A nutritious dinner is over; bedtime approaches; and the arduous process of convincing our daughter that baths and cleanliness are Good Things is nearing its successful if soggy conclusion. Nothing, now, can derail the Sleepytime Express…

…when the hairs on my spine suddenly stand up like pins. Somewhere in my subconscious, I’ve registered the faint, tinkling sounds that every parent recognizes as the anthem of their doom.

Now they’re loud enough for me to hear… and, more importantly and horribly, for her to hear. And even as I suddenly raise my voice with a too-cheerful offer to read her a story, any story, even that frigging tedious Button Book that takes a solid half hour to slog through, I know I’m too late: her face breaks out in a beautific smile.

“Ice cream truck!” she shrieks. “Ice cream truck!!”

In the war between peaceful bedtimes and pitched child-parent conflict, between healthy eating and childhood-obesity-inducing crap, the ice cream truck is junk food’s cruise missile: flying in under the radar, striking its target with lethal precision and inflicting unspeakable collateral damage.

The ice cream truck isn’t the only weapon in Big Junk’s arsenal. Vending machines may be in full retreat from many Canadian high schools (although the struggle in the U.S. continues). But parents in grocery stores and convenience stores still have to navigate minefields of chocolate bars, chips and candy – all placed at the eye level of a four-year-old, leaving little doubt as to their target.

What makes the ice cream truck so insidious is the combination of its pop-culture-icon status and its intrusive nature. You can herd your kids past the Creamsicle display at the 7-Eleven, and serve fresh fruit instead of Jello for dessert. But the cloying chimes of an ice cream truck (who knew Hagood Hardy wrote so damn many songs?) reach past your front door and into your home. It’s sonic spam.

The only thing that makes the intrusion acceptable is the ice cream truck’s iconic ancestor, which had some kindly old soul in the back scooping out cones of creamy goodness. But those guys don’t exist any more, and haven’t for generations. Most of the stuff today’s trucks sell is some mixture of milk solids, sugar, processed fat and the chemical industry’s equivalent to eye of newt, all carefully focus tested and packaged to push a kid’s buttons.

It’s one more challenge than parents should have to deal with. And while it’s easy to say we ought to just be able to say no to our kids, Big Junk is making us do that a dozen times a day already.

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