Monday, April 04, 2011

The unintended benefit of the end of artificial food dyes

Brightly-colored food is appetizing. Is it our innate sense that multicolored implies a balanced or high-quality meal, or an aesthetic shaped by Alice Waters or walking by the salads at the Rodin Museum café, or other Parisian salades composées with those eggs with almost orange yolks, bright red tomatoes, bright green and in now way brown-around-the-edges lettuces...? Before this devolves into food porn, my point is that the difference between vegetables-as-iceberg-lettuce-and-dried-out-carrot-sticks-struggled-down-in-a-cafeteria-where-the-only-edible-food-is-PB&J and the kind of salads that inspire lust is, in part, color-based. Artificially-colored foods give us the sense that we're eating something varied and that hasn't gone bad. A bag of M&Ms, for example, can have been sitting in a Duane Reade since the first branch opened, and still look bright and shiny as the day they were produced. So if artificial food dyes disappeared, we'd be forced to look to (pardon the phrase) real food for the kind of intense colors we associate with deliciousness. This strikes me as a more convincing reason for chucking Red #40 and so on than the possibility that food dyes themselves are secretly poisoning us or making our children hyperactive. (For all I know the connection is real, but I lived for four years in and around Park Slope, where kids eat "natural" and are known for being plenty rambunctious.)

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