Positive Protesting

By Lucy Watkins

As Dr. Hull's personal assistant, I am on the front line of emails coming to our offices. Every single day, I hear from concerned consumers who are frustrated by the fact that toxic chemical sweeteners have flooded our food supply. With each of these emails I am asked "What can I do about it if the FDA won't make changes?"

This is a valid concern. When you examine the history of the FDA's approach to aspartame, you will see many inconsistencies. For example, in 1985, the FDA compiled a list of 92 symptoms associated with aspartame consumption. However, if you read the FDA Web site today, you will see they claim, "To date, FDA has not determined any consistent pattern of symptoms that can be attributed to the use of aspartame, nor is the agency aware of any recent studies that clearly show safety problems." So, while filing complaints with the FDA is still an important part of this process, it's apparent the FDA has either forgotten the list of consumer complaints or they aren't really hearing consumers' concerns.

Now it is time for consumers to be positive, proactive, and strategic in their approach to rid our food supply of these chemical toxic sweeteners.

Determine your style and your goals
The first step to informing others about the dangers of chemical sweeteners is developing a plan and deciding how to implement it. This is the time to evaluate your personal style for affecting change. If the thought of banner-waving protests makes you nervous, consider another way to spread the message. Do you quietly live the life of a healthy, whole foods consumer while cleverly introducing new foods to your friends and family? Do you write letters to businesses? Would you prefer sharing your experiences with friends and family, the school board and local physicians? While one style is no better than the other, it is important to find the one with which you are most comfortable. Your style will determine what route is best for you.

The next step is to devise a personal plan. Which areas need to be addressed? The reality is artificial sweeteners are ubiquitous in processed foods these days. Not only are they used to sweeten food products, manufacturers are also using them as flavor enhancers in products containing sugar. Even the greatest of salad buffet restaurants serve "Lite Broccoli Slaw", often containing sucralose. So, you may have to start from scratch when working towards changes in your community. Once you determine your priorities, set short-term and long-term goals.

The key is to draw interested parties to your information. You will be dressing your activism in a pretty package with a positive spin on all the work you do.

Organize and Come Together!
You are not alone in your concerns about toxic food additives. Consider creating a like-minded support network by connecting with friends, community members, and family. One of the best things to start with is to team with other concerned parents and colleagues for support and encouragement. This is a great way to see what kind of support you have in your local community. Contact local organizations and businesses. Quite often, people utilizing natural health and living services such as chiropractors, naturopaths, and homeopaths will also have good information on the dangers of artificial sweeteners along with organizations promoting healthy diets.

You may also consider sharing books, personal stories, and other information on the topic with people around you. Be warned, however. Don't waste your time on Splenda or NutraSweet devotees. Work on communicating with people who have a sense that something isn't right about using unnatural products. They will be more open to your information about chemical sweeteners than the devotees who've come to rely on these products and firmly believe they are healthier choices. Eventually, as the Splenda and Nutrasweet fans begin to see the health changes experienced by others around them, their defensiveness will give way and they will slowly become more open to your information.

An example of this strategy occurred when I recently challenged my landlord after he mentioned he and his wife were using Splenda in their morning coffee. I asked him if he was having joint pains at night or if he had an unusual amount of embarrassing gas. His answer was "Yes. As a matter of fact, I'm struggling getting to sleep at night because of joint pain." So, I shared my story with him and challenged him and his wife to give up Splenda for one week.

The next time I saw him, he thanked me for possibly saving him thousands of dollars in medical expenses. "I thought I was getting arthritis, but within two days of our conversation, all my pain and gas disappeared! I'm telling everybody I know who uses this stuff."

The key is to draw interest and people to the topic. The more people you have in your network translates to a louder, unified voice.

Speak Up and Speak Out
Letter writing campaigns are powerful tools for any activist. I learned this lesson during U.S. Senator, John Glenn's 1984 run for the Democratic presidential nomination when he said, "Every politician knows receiving one letter from one person means there are at least 1000 other people with the same thought or concern. Whether or not they do something about it is another issue."

In all my years of activism, I've seen a number of changes, both large and small, in many areas of concern. Discuss the issue with local merchants. Tell them what you want and how you are willing to spend your money. Fill out special request forms in the grocery stores. If the managers think the items will sell, they will do their best to stock them.

