The appeal to nature sells product, no more so than in the food industry. This little 7-letter word, placed on nearly any food package or container seems to instantly lift whatever lowly food contained within to new heights of health and wellness promotion. But what does this really mean for us and our choices?
To think of things that are considered natural we often conjure images of trees, oceans, fruits hanging on the tree, butter, beautiful whole-grain loaves still steaming after emerging from an old clay oven. These are the “warm fuzzy” naturals, things we that make us feel wholesome and happy about our choices. But so rarely do our thoughts turn to equally natural things like arsenic, scorpions, or volcanos; imagining the bacteria and venom-laded bite of a komodo dragon is not likely to make us sleep easier at night.
The argument often goes that natural is better because it is how nature intended it. Well, this is less of an argument and more of a tautology: natural is good because nature wanted it to be good…. However, nature likely didn’t “intend” anything; nature is as it as after millions of years of evolution and selective pressures. With different influences, nature could have been very different than it is. Even if nature did intend something, the things that humans use and most importantly to this rant, consume, were not INTENDED for us all at, we just got really clever and learned to use what was already here. I’m not saying that we should give up on eating unprocessed foods in favour of soy-lent green style meal replacements, far from it. Nature is full of amazing and wonderful and healthful things, but the fact that they are natural is not what makes them good for us.
Most importantly, there are no regulations on the use of the word natural in food marketing so as a result the term is virtually meaningless. This means that there are no regulative concerns with a food manufacturer plastering a claim of “all-natural” all over a bag of deep fried Veggie Straws snacks. In fact, any food could be labelled natural if a food seller believed it would sell product. So keep in mind that the food industry is trying to convince you to purchase unhealthful products with a health halo. A good mantra: snake bites, poison ivy, and tornados are equally (if not arguably more) as natural as butter.