My Family’s Visit to Canada’s (Food) Blunderland

This past Saturday, my wife, two kids and I woke up to a beautiful warm sunny morning and decided to spend the day at Canada’s Wonderland (CW). Before hitting the road, we hastily packed lunch and snacks: Peanut butter on whole-wheat bagel, sliced apples, whole-grain crackers, carrot sticks, and sliced cheese. We also promised the kids that they could pick a treat at the end of the day.  And off we went.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a teenager in uniform with the words ‘Access Control’ written clearly across his chest.  He was checking everyone’s bags … for guns? Knives? I wondered. In fact, his job was to confiscate any and all food brought into the facility by patrons.  As I looked around, I noticed about a dozen of these ‘Access Control’ agents meticulously rummaging through each and every patron’s bags, strollers and wagons, confiscating anything edible. Each item was thrown on one of many tables sagging under the weight of  small mountains of contraband.

Of course we were no exception. Our access control agent proudly discovered our pre-prepared picnic.  He then gave me a look. The last time someone gave me THAT look was 15 years ago when a Canada Customs officer caught me bringing cured meats and raw-milk cheese into Canada from Europe. He promptly confiscated our food and reassured us that there are plenty of eating options in the amusement park.

Scratching my head, I wondered, why the ‘no outside food’ policy?  As I walked through the facility, The answer became quite clear – there is way too much money to lose when allowing patrons to bring their own food.  A pizza costs $25.00. A fountain drink: $4.00. A bottle of water: $3.00.  ‘Criminal’ I thought to myself.

As lunch-time neared, and as I started scouting out our food options, I felt an ever-building sense of frustration and anger.  Not only was our picnic confiscated and my wallet robbed,  but the food options were grotesque!

Some places offered the usual suspects: Hot dogs with fries, Chicken-fingers with fries, Burgers and fries. Or, we could get creative and consider…

The good ol’ foot-long hot dog:

450+ calories
26 grams of fat (almost half of  daily requirement)
9.5 grams of saturated fat
1.5 grams of salt (100% of daily requirement)
1.5 grams of fibre (daily requirement = 26 grams/d)

Or we could go for the comfort option: Pizza

As I checked the menu, I wondered … why were the only vegetables in the vicinity 1 mushroom slice and 2 specks of green pepper on the Pizza-shop’s sign? Pepperoni or Plain were the only options.  No veggies. No whole wheat option either 🙁

We could each get a personal 9-inch pizza – plain or pepperoni – for $9.00 a pop.

I also wondered why a personal-sized pizza needs to be twice the size of the plate?  I guess moderation doesn’t sell so well.

1,000 Calories for the personal pepperoni (Half the daily caloric requirements for an active teen)
35 grams of fat – Also half the daily requirements (15 grams saturated)
2 grams of salt – Above the daily requirements
1 measly gram of fibre – recall that 26 grams/d is the recommendation.

Our other option was to share the Family Pizza for $25.00 (Pepperoni or Plain) –
1 of six servings has:
460 calories
12 grams of fat (3.5 saturated)
1.2 grams of salt
1 gram of fibre

‘Too many refined carbs’, I thought.

Then, I found a gentleman selling the infamous smoked turkey legs made popular by the Disney theme parks in Florida and California.

1,100 Calories
53 grams of fat – that’s all your fat for the day!
A whopping 5.3 grams of salt! Double the upper tolerable limit for sodium!!

We passed on the turkey leg and opted for sharing one personal sized pizza.

As for drinks, lots of options: Bottles of pop, pop from the fountain, fruit drinks, and ice tea – All variations of way too much sugar in water.

All of the bottles and fountain drinks were OVERSIZED. The smallest option was a generous  22 ounces, 6 ounces more than the maximum soon to be allowed in New York!  Incidentally, how is $3.99 good value for 32 ounces of Coke?  Last I checked, that’s a rip-off.  And Coke has just about the poorest ‘health value’ of anything, edible or otherwise, that can be placed in a human GI tract.

So our only healthy option was water…

Water water everywhere, only $3.00 per person to drink!

