We’re all exposed to this– the words “ALL NATURAL” is the country’s largest joke and you are the punchline.

I hate to say it, but it’s true. It’s marketing fodder. Words used to make your mouth water and say “Honey, I’ve lowered my cholesterol because I am eating 100% Pure and Natural foods.” Well, let’s take a closer look at food labeling. What goes into a label? Who makes the decisions? What is the purpose of a food label?

I can tell you my experience is coming from 15 years as a graphic designer and 9 years of designing labels for products that are sold massive retail stores. Every company does it. “Now, Heart-Healthy!” “Made with 100% natural ingredients!” “Pure and natural.” What those following phrases simply means is that you are about to make a purchase of an item that came from this planet. Eggs are natural. Avocados are also natural. So are chickens. Spinach is too. So why would someone try to convince me of buying their product by stating the obvious? It is because the consumer makes their decision on color, style, and taste. Marketing folks at the retail level are constantly trying to sell items we simply do not need to a consumer with a high school grade level female at the age of 32. Everyone else is not effected by it because according to research, no one else shops.

Weird, isn’t it? Welcome to my world.

Interestingly enough, this website is about nutrition, so I’ll try to keep the emotions out of this. Let’s get back to the topic. Natural foods. What are they? The Wiki says this on Natural Foods

Natural foods is a widely used term with various meanings and no legal definition. Natural foods typically refers to foods that are minimally processed and do not contain any hormones, antibiotics, artificial sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings…Food produced or sold according to the ideals of the natural food movement is sometimes known colloquially as ‘health food,’ although many people also use that term in a broader sense to mean any type of healthy eating. Natural food is not a synonym for organic food, as organic food refers to how the food is grown – without pesticides or other chemicals – while natural food refers to processing of the food.

Ok, so this means that when you pick up a bunch of spinach, you are holding something that is from the earth. Ok, that is good. So why do I need to be told this? Doesn’t spinach grow from the soil from seed? Well, yeah. See where this is going?

Common sense. Nothing makes me more outraged when I walk through a grocery store produce section and I need a oval shaped sticker on an avocado that reads “100% Pure and Natural”– what else would it be? “Avocado; 100% Man made in a clay pots using magic?” It’s an avocado, and since our Federal Government does not mandate that our food be labeled with the words “Natural” this word means nothing other than “Yes, Joe Consumer, it’s real food.”

I would assume Joe Consumer would understand that a peach comes from a tree which grows from soil.

Organics? Well, my take on organics is that our FDA makes companies that try to comply with the standard but this isn’t always the case. Think of the giant Walmart stores that now carry organics. Great for us that we can now [slightly] afford a piece of fruit that was not sprayed or soil enriched with gasses or pesticides. Bad in the sense it still is a great big farm where I can buy 10lb bags of carrots and many are not of good quality because they are still making that long trip from Georgia to Ohio where I live. You can’t win them all.

Obviously I pick as many organics as my wallet will allow. In the warmer months, we shop at local farms and also grow many of our greens on our little piece of city property. (Warmer to me means above 40°F) Local means that I can walk on the piece of land that the produce or animal was raised. I can meet the family that cultivated the produce from the soil.

Where the gray area comes in is on livestock. That is the toughest call in anyone’s books that is looking for a healthier way of living. The term “Natural” in livestock means it is an animal. There are some things that really bother me that they print on some food labels.

100% Vegetarian Fed: This means they were fed plant material. AKA grain, corn, soy, or some form of modified food made in a factory. The FDA will not allow any producer to feed livestock meat.

All Natural: Not man-made. Let’s hope the chicken I just bought was not man-made.

No hormones: Guess, what? Means nothing. The FDA will not allow any livestock producer to use growth hormones. It is only used in milk and dairy products. rBST and rGHB are two hormones that science is now linking with certain cancers in kids. Great. :\

Organic: The use of conventional non-organic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is greatly restricted and saved as a last resort. Organic is now a loose term in the food industry as it has spread to non-consumables (sheets, clothing, etc). This certification is now extremely expensive to most farmers and therefore many local growers are not adhering to this standard.

I could go on and on. The point of this is to empower you as a consumer. Get comfortable with food labeling and understand that labels are designed to assist in the shopping experience. Not every label is accurate and not every food is pure. Eat as clean as possible and know where your food comes from.

— Daniel Merk

POSTED BY Daniel Merk | 08:25pm 26th-Jan, 2010