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Lunchroom Politics or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gushers

A variety of the General Mills' Fruit Gushers. You always pick out the red and green anyway.

During my childhood, namely throughout 90s and early 2000s, kids’ snacks were evolving. As always, cheap and pre-processed goodies were easily available in every grocery store, strategically placed on lower shelves and in bright, eye-catching packaging. However, it seems that a new trend took hold, whereby advertisers and the companies producing these packaged snacks began to re-brand their products to appear healthier and more nutritional while still maintaining the appeal of ‘kets‘.

Of course, it’s fair to say that notable examples like General Mills’ Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Rollups, Fruit Gushers, and many more were and still are convenient filler items for packing children’s lunches or as a midday snack requiring no more effort than a quick trip back into the house. Despite their names, they are little more (or no less) than glorified and gelled candies.

This phenomenon might be attributed to the increasing parental anxiety and societal strain surrounding American childhood obesity, so that whereas ’kets” or children‘s sweets whose characteristics as outlined in the Allison James reading repulse adult consumption and approval, these new products seek middle ground between child satisfaction and adult supervision. Further associations in recent decades can be made with the increase in instant gratification and material placation of children with toys observed and interpreted by various academics. This attitude began long before the 1990s, echoed in the Kix slogan “Kid Tested, Mother Approved“ created in 1978 as well as a general movement beginning in the 20th century toward the treatment of childhood as an experience with a separate set of rules and desires that should be promoted and preserved. Controversy has cropped up around the aforementioned General Mills favorites in particular, though the products remain popular to this day. As we have discussed in reference to children’s publishing, the question of whether or not profit-seeking ventures, individuals, and companies marketing products for children are to be held accountable for their influence upon society remains contentious. It may be interesting to consider that the modern convenience of these snacks has trumped any public outcry at their misrepresentation as “wholesome“, despite measures being taken by important public figures like First Lady Michelle Obama to launch programs fighting childhood obesity.

During school lunch in primary and elementary school, I remember how these pouched and wrapped snack candies were treated in particular. They were commoditized and envied. You’d be hard-pressed to wrestle some one out of their possession, unless you were packing a fair match yourself in the form of no-nonsense, openly sugary cookies or chips. But trading and sharing was a common practice facilitated by the quantity and qualities of the snacks, as with ‘kets‘. Kids are perhaps more aware in this sense: the squishy, food-colored currency of the lunch room remains undisturbed by changes in marketing. Needless to say, any kid’s efforts to trade a few carrot sticks or an apple for the coveted and colorful pack of Gushers will always prove fruitless.

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