After dropping $12.00 for the family to drink some water, I walked around the back of a building looking for a quiet spot to check my email.  Just then I notice…

CW must have forgotten about water-fountain signage when they crunched out their budget.  Or maybe there’s no money to make selling tap water in Toronto.  Trying to save face, I tried to convince myself that bottled water was probably healthier than tap water.  WRONG!

Over-filled with way too much white flour, fatty cheese and cardiac-arrest quantities of salt/nitrites, my daughter and I filled our now-empty water bottles with Toronto tap water from the fountain and decided to go on a hunt for vegetables. As we embarked on our search, I walked past a mother breastfeeding her baby under the shade of a tree.  ‘That little bugger,’ I said to myself. ‘He’s the only one eating healthily in this entire amusement park!’

Well, our search for vegetables wasn’t entirely fruitless.

We found home-made freshly sliced potatoes deep-fried in oil and then smothered in salt.  Potatoes are vegetables, right?

We also discovered that potatoes can be cut into narrow slices and also deep-fried in oil followed by an endless shower of salt.  Great for those folks already salt-toxic from the turkey leg. And, who knew that you can dip these vegetables in another vegetable … ketchup!

In all fairness, there are some vegetables for sale at CW.  It’s just that I would not have been able to find them had I not asked a nearby employee where my family and I can find something healthy to eat…
Though I originally thought that this was the hut where we could exchange dirty towels for clean ones, it turns out this is where the vegetable options were located – a not-quite-so-visible Subway Stand.  I still can’t figure out why Subway would choose to go so under-noticed.

Towards the end of the day, as we walked towards the main entrance, we passed by the children’s play park which, by the way…

is named after SUGAR!

And as we passed by, my kids dutifully reminded us about the treats we promised them.  So off to the treat shop we went…

Unhealthy options were plentiful, but when it came right down to it, most of us faced the choice between…

100% pure sugar lolipops…

100% pure sugar lolipops…

And 100% pure sugar  which you are expected to pour into an over-sized straw-like countainer that you can then pour directly into your mouth!

An utterly disgusting end to a horrendously unhealthy but otherwise enjoyable day at the amusement park.

When we got home, I hopped on the CW website and confirmed that they do, indeed, have a ‘no outside food’ policy. From their website: ‘No outside food, beverages or coolers are allowed to be brought into CW. However, baby food and formula are permitted as is plastic bottled water.’  Grrrr, I could have saved $12.00.

Digging a little deeper, I found this National Post article from which I learned that this food policy was implemented when new corporate owners took over in 2007.  Their rationale: ‘guests purchasing meals at the park’s food service outlets often found that tables and chairs were being commandeered by patrons bringing their own food into the park.’ Yeah, sure.  It had nothing to do with squeezing out better profits by giving patrons no choice but to buy crappy high-margin foods for astronomically high prices.

Just as troubling, from the same article, CW’s spokesperson reassuringly promised that “We will have vendors on the streets selling carrot sticks and vegetable packs and we are introducing a brand-new restaurant in the next couple of weeks called Marketplace that will have every single health food imaginable.” I guess that didn’t work out so well for them.

So why this rant?

In my view, this is a case of three strikes you’re out.  To confiscate outside food but prominently offer healthy food choices – even at inflated prices – would be justifiable.  Alternatively, offering crap at outrageous prices could be justified if, as an alternative, families were allowed to bring food from home.  But to combine ‘no outside food’ with ‘outrageously unhealthy options’, at ‘criminally high prices’ is a triple-foul that, in my opinion, crosses a threshold of acceptability. CW can always say that they’re not in the health food business.  Fair enough.  But I suspect they don’t consider themselves to be in the ‘Slowly Killing Children‘ business either.  I have many patients who spend every one of their summer vacation days at CW.  I watch their weights charge up unabated despite my best efforts to curb their obesity, the miserable effect that easy access to crappy food has on way too many children.

If you feel so inclined, please consider contacting Canada’s Wonderland and asking them to consider one or all of the following requests:

1) Please allow outside food to be brought back into their facility

2) Please make healthier food choices more readily available to patrons

3) Please charge more reasonable prices for the foods on offer

With any luck, we’ll help to make Canada’s Wonderland not only a fun place to visit, but a healthy one too.