How Count Chocula and Cancer shaped my childhood

When I was growing up, my parents never let me have junk food. I was an only child, and until I got old enough to sleep over at friends' houses and see how the other half lived, I was just plain ignorant when it came to Count Chocula, Fruit Roll-Ups and any sugary, caffeiney, carbonated drink. It was all Shredded Wheat biscuits and skim milk at my house.

(I began drinking coffee before I started school. But that's an ironic story for another time.)

My parents were horrified when I came home from my first slumber party raving about ravioli from a can ("with meat, Momma!"), and a divine red nectar that tasted like cherries - only better.

Where I saw this:

My parents saw this:

(Note: I'm pretty sure that in the 80's there were plenty of preservatives.)

I began to beg for this:

But my mom wouldn't let this near me:

"But Daddy, he's a pitcher, with a pitcher!"


And so it went.

When I asked why I couldn't have these delectable delights, their unanimous answer was this:


Now, if you're looking for a way to scare a kid into steering clear of anything, just tell them it will give them cancer.

For years I was terrified of eating Spam less it turn my insides black and make me into eight year-old worm food.

(Then, I wondered whether the worms would get cancer from eating me.)

Is this considered child abuse?

I'm sure that my parents had the best intentions. And technically, maybe, they were right on some level. Diets high in processed, synthetic, sugary, fatty, salty foods have been linked to certain cancers.


And as scared as I was of eating anything in a cellophane wrapper, I was also curious. Junk food became a sort of forbidden fruit.

Kind of like those signs you see near electrical doohickeys that say, DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE and a picture of some guy with lightning bolts shooting through his head. And even though you know why the sign is there, and you know what will happen if you touch the electrical doohickey, you still sort of want to touch it. Just to see. Like maybe The Man is trying to trick all of us into not touching this thing. And I'm asking why? WHY CAN'T WE TOUCH IT?!?

Maybe that's just me.

But my point is that I'm pretty sure that my parents' lesson about junk food cancer backfired, leading me down a treacherous, powdered donut-laden path.

Because here in my adult years, I love me some junk food. And I don't know when the transition occurred. One day I was scared straight, and the next I was shoving Mallomars in my face.

Just like that.

And now, here I am, struggling to lead a healthier life for the sake of my non-existent future children, all the while wondering how I can steer them in the right direction when the time comes.


Man, some Count Chocula sounds pretty good right now.