Oh, bologna, you’re a cruel, cruel mistress.

There are a large number of foods that once your kids know of their existence, there’s no turning back. Anything sugary, of course, and anything in the chip family, gum… and then there’s bologna.

It’s always some version of the same old story. Your kid sits down to lunch at school/camp, the kid next you your kid opens lunch bag/box, takes out sandwich. Your kid asks what other kid is eating, it’s a bologna sandwich, and whoosh, right down the rabbit hole.

And then the negotiations begin. At first you patiently explain that bologna isn’t all that good for you, and you attempt to explain why, without being too gross or scary. (And you don’t even know exactly why anymore, you just know that bologna is a bad, bad thing, something to do with nitrites, and maybe snouts). But your kid has tried bologna. They want bologna. Please? Why? Please?

Your kid asks what the other kid is eating. It’s a bologna sandwich. And whoosh… right down the rabbit hole.

I have a series of artificially engineered guidelines, ever-shifting, for foods like this, so that I don’t feel like the full-time captain of the food police, but my kids aren’t mainlining bologna and other foods with “Bad Mommy” stamped on them. The bologna rule goes something like this: no bologna. Except at other people’s houses. And every once in a while, on a special occasion. Like camp. And then only in a sandwich that contains something else, like roasted turkey. And then only once a week, max. And then only if they remember to ask for it (under no circumstances, according to clause 2 under subsection II.A., is bologna to be offered by a parent to the child without solicitation).

Camp is the loophole for quite a number of crappy foods that normally don’t work their way into my larder. If my kids are running around sweating through their suncreen all day, I think somehow that counterbalances various additives and preservatives and red dye #3s. Yes, you can have an ice cream. A Super Sour Bomb Pop? Really? Well, ok. What’s all over your mouth? Flavor Blasted Doritos? That’s what they gave you for snack? Oh, ok…

And in my never-ending quest to layer a bit of rationalization into the bologna sandwich, and counteract the shame and guilt associated with purchasing bologna and giving it to my kids, I buy turkey bologna. Because that’s better for you, right? What’s next, menthol cigarettes?

Ingredients: The first one is “Turkey ingredients”. What does this mean, turkey ingredients? Why doesn’t it just say turkey? This is then clarified in parenthesis: “(mechanically separated turkey, Turkey)”. Oh. Those are two different things? Oh. Then, “Water, Modified Corn Starch+, Corn syrup, Sodium lactate, Salt, Dextrose, Flavor” (pause again. Flavor? Mmmmm.) “Sodium phosphates, Sodium diacetate, Sodium ascorbate, Sodium Nitrate, Extractives of Paprika.”

What is the + for, after Modified corn starch? “Exceeds amount permitted in regular turkey bologna.” That can’t be good. But if it’s not permitted, then why….

Let’s cut to the takeaways. Sometimes, especially during camp, not all ingredient lists are meant to be read. Also, I am a hypocrite. And so are most of the people I really like. I will continue to take my children to the farmer’s market on Saturdays, and urge them to try artisanal cheese and heirloom tomatoes, and I will also give them a slice of bologna on Mondays, just one, combined with fresh turkey, only during the summer months, and only on demand. Anyway, if the roasted turkey is organic, that cancels out the Sodium diacetate, right? That’s what I am telling myself.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.


  1. I hate bologna. It tastes like soap to me. And I share your concerns about eating real food sans ingredients from a laboratory. And then I traveled to Bologna, Italy and tasted balogna’s inspiration, mortadella. Wow! What a revelation! The domestic mortadella isn’t worth buying but if you can get the real Italian stuff, you will be shocked at how delicious bologna’s cousin is.

    1. that sounds like a New Yorker cartoon, “Hello, I’m bologna….but have you met my fabulous cousin, Mortadella?”

  2. Fantastic. It’s like you wrote down the dialog in my brain.
    Especially when my kid argued for marshmallows being a protein.

  3. I just read the “exceeds amount permitted in turkey bologna” on a package of my bolgona at home. Googled it, and found your blog! Except on mine it doesn’t say what exceeds the amount. Glad to see im not a crazy mom and someone else feels the same about bologna! I thought I was being a good mom by not buying beef bologna, lol but even turkey is no good :(

    1. it’s hard to find any nutritional good in bologna. every once in a while, you just shouldn’t read the label….

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