Additionally, I suggest consumers let the manufacturers and retailers know how they feel about chemical sweeteners by utilizing a positive letter-writing practice. It is important to inform manufacturers that you choose to purchase their products because they don't contain artificial sweeteners. Everybody, even corporations, enjoys hearing positive/complimentary input from consumers.

The theory behind contacting the companies who do not use artificial sweeteners is that they don't have to do anything to keep your business. Because you are satisfied with their product, the work is already done and you are not requesting any changes. On the otherhand, businesses including chemical sweeteners in their products must also understand why you choose not to purchase their products. This is a bit different, however, because unless they hear from a multitude of people on this issue, it's not likely they will invest the time, energy, or money into reformulating their products.

Draft a letter that can serve as an all-purpose consumer activism tool. The first paragraph will thank the restaurant/grocery store/company for providing the product. The second paragraph states that your family is happy to do business with them and to help promote such an ethical product or company. You can pick a different company and product to acknowledge every month. Simply go to your form letter and update the recipient's name and address, date of letter, and the name of the product. You can do the same for products you won't purchase by substituting why you won't support their products and ending the letter by including a helpful suggestion. Caution: Try to spend more time with positivism than negativism. It's easier for a company to maintain the status quo than it is for them to make big changes.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when writing these letters.

1) Use a business letter format.
2) Leave the emotion out of it. Be businesslike in your approach.
3) Try to keep your letter to one page. Brevity and clarity make for easy reading.
4) If you are listing symptoms you've experienced while using their product, state them simply and clearly. How did these symptoms affect your life? Did they disappear when you stopped using the product?
5) Tell the company what you plan to do about this, i.e., "I will continue to purchase your product and recommend it to my friends and family" of "I will no longer purchase your product" and explain which of their competitors will now get your business and why.
6) Include your contact information either at the beginning of the letter or beneath your signature line.

Please note the tone of your letter. If the reader feels attacked, it is less likely he/she will pass it along because they become defensive and angry and question your credibility. You want them to read the letter, feeling you truly are interested in having them correct the issue because you used to enjoy their products so much. Do your best to be pleasant even in a letter of complaint. Your approach, your tone, your professionalism will give you more credibility when the first person in the company's line of defense reads your letter.

Set Boundaries
Amy Lanou, PhD, Nutrition Director at The Physicians' Committee of Responsible Medicine, suggests finding a physician who is knowledgeable about preventive medicine and whole foods nutrition, or one who is open to working with these concepts. "Keep in mind that very few doctors have had more than cursory training in nutrition. For this reason, they tend not to be able to offer useful advice in this area," says Lanou.

Additionally, I've found when I ask about the ingredients used in restaurants or markets, at potluck meals and gatherings, people usually respond by checking ingredients...without pause. By asking specifically about artificial sweeteners, not only are you being careful about your own consumption, the question itself can begin an informative and lively conversation about your concerns about the health risks involved when consuming these chemicals. During these discussions, however, try not to perpetuate the myth that your symptoms are "allergic reactions."

On a more personal level, if you have children, you may have to speak directly with your children's teachers and daycare providers. Again, make sure to clearly define the foods your child is allowed to have. Provide alternative foods for your child to replace the unhealthy snacks or lunches offered at school. Offer to bring in healthier snacks for the class that don't contain chemical food additives. Let the teachers and children see that healthy and natural also means tasty.

A Final Word
Always remember, you are not alone. There is a vast amount of research supporting your concerns about artificial sweeteners and slowly but surely, this information is creeping into the mainstream. It doesn't really matter if you write one letter or 60 letters. What matters is your consistency in consumer choices, the number of people who participate in the move towards getting artificial sweeteners out of the food supply, and how consumer choices affect corporate profits.

Any one of these suggestions will help make an impression in your local community and the community at large. Once you find your activist niche and begin working for changes, you may very well be surprised by the number of people interested in what you're doing. They will certainly benefit from the effort, even if they don't tell you. The next step is to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Good luck!!

