cakes.  For adults, sophistication requires pastels.  Strawberry ice cream must be pink.  Birthday and wedding cakes are decorated in pale hues of butter cream.  Think mauve roses, sky blue lettering, and lavender piping.  Salad dressings sport tints of orange or green unrelated to flavors of peach or mint.

If nature doesn’t provide our food with these cheery hues, food processors will add them.  Who wants to eat unadorned cold cereal, hot dogs, Jell-O, or crackers?  Would Lucky Charms taste as sweet without those marshmallows in delicate shades of pink, blue, green and yellow?  How would a transparent Jell-O do justice to a mold without its jewel tones of green, red, and orange?  Even milk becomes more appealing when rich brown chocolate syrup or powdered cocoa is added.

For the sake of safety, are we doomed to beige breakfasts of oatmeal or toast, cream-colored lunches of rice, tuna, or mashed potatoes, and drab dinners of tofu, pasta, or baked beans?  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food coloring is safe to eat, that is, as long as you have not joined a competitive cupcake eating team.  So, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys sprinkles on your doughnuts, you can feel confident no American food must leave the factory without food coloring.  What’s your favorite color?  Would you rather wear it or eat it?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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