The box of red velvet cupcakes that I received last night couldn’t have arrived at a better time. This morning’s news revealed that The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to ban eight artificial food dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity and other “disruptive behavior” in children (Bloomberg News). The Daily Green notes that, according to British researchers, artificial dyes are as damaging to children’s brains “as lead in gasoline.” And CBS reports that the dyes are shown to push children who are pre-disposed to behavioral problems “over the edge.”
While countries in the EU have taken measures to eliminate artificial dyes from food and several British food companies are removing them from popular candies and snacks, there has been no regulation in the US, where artificial dyes abound in foods from cereals, to candies, dips, soda, and, of course, red velvet cake.
Although I had a longtime love of red velvet cake (starting as a child with a penchant for the color red and continuing as an adult with my love of anything with cream cheese frosting), I’ve kept my distance ever since making it at home for the first time several years ago. The recipe called for an astounding 8 vials of red food coloring, and all I could think about as I stirred the batter was my brother Chris, who couldn’t eat or drink any foods with red dye as a kid because his lips would inexplicably swell up like little balloons. I still served the cake I made (with trepidation), but my affair with red velvet ended then.
Until last night.
My good friend Vanessa Cantave, owner of YumYum Chefs, surprised me at dinner with a box of her signature red velvet cupcakes, which she hand-delivers to customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I couldn’t resist giving one a taste in the bumpy taxi ride home, even though it was close to midnight and I had just eaten dessert. Luscious and moist with a perfect cake-to-frosting ratio, I was soon left with only a dusting of red crumbs. But they weren’t your standard red-dye-number-40 soaked crumbs. YumYum’s cupcakes are made with organic ingredients and plant and fruit based coloring. They’re even baked in recycled parchment paper cups. I’m hooked.
The FDA has claimed that there is no link between food dyes and child hyperactivity, despite the evidence to the contrary. For me, I have all the evidence I need. I’d simply rather not eat an artificial “food” derived in a factory from petroleum and coal. After all, where’s the “yum” in that?