Sample Letters

Dear International Flavors,

I wanted to take a moment to let you know how much I appreciate your company's decision not to use aspartame or sucralose in the Cinnamon Hazelnut Creamer. Having previously used CoffeeMate's Creme Brulee creamer, now containing sucralose, I experienced a number of gastric symptoms that left me feeling quite ill and unable to work effectively.

As a result, I'm no longer purchasing Nestle's Creme Brulee Flavored CoffeeMate and have switched to using your artificial sweetener-free products.

Lucy Watkins
McKinney, TX


Dear Nestle,

Several weeks ago I found your Creme Brulee Creamer at my local grocery store. I was thrilled to see they were carrying it because I loved using it in my coffee in the past.

I began using it in my morning coffee and then noticed I was having severe gas pains, abdmominal cramping, diarrhea and excessive flatulence. It was very painful and it affected my productivity as a single mother and as an employee.

After a week of this, I began searching for an answer. I'm normally a very healthy person and the pain was worsening. So, I thought back to see what I had done differently. When I realized I had begun using your creamer, I decided to read the label.

I was surprised to see sucralose listed in the ingredients. Knowing this is chlorinated sugar which brings about symptoms like the ones I experienced, I stopped using Creme Brulee flavored creamer.

Within 24 hours all my symptoms disappeared!

I've grown up with the Nestle Brand and I'm sad to say I can no longer purchase these products. Not only do I feel duped into purchasing sucralose-containing products, I realize it's only being used as a flavor enhancer where none is necessary.

As a result of this realization, I'm going to stop purchasing your product and move to purchasing the International Flavors Brand of creamers for my morning coffee. These do not contain sucralose/Splenda.

My hope is that your organization will recognize the potential health risks of using chlorinated sugar in your products and remove them from your line of products.

Thank you for your time,
Lucy Watkins
McKinney, TX

Note: As the result of the letter to Nestle, I received a phone call and two emails from the company. Here is my reply to one of the emails. Please note the tone of the email and the positive comments about the company itself. Whether you agree or disagree with what I say about the company, the point is to be positive and affirming in your approach.

Dear Tara,

I spoke with one of your customer service representatives just a few minutes ago. She asked if I was feeling better and offered me a coupon for an alternative product.

I did not accept the coupon, because that's not what I'm looking for. I know for a fact I am not the only person getting sick from sucralose (Splenda). I've witnessed it happen to my friends and family many times. Personally, about a year ago, I experienced debilitating and horrifying symptoms and I eventually tracked it to Splenda. After a colonoscopy, several ultrasounds, finding a large cyst on my right ovary, extreme abdominal pain much like the pains of transitional labor, and fearing for my life, I began to look at my diet. The only thing I had done differently was use Splenda. When I stopped using it, all my symptoms (including the cyst) disappeared....in less than 30 days.

Until using Creme Brulee flavored creamer, I was 100% fine. When I began using your creamer, I again experienced severe abdominal pain. When I realized sucralose was in the product, I stopped using it and within 24 hours all my symptoms disappeared and have not returned. I now read ALL labels.

This is not an allergic reaction. These are the effects of chlorine ingestion.

It is my hope that the Nestle Company, a company with whom I've grown up, will pay attention to consumer concerns about chlorinated sugar/sucralose/Splenda and stop using it, recognizing that this artificial sweetener is poison. I especially hope that Nestle will remove it from all products marketed towards children.

I know I am only one voice. I know that one voice will not change corporate policy or formulas, but I also know that Nestle can not ignore the fact that people get sick from using sucralose after hearing my story and the stories of thousands of others. Once your company knows people are getting ill, how can they not address it? This is about integrity and maintaining Nestle's long life as one of the great American corporations.

I've resisted the Nestle boycotts for years now because of my fondness for your company. Please disprove the belief that corporations put profit over consumer health and examine this with your consumers' health in mind, not with the Splenda manufacturer's biased marketing in mind.

Thank you for your time.
Lucy Watkins

Note: Since the flurry of communications during the week of Aug. 6, I've neither heard any more from the Nestle Company, nor do I expect to. The point is not to make the change with one voice. Instead, it is about informing the company of the issue and getting others to join in, speak their minds, and request changes be made.

Posted September 2006 | Permanent Link

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