In the 1960s and early 70s, Canadian children did not regularly eat fresh fruit or vegetables during the winter months due to complex British Commonwealth rules that stated that all food must be grey or mush or both.
Even if fresh fruit were allowed, the cost of transportation from warmer climates was prohibitive. This was due to isolationist trade regulations that required each piece of fruit to be packaged and shipped separately due to an irrational fear that foreign fruits might contain parasites or demons. Today, of course, we understand that fruit demons are extremely rare.
Consequently, if you were a Canadian child growing up in the 60s and 70s, you basically became transparent during the winter months. One of the reasons we survived at all was because in the spring and fall we ate a steady diet of lawn clippings and Lik-M-Aid.
During the brief summer months, it was important to ingest as much fresh fruit as possible. The countless strawberry festivals across the land were not so much social events as ritualistic intakes of vitamin C that happened to involve (as do all good things in this world) whipped cream and cake.
But winters in Canada were bleak. By the mid-60s, our pioneering skills in canning fruits had been lost due to the pervasive American belief that sugar should not be used as a preservative but consumed directly.
Thankfully, Canada at this time benefited from the burgeoning nutritional supplement industry. For example, I distinctly remember taking a daily dose of vitamin C syrup. It was orange and viscous and formulated to supplement a child’s winter diet of potatoes and Squeez-A-Snak cheese.
(My mother, incidentally, has no recollection of such a syrup, but who are you going to believe, someone whose brain was nourished by vitamin C syrup, or someone whose wasn’t?)
There was also, of course, Broccolot, which promised all the goodness of broccoli in the form of a syrup that was also a silver polish. It was truly an age of wonders. Broccolot wasn’t particularly popular, however, because most Canadians had never heard of broccoli until 1980, coinciding with the United Nations International Year of the Stinky Vegetable.
Banoobe was a banana-flavoured paste in a tube that you could spread on toast. It contained zero percent real banana but seemed like the real thing if you had never tried the real thing. It was the Tang of breakfast spreads.
And it wasn’t just fruits and vegetables. There were other supplements as well. For example, who can forget Mr. Beef-O? These were pills shaped like miniature T-bones that offered concentrated doses of growth hormones and testosterone “For The Little Raging Man Inside You.” Mr. Beef-O pills are now thought to be responsible for Paul Henderson’s iconic winning goal versus Russia as well as 63% of all schoolyard fights between 1968 and 1977.
Vitee-Teet was another popular supplement for children who were unable to get enough dairy in their diet. It was particularly popular during the mid-70s when Canada was converting to the metric system, and there was an extended period when the only available containers that could hold the revised volumes of milk were Kodiak boot boxes. That’s where the term “Sloshing ’76” came from, as I’m sure you know.
Powdered milk also became popular at that time, but mainly as a form of punishment.
Then there was Squink. I knew a lot of kids who used to drink Squink, which was powdered squid ink that, when diluted with water, tasted like low tide and armpit. With its label depicting a winking squid with a leering grin and outstretched tentacles, Squink was chockful of vitamin B, potassium and the stuff of nightmares. Lightly diluted Squink could also be used to devise crude prison tattoos. Squink was eventually discontinued when it was found to contain high levels of plutonium. RIP, all those kids who used to drink Squink…
Astro-Dent was popular for a while, it promised “Strong, Healthy, Extra-Large Teeth… Just Like the Astronauts!” Whatever was in those pills made your gums tingle.
Everything changed in 1982 when Canada repatriated its constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Free Plums. No longer was the country duty-bound to follow British trade rules. Fresh fruits and vegetables flowed into the country all year long in great abundance, although to this day, no one knows exactly what is meant by “fieldberry.”
Today, our children have access to a yearlong variety of healthy foods and no longer require a market flooded with ridiculous supplements and fruit-like substitutes. Thank goodness the food industry came to its senses about what we should be feeding our kids.