How natural is natural food?

Kate at Accidental Hedonist reports that Capri Sun will be removing the "All Natural" label from their juice products after a lawsuit by consumers. The suit claimed the label was misleading and deceptive because Capri Sun contains high fructose corn syrup, a man-made product. But corn syrup is produced from corn starch, a natural product of corn, by an enzymatic reaction. Enzymes are natural, a scientist didn't invent enzymes one day in the lab. So in a weird way, Capri Sun is natural. I don't think that's really the issue here.

People infer some kind of healthiness when they read the label "All Natural", but plenty of natural product will kill you, eating the wrong wild mushroom, for example. The real issue is processed food, and how much manipulation we want of our food before it reaches the table. Corn syrup (and the high fructose variant) do not exist in nature without human intervention. People looking for all natural food are looking for food in its original state, I suppose, but how often does that exist? And where do we draw the line? Is maple syrup all natural? You need to boil maple sap to produce the syrup. Is flour all natural? You need to grind the wheat to produce it. You could be a "naturalist" by eating only fruits and vegetables and foods that haven't been transformed, kind of like folks in the raw food movement.

For a while now, my eating style has been whole foods as much as possible. I don't buy processed or prepared foods. I make pretty much everything from scratch, and try to eat things as close to their natural state as possible. This way I can avoid additives and preservatives, and chemicals. Mostly I do this because I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy how these unmanipulated foods taste. Tomato sauce from scratch tastes better to me than sauce from a jar. Homemade soup is better than canned. When I go to the market, I don't look for an "All Natural" label, I look at the ingredients. It's pretty easy to tell from that what's really gone into the product.

8 thoughts on “How natural is natural food?

  1. The removal of the “All Natural” label is probably a good thing, I agree. Still, why is it the responsibility of the corporation to realize it’s wrong to capitalize on the difference between a more literal dictionary definition of the word/phrase versus a subjective connotation of a word/phrase?
    Technically, corn is natural unless it’s artificial corn. When I hear “All Natural,” the actual light bulb in my head is thinking, “All unprocessed.” Of course, corporations know this and they are trying to gobble up my money.
    I feel like the argument against “All Natural” labels goes like this: The general assumption to natural goods is that it is good for you. Then I see “All Natural” products and I buy it because it is good. Then I gain all this weight and damn it! It is BAD!!! They lied to me!! Let me sue!!!
    It reminds me of the lady who beat McDonalds and won money because hot coffee burned her. Yea, get a clue. It seems like consumer groups are fighting for the stupid people. The argument against my perception is that, “corporations should not be in the business of deception.”
    To that I say, yes deception should be reduced, but at the end of the day, individuals are responsible for food intake and exercise. A healthy balance leads to a healthy lifestyle. I drink supermarket brand ‘fruit punch’/sodas and eat at Burger King/Wendy’s/McDonalds occasionally and have zero health problems.
    So either we protect the stupid people, or we ask people to be a little be more thoughtful and introspective when it comes to food.

  2. I totally agree Meg. There is no simple definition of the word “natural”. If “natural” means lack of human-initiated change of the product, then almost all food we eat is “unnatural”. If humans are part of the natural world, why would something made by humans be “unnatural” while something made by all plants or animals except humans be “natural”?
    The definition of natural was a major issue in an environmental ethics class I took in college, with most of us concluding that the problem was intractable and that the distinction between natural and unnatural could not be used as a basis for an environmental ethic.

  3. I chose to stop eating meat a few months ago, and I’ve been startled at the variety of perspectives to which the natural food stores in my area cater. Most startling has been the amount of ‘organic’ foods being sold that aren’t necessarily healthy in other ways. I hope that people understand that an organic potato chip is still a potato chip — natural ain’t the same thing as healthy.

  4. I’m reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and I’m learning all about what really is in our food. I now question natural unless I go to the farm myself!

  5. Most of the time if you can’t pronounce the ingredient it isn’t natural. I’ve definitely learned that reading the labels before you my something is extremely important.

  6. The sad reality is that most people still pretty much believe what they read on labels. People seem to have this undying faith in “brands,” which explains (for example) why most people would rather go to a big name franchise operation than a local diner if they want a burger.
    I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of “stupidity,” I think it’s a matter of what we have come to have faith in. The fact that we have such faith in corporations is a sign of a larger malaise, but that’s beyond the scope of this comment. However, I think that corporations have a responsibility to not mislead, and if the general perception is that “natural” means something along the lines of “not created in a laboratory,” then calling high fructose corn syrup “natural” is misleading.
    Ultimately, it comes down to personal responsibility. As others have suggested, everyone should learn to read labels, and should get in the habit of doing so. Look at that ridiculous case of the “Kraft guacamole” thing a few months ago — the consumer is entirely to blame in that case. As I said in my post on the topic; “Read the label. It should be “rule number 1″ for anyone who buys groceries. Most packaged food is “factory food,” or in other words, “crap.” In order to sort the food from the crap, read the label.”

  7. Ah, this is why buying your own fruits and veggies and making your own stuff gets you a healthier diet… I just discovered an organic farm that delivers. Yee haw.

  8. I am happy to see that the labels are trying to get more friendly and informative. It is quite a tedious job to read and decipher all those words at the back of the package.
    I am in India these days and commented on my blog that eating here for the last month or so has been quite a departure from my ordinary eating habits in America. Almost nothing I eat is from a packet and comes fresh from the market-the fruits, vegetables and the meat. I think we should all aspire to eat that way and then the labelling on the packages will be a moot point.

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