2 Scary St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

While St. Paddy’s Day festivities may seem harmless and fun, there are a couple of St. Paddy’s traditions that are a bit concerning in an environmental sense.


Dyeing the Chicago River Green:

The Chicago River dyed green, March 16, 2013

Image courtesy of Jason Foshag

The Chicago River has been dyed a disturbingly brilliant shade of green every St. Paddy’s day since 1961. During that year, plumbers were using the chemical fluorescein to detect and track river pollution. Fluorescein starts out a rusty shade of orange and then turns a brilliant green. Stephen Bailey, then-chairman of the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade and manager of the plumber’s union was inspired to dump 100 pounds of the dye into the river, all in the name of festivity. According to some sources, fluorescein can cause side effects like skin irritations and allergic reactions.

In 1966, at the urging of environmentalists, the chemical was switched to a vegetable-based green dye. However, the formula is kept top-secret. This is allegedly to prevent other cities from replicating the Chicago River’s polluted-looking shade of shamrock. I personally think it’s fishy (no pun intended) that a mysterious chemical is being dumped into this large body of water without its contents being disclosed to the public.


What’s in a Shamrock Shake?

A minty green ice cream beverage topped with whipped cream and a dessert cherry, the shamrock shake has been on McDonald’s menu on a seasonal basis every year since 1970. Their website calls it, “a beloved treat with a legacy of love,” and, to be fair, the first seasonal shamrock shake promotion did donate proceeds to build the first Ronald McDonald House.

However, we all know that McDonald’s isn’t exactly a bastion of good health, but have you taken the time to look at the nutrition information for this frosty sugar bomb? A 12 oz shamrock shake contains 530 calories, 160 mg of sodium, and 73 g of sugar. The calorie amount is over 25% of the 2,000 calories per day recommended by the USDA.

The Huffington Post recently published a break-down of the ingredients found in the shamrock shake. According to the report, the total number of ingredients is 54. Some of the sketchiest additives include:

  • Artificial Colors and Preservatives: This combination has been linked not only to allergic reactions, but to hyperactivity in children.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (no surprise there): HFCS is suspected of being the sweetener behind the American obesity epidemic. Consumer large quantities of HFCS is easy to do because it’s in almost everything. There’s a debate about whether or not the body processes this sweetener differently than it does natural sugars. It may lead to increased risk of heart disease.
  •  Carageenan: An additive used for thickening dairy products, there is evidence that carageenan may contribute to problems with digestion and possibly even cancer.

I don’t mean to rain on your St. Paddy’s Day parade, but, like with many modern American holidays, traditions associated with the 17th of March tend to be related to lurking environmental and health concerns. Traditions that probably won’t harm you or the earth include listening to traditional Irish music, watching or participating in an Irish folk dance, eating cabbage and potatoes and hunting for pots of responsibly-sourced gold. GreenJoyment does not recommend drinking yourself to oblivion.

Have fun and stay safe this St. Patrick’s Day weekend!








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