Tuesday, July 14, 2009


As anyone with little kids in their life knows, where there are kids, there will be gum. Kids not only love gum but they have gum radar. They can ferret it out in the most obscure places-- the dark bottom of a cluttered purse, amidst the lint in the pocket of last winter's coat, in the gritty crack of a car seat. And if there is a gumball machine within a hundred yards, forget about it, a kid is going to zero in on its location and drag you there to beg for, gum! gum! GUM!

And while kids have remained relatively unchanged in their simple love of gum, unfortunately, gum itself has not. Starting in the 1960’s with Trident Sugarless (and dozens of others which soon followed), gum has become increasingly more chemicalized. As for me, when I was a kid, I sure didn’t want sugarless gum. I couldn't stand its weird metallic aftertaste. Usually I chewed Juicy fruit or Wrigley’s Spearmint or a hard square of Bazooka with Bazooka Joe comics or spicy Clove gum or my least favorite, but oddly hard to resist, the bubble gum cigar.

Then, I grew up. It was the eighties and I became a mom. After I had my own kids, gum took on a whole new perspective in my life. No longer
just a chewy treat to enjoy, it became a little visitor, often unwanted and uninvited, who decided to come and stay...in the carpet, on the bottom of a shoe, on the underside of the table, stuck to the unsuspecting dog’s tail or perched on the edge of a dinner plate. Worst of all, sometimes it morphed into the dreaded hairy Gum Monster and latched onto the back of a child’s head. This sticky snarly mess could only be banished with gobs of peanut butter along with intense combing, which usually evolved into a greasy scuffle of hair pulling, screaming and crying. Ouch!

Accidents weren't the only problem I had with gum. Just like the foods they ate, gum was going into my young'uns mouths, so I worried about its ingredients. I wanted whatever went into their mouths to be non-polluting to their bodies and hopefully, good for them.

I could see that gum was not the same as when I was a kid. The wrappers were brighter, cuter and more colorful, the gum itself was softer, easier to chew and the flavor lasted longer and sometimes squirted (weird) stuff when you bit it. But deep inside things weren’t looking very pretty. The number of chemicals found in a simple piece of gum had increased. There were more artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and chemicals than anyone could have expected (or wanted). And the chemicals were constantly changing, their list growing and showing up in more and more brands of gum.

So, I took a stand and banned all gum which contained artificial sweeteners and those with a long list of chemicals. In order to maintain that ban I became a gum watch dog. And like any good watch dog, I didn't allow just any gum on the property or near my kids. I checked ingredient lists, I sniffed, I read, I listened and looked. Accordingly I accepted some and chased others into the trash can.

Still, by and large, even in the 1980’s gum selection wasn't a big deal. It was pretty easy for me to find acceptable gum that contained regular sugar. Juicy Fruit, Wrigley’s, Hubba Bubba and many others, sometimes had a smattering of artificial colors or lab produced flavors but overall did not contain artificial sweeteners.

Then, my kids became teens and forget about it, they chewed whatever they wanted. I was off the hook and released from my guard duty. Gum took a back seat in my life once again.

Fast forward to today. Now, gum is an “issue" in my life yet one more time--a small issue, but an issue nonetheless. Why? One word: grandkids. And guess what they (well, at this point, only one of them, the other is just growing his first teeth and can't ask for much of anything--but just wait) asks for a lot? Yes, it's gum.

Therefore, I was forced to put on my guard dog collar and watch out for gum-again. And upon looking what did I find? I discovered this ain’t the `80’s and chewing gum had gotten worse.
Most gum in the supermarket and convenience stores have ingredients so far from natural they should be in the pharmaceutical rather than the candy aisle. For example here’s the ingredient list for Trident Sugarless Gum with Xylitol, Tropical Twist :

Ingredients: Sorbitol, Gum Base, Xylitol , Natural and Artificial Flavoring, Mannitol, Glycerin , Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Soy Lecithin, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1, BHT - to Maintain Freshness

Or how about Wrigley’s Spearmint gum:

Ingredients: sugar, gum base, dextrose, corn syrup; less than 2% of: natural and artificial flavors, glycerol, soy lecithin, aspartame, acesulfame k, colors (yellow 5 lake, blue 1 lake), BHT (to maintain freshness). PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

Or Hubba Bubba gum (for kids):

Ingredients: sugar, gum base, corn syrup; less than 2% of: glycerol, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin, acesulfame k, aspartame, color (red 40 lake), BHT (to maintain freshness). PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

The last two, Wrigley’s and Hubba Bubba, aren't even “sugarless” gum, yet they both contain artificial sweeteners! And a warning! Eeek!

