A recurring command spoken in my parents’ house: “Don’t eat aspartame or you will die.” This phrase is spoken by my 9-year-old brother, who wholeheartedly believes in eating as healthy as possible, and aspartame is high on his list of substances to stay away from. He backs his facts up from a verifiable source.
He gets his influence from my father, who bashes chemical-based foods and advocates for nourishment straight from the earth. He will not buy anything that has more than four ingredients on the label. I have heard his mantra countless times: The more man has touched the food, the worse for you it becomes.
The good daughter that I am, I obediently heed his advice. I buy bread made only with flour, yeast, water and salt. I pack an apple and carrots in my lunchbox every day. Even more important to my daily life, I have drastically cut back on my soda intake.
Yet I wonder about the accuracy in his logic. Is there really so much wrong with the foods we are eating on a regular basis? Is there enough levels of aspartame in a food that I’m eating that it could seriously hurt me?
It’s hard for me to believe so. According to aspartame.org, “aspartame is found in more than 6,000 products and is consumed by over 200 million people around the world.” With so many people consuming this substance on a regular basis, why wouldn’t we all be sick or dying?
My brother still will cling to the reasoning and use it to his advantage. If we eat a meal together and there’s something in it he doesn’t like (including the bits of black pepper he finds speckled on chicken), he claims it is unhealthy for him and refuses to eat it. He will sit for the entire meal and pick at potatoes until we finish our own dinners and forget about his.
He will also yell at my family for eating sugary foods. If we buy “sugar-free” ice cream, you can bet your tail he’ll be inspecting the label.
The kicker: For as healthy as he claims to be, my brother won’t eat vegetables and fruits gross him out. The food pyramid is a vague concept that plays no role in his life. He loves Oreos and could eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My favorite idiosyncrasy in my family is the habit of changing food names to fit this lifestyle. They both call root beer “root berry” and my dad changes tilapia loins to “tilapia lions.”
Overall, their quirky lessons have stuck with me. Though I don’t check the labels for aspartame every time I eat, I am aware of how much I am eating of what.
I pack my lunch when I go to school now. I am routine-oriented by nature, so this helps me in more ways than one. Instead of spending money on food in the union every day, I pack my turkey sandwich and carrots.
Don’t tell my family, but I like to throw in gummy snacks too. I don’t know half the ingredients that are labeled on the package, but I do know that aspartame is not one of them.