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Boy, that title makes this post sound dryyyy.

Most of you know that Joel and I just got back from a two week trip to Europe.  It was totally amazing, exhausting, expensive, life-changing, inspiring, etc., but that’s a post for later.  However, something happened in Italy that made me think about this whole “eating better” thing.

I ordered a soda.  I know…I know…when in Italy, drink more fabulous and exotic things.  Well, I was tired of drinking only coffees and lattes, the fresh juice was out of this world expensive, and I didn’t feel like getting a glass of wine with my pizza.  Then my eye fell upon these three magic words “Fanta di arancia.”  “Orange Fanta.”

I absolutely LOVED orange and grape Fanta growing up.  At my house, we were only allowed to have soda once a week.  Every Saturday night, we’d make homemade pizza and drink most of one two liter as a family (five people).  When we moved to the States, I always told my friends that Fanta was better in Brazil, but figured it was just because Brazil uses cane sugar instead of beet sugar.  I wonder now if there weren’t other reasons.

Anyway, so our awesome Italian waiter brought me a 33 dl can of soda, which roughly equals about 12 oz.  It was awesome.  And because I am the kind of person who reads labels, I turned it over to look at the ingredients.  This is what I read (keep in mind this is my own translation).

Water, sugar, 12% orange juice (!!!), natural flavors, carbonation, ascorbic acid, citric acid, and some sort of gum stabilizer that I couldn’t translate.

No mention of high fructose corn syrup.  No artificial flavors.  No artificial dyes.  And guess what, it wasn’t that brilliant orange color.  It was closer to yellow.

This is what Coca Cola’s website says is in our Fanta.

Just now, I went to Fanta Italia’s website as well to compare some of the other nutrition differences.  Ours has 44 grams of sugar (essentially 10 tsp), theirs has 33 grams.  Ours has 55 grams of sodium.  (pause for effect)  Theirs has NONE.  For those of you wanting to see the numbers for themselves, this is the US Coca Cola website, and this is the Italian Coca Cola website.

It was with all of this knocking about in my head that I came home and almost immediately was hit by this on both my Facebook wall and on the Yahoo home page.  For those of you too lazy to click on the link, it’s a petition to Kraft to ban the use of artificial dyes in all of their products, particularly the mac and cheese boxes that are marketed specifically to children (i.e. with cartoons on them and that type of thing).  Yellow #5 and #6, which appear in the U.S. product are known carcinogens, but are permitted currently in low, presumably safe levels in food.  In the UK specifically, these dyes are eliminated entirely, and elsewhere, warning labels are required.

My first instinct was to jump on the bandwagon immediately and sign…with fire in my eyes and righteous indignation in my heart.  But now I’m not totally sure I should, not because I don’t think the question/cause is valid, but because of the greater principle of the thing.  Is it really their responsibility to make the wise choice for me?  Wouldn’t it be better for me to simply vote with my dollar, since they’re more likely to respond to falling sales rather than some sort of call to altruism?  Or, should I sign, and in doing so, try to protect those who haven’t been educated about harmful products?  How did mac and cheese and orange soda become such ridiculously loaded subjects, with all sorts of political undertones?  I’m interested to hear your thoughts.  I see an appalling lack of critical thinking all around the world and I wonder if know that’s one of the reasons for our world being in the state that it is.

And for those of you who just want to tell me, “Whatever…homemade is better anyway…” I have an embarrassing confession.  I don’t actually like homemade mac and cheese.  <cringe>

So…will you sign, or will you choose to make your stand simply with what you buy and what you tell other people?