When I was an adolescent, the country I was living in got caught up in a war situation, to put it mildly. Without revealing too much of myself I’ll say that my adolescence was not spent in the United States.
During the occupation the country I was living in experienced, which resulted in thousands of casualties, most of them innocent civilians caught in crossfires (as is the case with most, if not all, wars), the country’s economy shut down for a few months. Most grocery stores closed, and the tiny corner shops with food that had enough unlooted merchandise to sell would sometimes open, but only sporadically, and with very limited, mostly canned, products. Most supplies didn’t get to most places, so most places couldn’t open for business (not to mention most of the goods had long been ransacked from most stores during that time).
As a consequence of this, the United States military (which was there, and played an active role in the occupation) would issue to the general civilian population (of which my family and I were a part) MREs. What are MREs, you say? MREs are “Meals, Ready to Eat.” They are a food source, issued by the United States Armed Forces, that is ration-quality. At the time, my family, though thankfully not poor, was having considerable trouble finding places that sold food. So the free MRE packages, which consisted of food and other items hermetically sealed in brown plastic with no-nonsense black lettering describing the contents inside, came in pretty handy. We were grateful for them. Now I know in the military (and from talking to American military men and women who had to subsist on MREs), MREs are not popular. They are ration food, after all… Meant to be used in emergency situations, like wars (which should be rare, but sadly, are not).
My family and I ate the MREs; like I said, we were grateful to have them. They kept us from starving for a few days, weeks, however long it was that we ate them… But we also recognized that we could not subsist on them forever (they are not recommended for use beyond 21 consecutive days, probably because of the high sodium and other health reasons). Once the food supplies started coming back into our city, we were able to buy real food again, and we stopped eating the MREs. The ones that were left in our home became novelties (unopened and uneaten novelties, which we passed on to other people who needed them more than we did) after the real, fresh food started to come in.
I think of infant formula as MREs for babies. Both MREs and infant formula have most of the necessary nutrients, the baseline needed for survival, but they are not meant to be used exclusively when a better option is available (which in most normal situations, a better alternative usually is). The thing is, baby formula is a ration-quality product intended for special circumstances (mainly, the inability to breastfeed or pump). People were not meant to subsist on MREs for extended periods of time, not unless there is no other recourse (but if you had to subsist on MREs for a year or two, it probably wouldn’t kill you — you would likely survive). The same can easily be said for formula: babies were not meant (biologically) to subsist entirely on infant formula for extended periods of time.
Since it’s clear to me that infant formula is substandard infant nutrition (compared with the biological norm, breastmilk), and since it’s also pretty clear to me that way too many people in power (doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and personnel, etc.) seem to be confused about this, because they aren’t assisting new mothers with breastfeeding the way they should be upon the birth of their babies, and too many of them, furthermore, PUSH the use of infant formula inappropriately, I thought I’d start to make things a bit more truthful with a proper label.
Here it is:
Compare it to a can of formula anyone could buy in any supermarket in the United States:
The difference in visual information is huge.
Here are some caveats about my label: The label I created does not contain any nutritional information. I probably should have put that on there, but since I’m not actually selling formula, I don’t have to. I was going to give away some extra cans of formula to a shelter here, but I didn’t feel good about leaving the labels intact with all that formula marketing on them. I also didn’t feel good about ripping the labels off because then people wouldn’t know what was in the cans and might throw them away. I couldn’t bear to think of that waste, so instead, I created an alternative label that wouldn’t offend me as much. I simply designed it, printed it out, and pasted it on top of the existing label. That way, if anyone cares to look, they can still find the other one underneath, but they will first have to have read a differing point of view. I took a few artistic liberties with the part that says “Price,” where I said that it was free but available by prescription only. I got that idea from one of the commenters on this blog. The label I have on my download page for anyone to download is slightly different from the one pictured here because the final version has the volume information on it just under where it says “Cows’ Milk-Based.”
Anyway, I thought some of you might want to have this label as an option, so that you could, whenever Freecycling or donating excess cans of ready-to-feed formula to people who might need them, print some truthful labels out and paste them (or tape them, whatever) onto existing formula cans. But please be sure the information is accurate. Most routine formulas are 20 kCal/fl oz and cows’ milk based, so if you’re giving away soy formula or formula that is made with a different formulation, please do NOT use my downloadable label. Feel free to design your own alternative, truthful formula label, and please tell me about it so that I may link to your site and have others see your awesome ideas. Keep in mind that whatever label you create needs to mention that the biological norm is breastfeeding, and that formula is an MRE for babies, not an ideal food for long-term, exclusive use.
Also, I want to say that I welcome constructive criticism of any of the content on this label. If you feel that something on it isn’t accurate enough or may be portraying infant formula or artificial baby milks in too favorable of a light, I need to know that so that I can alter it, or at the very least draw attention to that so that others will be aware of this. Thanks.
Here’s the label itself, which you can download off the download page here at breastfeedingsymbol.org: