Be Thankful for Red M&Ms

‘Tis the most wonderful time of the year, and according to the songs we’re already sick of hearing that are piped into nearly every public space, there’ll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. So gather around the gas-fed fireplace my pretty little children and listen to this frightening tale.

Once upon a time, before you were born, but after the dinosaurs died out, there were no red M&Ms. I see the look of pure disbelief on your innocent faces. Or maybe you think I’m talking about before they were invented. No, oh, no. We had them, and then because of the Russians, they were taken from us. You see, the recent elections are not the first time the Russians have meddled in our affairs.

Waaaay, way back in 1971, the Ruskies came out with a study that linked a food coloring dye, Red No. 2 with cancer. I know, we were simple folk back then, and were happy to call things Red No. 2. Now maybe the Russians were ahead of us in math and science at that point, or maybe they were just trying to get back at us for landing on the moon first. I don’t know, I was just 6 at the time. But what I do know is 5 very important childhood development years later, the Food and Drug Administration agreed, and banned Red No. 2. It was then that our beloved, necessary-for-our-Christmas-cookies, red M&Ms were unceremoniously yanked from every. Single. Bag.

The tradition of picking through the M&Ms to feature mostly green and red ones on the top of our cookies came to a grinding, joyless halt. I was only 11, but the sorting tradition was deeply set into my bones.

My cookie making siblings and I were bereft, broken, and bewildered. How could this happen? And more importantly, how how many red M&Ms did you actually have to eat for something bad to happen? We only got them once a year for the cookies. We were willing to take our chances.

M&Ms maker Mars thought they were doing us a favor by adding orange. Great, so now the mix looked like fall-leaf peep show without any red maple trees: brown, green, yellow, tan, and orange. Don’t even get me started on the tan colored ones. How many dull-colored candies can you fit in a bag? Seriously, brown AND tan?

That first year was pretty bad, but we soldiered on despondently, and baked them in all their mud-colored dreariness. We held out the innocent childlike hope that by next year, science, which had stripped us of our red beauty, would surely find a non-cancerous red dye substitute. I mean we put a man on the moon, surely a non-cancer causing red dye was in our future.

However, the next year passed, and the fall colors continued to mock us. No red in sight. Another year passed, and yet another. We started to lose hope, but by then I was entering adolescence, and started to question the whole thing. Then I got mad. What about all the other red-colored food out there. Or pink. I mean pink has to come from red, right? So Hostess, what’s up with your pink Snoballs? Hmm? Or you, red Fireballs, or you, Red Hots? Or any of the knock off cinnamon red fire candy. None of those disappeared during the candy Red Scare. I don’t remember the frosting food coloring red bottle going away, either. Or maybe we used so little, we had the red contraband in our house that whole time.

Nowadays, you could launch a whole social media campaign and flood Twitter with #GiveUsRedorDie and threaten an M&M boycott. Back then, we were helpless with only our thoughts and strongly worded letters to the editor that never saw the light of day.  The red ones would have been back so fast, or at the very least, the power of the internet would have uncovered the ultimate truth (and most likely a conspiracy) about what really happened in 1976: Red No. 2 was never in the red M&Ms. We were forced to endure those depressing dirt-colored cookies for 11 long, cruel years, for what? Fear that people would be so smart as to question Mars’s assertions that the red M&Ms were fine. Ha, little did they know, we were stupid and would have believed them. Never underestimate the gullibility of people in the 70s.

Finally in 1987, the red M&Ms came back. By then I was graduating from college and it would be another few years before I could heal and attempt to make the cookies properly without breaking down.

Mars nearly broke me, but I survived, even after the company taunted me with the ever so convenient red and green only M&M bag. And then the color dam broke open and there were contests to decide new colors, custom colors and logos, entire M&M brick and mortar stores. In the words of Peter Venkman, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

So, my little pretties, enjoy your M&M online custom color ordering. Or that trip to the M&M store. Just remember what those of us suffered before you. And beware. They could be coming for your Skittles, next.



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