Along for a food-shopping trip in the 1960s, one treat my mom would buy me was the little box of animal crackers, with the smiling animals sitting in their circus boxcar cages looking remarkably happy considering the situation. The white ribbon handle that allowed me to carry this box around like a miniature purse for days made me feel grown up and mature. And there was my own supply of crackers I did not have to share, well, that was just about the best present I ever had. This month Nabisco, under pressure from PETA, created a box cover image where animals are depicted in a more natural habitat. I love the new design.
As a licensed naturopathic doctor, I know these are not the healthiest crackers, with high fructose corn syrup, sugar and partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil, among other ingredients, but I also know that our bodies reflect the habitual, not the occasional. Food can have a positive impact when its associated with happy times, when there is a sweet memory connected, when the endorphins get going because an aroma tickles that part of the brain associated with pleasure. Sometimes I worry about orthorexia with some patients, defined as a health condition where the person systematically avoids certain foods in the belief the food will do damage to their health. Naturopathic doctors know a lot about nutrition and spend ample time with patients discussing appropriate diets among other healing modality approaches. So, while no kid or grown up for that matter, should have a diet made up only of little animal crackers, once in a while, especially if there are no food sensitivities, it shouldn’t hurt. The environment, the conversation, the pace of eating and the pleasure experienced while eating, also matter!
Seeing this piece in the news had me wondering about the enduring nature of a particular cracker and the little box they came in, so I did a little research. It was 1902 when Nabisco began to sell this snack in larger barrels as “Barnum’s Animals.” Later that year, they designed the string handle and small boxes as Christmas ornaments. You could hang the box from your tree! And a box with its contents retailed for five cents. Apparently there have been 54 different animals over the years. At this time, each container has 22 cookies. Animals are added or taken away over the years. In the early 2000s the koala bear was added. The cracker name changed in1948 to “Barnum’s Animals Crackers,” with its complicated possessive and plural nomenclature. All Barnum’s Animals Crackers are manufactured in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Incredibly, over 40 million boxes are purchased every year across the US and around the world.
So while I am usually encouraging my patients to go for fruit, nuts, veggies, whole grain or protein for snacking, if the occasional animal cracker makes it into the diet, I hope it’s with some degree of pleasure, pulled from a newly designed little box with a string handle.