Natural Fakers – why the word “natural” means nothing

Natural. A harmless word. As someone who grew up in Montana, if you used “natural” in a word-association test, the response I’d give you is probably Glacier National Park.

But natural isn’t a harmless word anymore. Unlike the word organic, which (though overloaded in meaning) has a very explicit definition when it comes to food, the word natural means everything, yet means nothing at the same time.

At a simplistic level, the word natural means “from nature”. However, unless it’s something that fell from outer space (arguably, not nature), even the most twisted chemical or genetic experiments can be construed as “from nature”. And so it is.

I’ve said before, “Products that sell themselves as green seldom are.”

The same is true of natural. “Products that sell themselves as natural seldom are.

When you see “natural” on a box, it is a ploy. It’s marketing. Nothing more. Whether on food or a consumer packaged good, it is a gimmick to catch your eye, to make you feel better – it’s no different than the use of the words “healthy” or “nutritious”. Without more information, it’s just marketing.

Products that are labeled as natural can contain genetically modified ingredients – and they likely do, given the massive amount of genetically engineered soy and corn used in our nation’s foot system – much of it subsidized by our government. “Natural” products can also contain petrochemicals (or, very commonly, soy processed with petrochemicals – be aware of this, almost all soy protein products in the US that are not organic are processed in this manner, using hexane), insect-derived artificial colorings, pesticides or herbicides, meats that have been raised with antibiotics (both to increase their weight and minimize loss due to animal-borne disease in CAFOs)…

In fact, there is pretty much nothing that “natural” food can’t contain. As Gawker put it so poignantly, the term “all natural” doesn’t mean jack shit.

There’s another old saying that, “what you all call organic, we used to just call ‘food’“. That’s true. But what you used to call food wasn’t chock full of chemical goodness as today’s “food” generally is, built from genetically modified seeds intended to lock farmers into an annual subscription of seed/feed/weed intellectual property licensing where the sellers of these technologies were more interested in raising the annual yield of agribusiness than raising the annual yield of crops – or, heaven forbid, delivering the maximum nutrition and sustainability so our farmers can actually keep growing food for centuries, or provide consumers with maximum nutritional value, or minimal cancer risk.

My wife and I have had many conversations, frustrated because we feel so strange about believing that organic is a better way of life, that society has this weird aberrant belief now that it’s not only acceptable, but that it’s normal to eat foods that have been so modified on the way to your mouth that they don’t, in any way, resemble the foods of the past from a nutritional, toxicity, or long-term health risk perspective.

We spend billions as a society trying to find a cure for cancer, on chemotherapy treatments for it, yet don’t take a deep breath, and consider for a second what we are doing to ourselves with the food we eat.

I’m not elated that most of the world elects to make these choices to eat incredibly processed foods. But it’s everyone’s own prerogative to eat how they see fit.

However, I’m sick and tired of the word “natural”, and frankly, I believe that it should be illegal to use on marketing or packaging of any kind of product -be it food or packaged good. It serves no purpose other than to deceive consumers. It is a lie – a farce. Natural means nothing. Manufacturers selling products as “natural” are fakers. Natural fakers.

3 comments

  1. it had a meaning in the beginning, an important one … that it has been co-opted by marketers is how capitalism works.

    the concept that the term once pointed to is still important.

  2. I agree with the spirit – unfortunately in the US, “natural” has become a meaningless marketing term. A great example was seen a few weeks ago with Kashi “natural” cereals, which were found to both contain GMOs and elevated pesticides. In the US, “natural” is abused far more often than it is used correctly. Perhaps someday we can take back the term.