And why the warning? It's because phenylalanine can be deadly to people who have a disorder called PKU. Additionally, many gum ingredients such as the artificial sweeteners Acesulfame Potassium and Aspartame are thought to cause cancers, brain tumors and even infertility. The health and safety issues of artificial sweeteners have been debated intensely since the 1960’s and there are people on both sides who are sure they are right and have the data to prove it.

Myself, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I think, if some people want to be human lab rats and trust the CEO’s of major corporations to be honest and forthright, Ok for them. If these same people want to believe the makers and sellers of suspect products filled with suspect chemicals do not have profits as their primary motivator and likewise don’t have the public good somewhere lower on their What’s Important list, then so be it, let these guileless people gamble with their health and the health of their children. Let them chew gum all willy-nilly.

But not me. When I hand my grandchildren (or any child) a piece of gum, I want to feel good about it. I don’t want to give them a little bit of toxic waste wrapped in sugar or sugar-like substance. I want them to have gum like I had as a child, real gum, safe gum. I refuse to give them gum that might give them cancer or add to their body burden of chemicals or make their future kids be mutants. Gum just ain’t worth that kind of risk.

Needless to say, I was really happy when I happened across Glee Gum at Terra Toys, our local (and very cool) toy store here in Austin. Glee Gum is shaped into little squares, like Chiclets gum and has a candy coating which gives a nice little "crunch" when you bite into it. I was glad to see that it comes in a small box made of cardboard, so it is completely recyclable--no packaging waste! The box design is also very cute and very retro-looking. But most of all I was thrilled when I read the ingredients list. Glee gum is all natural and is vegetarian/vegan friendly. Thus it is lactose free, dairy free, wheat free, gluten free, casein free, egg free, yeast free, nut free, soy free, and peanut free. It has no artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners. And yes, Marie, Glee gum is also yummy.

To find out more about the company, I went online. And according to their website, Glee gum is owned and manufactured by Verve, inc. “an independent, family-owned business, dedicated to linking world communities and creating environmentally and socially responsible products and activities.”

I googled and found more information. In an article titled Rhode Island’s Glee Gum part of sustainable-harvest effort , Gail Ciampa, the food editor of the Providence Journal, writes about meeting Debbie Schimberg, owner of Glee Gum. She states that she “learned so very much not just about the gum but about Schimberg and her passion for supporting all things sustainable. She is the founder of the Southside Community Land Trust, which started as a neighborhood garden and is now a national model for its urban farming programs.”

Ciampa goes on to write, “her Glee Gum is also groundbreaking — for how it uses an ingredient that supports sustainable harvest across the border. It’s all natural, made from chicle, which flows from trees in the rainfore+st of southern Mexico and northern Guatemala. Because the trees are tapped for chicle, they provide ongoing income for the local farmers who harvest the chicle. Keeping the trees for chicle harvest, rather than cutting them down for lumber, supports the rainforest. “

Explaining further, Ciampa states, “Verve, also donates a percentage of profits to scholarships for the families of chicle farmers.”

So, not only does this little square gum taste great, but it is safe for kids to put in their mouths, it is safe for the environment, (specifically the rainforest) and it is also a gum whose manufacturer has a social conscience. And lastly, (drum roll) the manufacturer is located right here in the U.S.A. What more could a gum chewer ask for?

Since discovering Glee, I’ve gone online and ordered from the Glee website. I bought a case of Spearmint which is 12 regular size boxes (18 pieces per box), the Bubblegum Mini boxes which come in bag of 80 and the Mini Glee Variety Pack which is 21 mini boxes with 4 pieces of gum in each box. We have chewed and enjoyed them all. I especially like the mini boxes for the kids. Four pieces is just the right amount for one child to enjoy without the threat of wasted gum or hair disasters.

By the way, here is the GLEE GUM Spearmint flavor INGREDIENTS:


Simple and simply beautiful.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my old favorite Bazooka Bubble gum is
still made by the Topps Co. but it is no longer hard and square or made in the USA. It’s softer, rounder and made in Mexico. Too bad. *sigh*

For more information about artificial sweeteners check out these links:


Sweet Misery Documentary

Center for Science in the Public Interest: FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk