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Kitchen Think: Fed Up With Dannon’s Misleading Labels


There are bugs in some of Dannon’s “Fruit on the Bottom” brand yogurts… and Dannon knows it.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom YogurtBut it’s not the bugs that bother me, it’s the deception. Let me explain.

Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, Mama’s friend from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells me that Dannon uses cochineal beetles as food coloring in its yogurt.

Dead cochineal beetles are dried and pulverized and made into a red extract known as carmine, that goes into Dannon’s Fruit on the Bottom strawberry, raspberry, cherry and boysenberry yogurts. It’s also used in the Oikos Greek Strawberry Yogurt, two flavors marketed under Dannon’s Light and Fit Greek brand line, and six Activia brand yogurts.

Dannon does it to save money by replacing red berries or cherries with the insect food coloring. And I’ll admit that this is MUCH BETTER than using red food dye or other artificial food coloring.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Nutritional Facts

My problem is that Dannon doesn’t disclose that the ingredient “carmine (for color)” on the label comes from cochineal beetles. That’s just wrong.

We have the right to know EVERY ingredient in a product, especially since the Food and Drug Administration requires companies to disclose cochineal beetles or carmine in their ingredients (mostly due to allergy issues). But vegetarians should also know that there’s “meat” in their yogurt.

Starbucks went through this last year when the company disclosed that the beetles were used in their Frappuccinos and other beverages. They’ve since stopped using carmine.

Cochineal extract is used in an amazing amount of food products including spices, meats, sausages, jams, gelatins, desserts, icing, juices… the list goes on and on. Fine—just put cochineal beetles in the ingredient list on the side of the package. I know it’s not appetizing, but it IS the truth.

If what Dannon is doing bugs you, sign this petition asking the company to choose berries over beetles!


Kitchen Think: Fed Up With Congress Ignoring Hungry Kids


Could you feed your children on one dollar per child per meal?

I don’t know if I could. It would be a struggle. But millions of American parents may have to tell their kids “there’s nothing to eat tonight.” Hard to believe, but it’s true.

Here’s a little background:
• Last week both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees passed separate versions of the Farm Bill.
• Those proposals would cut more than $20 billion dollars from SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), the program that feeds millions of hungry people in this country and used to be known as food stamps.
• One in five Americans receive food stamps, most of them working-poor families with children.
• The full Senate will debate the bill next week.

The number of children who go hungry has grown dramatically over the past several years because there are more people facing poverty and unemployment due to the recession and an economy slow to recover.

Food stamps have always been a contentious issue because of the misperception that many recipients are just taking advantage of the system. But here’s what’s interesting: SNAP does what it is supposed to do… feed the hungry.

Cutting these benefits won’t do much to help the nation’s long-term financial issues. It will only keep hungry children from being fed. And that’s tragic.

Here’s a great idea: Before the vote, every member of Congress should take the “Food Stamp Challenge”. For one month, each of them must eat on a budget of about one dollar per person per meal.

THEN let’s see how many of them want to cut SNAP benefits.


The Kitchen Think: Fed Up with Foodie Cell Phone Photographers


Mama’s guilty. I’ve done it many times. I’m sure you have, too… at least once. Now I’ve come to believe it’s just plain rude. 

I’m talking about taking cell phone photos of your food in restaurants.

Bad Image

What is this anyway?

What’s most annoying? The flash. If you need a flash, then you don’t have enough light, which means your image is going to be slightly out of focus and look like an overexposed hot mess.

So you snagged a great table at the hottest place in town. I’m sure you’ve already Tweeted and put your plans on your Facebook page. Is it really that urgent that all of your 4,321 friends know you’re eating sweetbreads AT THAT VERY MOMENT?

Many restaurants are making it simple: No cellphones. That’s actually a blessing in abundance: No texting. No phone calls. No photos.

Mama can hear your complaints already: “But it’s free advertising for the restaurant,” and “I’m just giving the chef a shout-out for her creativity.” Baloney. You have a toy and you want to use it because you think you’re creating art. This is what I mean:

I’m not deluded. You’ll continue to Instagram everything that’s served you so you can Pin It and put it on your Tumblr feed. There are entire websites and Facebook pages dedicated to making your foodie cell phone images look better. But there are also a few Cell Phone Food Photography Hater pages, too. So can we all agree on a few things?

  • Obey the restaurant’s rules. If the restaurant says no cellphones, then put it away.
  • No flash. Turn the flash off before you point the phone at the plate. If the image looks bad without a flash, the Party Gods are sending you a message. Don’t move your plate around or stand on your chair to get a better angle.
  • Be discreet. Don’t make a production of it. One shot… two tops. And remember: No Flash.
  • Respect other diners. If they give you dirty looks, stop. They’re there to have an enjoyable meal, too.
  • Ask if the restaurant can send you some images. Better still, go to their website. Most likely, those are professional images (but give credit where credit it due).

What do you think? Do you agree? Would you eat in a restaurant that bans cellphones?



The Kitchen Think: Fed Up with “Energy” Products


“Energy” Chewing Gum. Really?

Last week the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. announced it will launch caffeinated chewing gum for adults… yes, you read that right, for adults.


Tapping into the exploding energy products markets, Wrigley is offering up Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, aimed at consumers aged 15 to 49. Each piece is packed with 40 milligrams of caffeine… as much as a 16-ounce soda or half-a-cup of coffee.

Wrigley says Alert will prominently display its ingredients and have warning labels. They plan to sell the gum in a unique hexagonal shape about the size of a nickel. It’ll also be priced at about twice what regular gum costs.

But really, there’s no way to stop kids from buying a pack. It’s not like gum is illegal… but neither are those high-octane energy drinks.

The gum’s launch comes at an auspicious time, when government agencies are focusing more attention than ever on so-called “energy boosting” product. Last week, the city of Chicago began considering a ban on energy drinks containing 180-milligrams or more of caffeine per container (that’s the common amount found in energy drinks). The FDA is also investigating reports of people who’ve died after drinking the beverages.

The gum comes in minty or fruity flavors, although Wrigley says it will have a somewhat bitter taste to dissuade those from chewing the gum “for enjoyment.” (Yeah, right…)

Obviously Americans crave an energy rush, with caffeine showing up everywhere… from Jelly Belly Sport Beans to Cracker Jacks.

But why does Wrigley have to incorporate caffeine, a psychoactive drug, into food that is familiar and easily accessible to children?


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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: