What Is ‘Natural’ Food? A Riddle Wrapped in Notions Of Good And Evil

Alan Levinovitz wrote . . . . . . . . . . . .

I.

Americans have until May 10th to help the Food and Drug Administration with one of philosophy’s greatest riddles: What is the meaning of “natural”?

Given our current attitudes, the riddle might be better described as religious. Data show that 51 percent of us shop for “all natural” food – shelling out some $40 billion a year on these products. We even choose natural over organic, market analysts have found. Natural has become the non-denominational version of kosher, and orthodoxy is on the rise.

The religiosity is apparent in the 4,863 public comments that have already been submitted to the FDA online. Natural and unnatural read like Manichean synonyms for good and evil. Some comments are explicitly theological: “Natural should be limited to those ingredients that have been created by God.” Others refer to violations of Mother Nature’s intentions. Behind virtually all of them pulses an intense desire for salvation from modernity’s perceived sins: GMOs, pesticides, chemicals, artificiality, synthetics. We ate, greedily, from the tree of scientific knowledge. Now we are condemned to suffer outside of Eden, unless we find a natural way back in.

Fair warning, though: Crowdsourcing theology is no easy task. This latest effort is actually round three for the U.S. government. Back in 1974, the Federal Trade Commission proposed codifying a simple definition: “Natural” foods are “those with no artificial ingredients and only minimal processing.” Public comments poured in. The FTC deliberated for nine years, then gave up.

“A fundamental problem exists,” explained then-chairman James C. Miller. “The context in which ‘natural’ is used determines its meaning. It is unlikely that consumers expect the same thing from a natural apple as they do from natural ice cream.”

Granola cereals on a shelf in Glenview, Ill. “If the FDA were to create a more strict, more comprehensive definition, it would give manufacturers a lot more guidance on whether or not they could use the term ‘natural’ on their food products,” says lawyer Ivan Wasserman.

What’s ‘Natural’ Food? The Government Isn’t Sure And Wants Your Input

The FDA’s first attempt met with a similar fate. In 1991 the agency invited input on the definition of “natural,” noting widespread belief that natural foods are “somehow more wholesome.” But like the FTC, the FDA also gave up, this time blaming the failure on us: “None of the comments provided FDA with a specific direction to follow for developing a definition.”

That was fine until 2009, when a wave of lawsuits started to hit food manufacturers. Plaintiffs argued that Snapple’s “all natural” designation was deceptive because its drinks contained high fructose corn syrup. Ditto for many of Nature Valley’s products — which, it was noted, were deceptively festooned with “images of forests, mountains, and seaside landscapes.” Twin lawsuits against Ben and Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs helped to clarify what consumers expect from “natural” ice cream — not Dutch-processed cocoa, apparently, which is alkalized with potassium carbonate, a synthetic ingredient. Even Whole Foods — the Church itself! — is currently being sued for advertising its bread as “all-natural,” despite containing sodium acid pyrophosphate, a synthetic leavening agent allowed in organic products (you might know it as baking powder).

Fearing endless and ambiguous legal woes, representatives of the food industry issued petitions requesting that the FDA standardize the term. At the same time, the Consumers Union, a non-profit associated with Consumer Reports, called on the FDA to prohibit any use of the word or related derivations. (One wonders how the group envisions this playing out for Nature Valley, Back to Nature, Amy’s Naturals, Organic by Nature, and the countless other companies whose names incorporate derivations of natural.)

I spoke about the wisdom of defining natural food with Georgetown Law professor and false advertising expert Rebecca Tushnet. “My initial reaction is that it’s a good idea,” she tells me. “People think natural is better than organic, but natural doesn’t have a specific meaning. That’s confusing. Corporations also need a clear definition so they can use the term and stop getting sued.”

Her position makes sense. After all, rabbinic courts have established rules about the meaning of kosher. Otherwise the kosher seal would be useless. The time has come for government authorities, with our help, to do the same for the meaning of natural food.

II.

Before attempting to answer this question, it’s worth noting that until recently, no one really asked it.

Though the distinction between natural and artificial — that is, made by man’s art —dates back at least to Aristotle, the popular romanticization of natural food stands in stark contrast to pre-modern culinary philosophies. In keeping with the idea that you are what you eat, refined people ate refined food. According to historian Rachel Laudan, “for most of history people wanted the most refined, the most processed, the most thoroughly cooked food possible. This was regarded as the most simple and natural food, because all the dross had been removed by the purifying effects of processing and cooking, particularly fire. Ideal foods were sugar, clarified butter or ghee, white bread, white rice, cooked fruit, wine and so on.”

Similarly, classical Chinese texts routinely express pity for early humans who, without the benefit of agriculture and cooking technology, were forced to eat directly from nature. “In ancient times,” reads the Huainanzi, “people ate vegetation and drank from streams; they picked fruit from trees and ate the flesh of shellfish and insects. In those times there was much illness and suffering, as well as injury from poisons.” Only through the alchemy of cooking, these Chinese philosophers concluded, could “rank and putrid foods” be transformed into something good to eat.

Both in the East and the West there have always been a minority of ascetics who denied themselves cooked, flavorful food and the products of agriculture. But unlike today, such ascetic denial was intended to distance the practitioner from the physical world, nature included. The ideal wasn’t unprocessed food, but rather no food at all. Early Daoist tales tell of “spirit men” who subsisted entirely on wind and water.

“Food was flesh and flesh was suffering and fertility,” writes the scholar Caroline Walker Bynum, describing the attitude of pious medieval Christian women. “In renouncing ordinary food and directing their being toward the food that is Christ, women moved to God…by abandoning their flawed physicality.”

The turn towards redemptive natural foods didn’t begin until the 18th century, when Romantics, led by Rousseau, began looking to the culinary past for guidance. Haute cuisine was blamed for the vices of the rich; country food bred virtuous peasants, their nature unspoiled by human artifice. “Our appetite is only excessive,” wrote Rousseau in 1762, “because we try to impose on it rules other than those of nature.”

But among those who favored the culinary dictates of nature, there was little agreement upon their content. For Rousseau, it was vegetarianism: “One of the proofs that the taste of flesh is not natural to man is the indifference which children exhibit for that sort of meat.” This idea gained traction in the 19th century, most famously in poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1813 essay A Vindication of Natural Diet, which blamed flesh-eating — “unnatural diet” — for a litany of woes including disease, crime and depravity. Some physicians were convinced, but many others continued to emphasize the centrality of meat to our natural diets. A popular medical text of the late 19th century expresses the tension in a section that could easily apply today:

“On my table are two books on the diet question, written by two well-known physicians. One proves at great length that the natural diet of man is the vegetable diet. Meat, this author claims, is unnecessary and injurious. … The other author differs from the forgoing very radically. In his view the natural diet of the normal man is largely flesh food. When doctors disagree who shall decide?”

Only with the dominance of mechanized food production did the argument over “natural” begin to focus on the deleterious effects of processing, and come to look something like what it does in the FDA comments. In the mid-19th century, health food pioneer Sylvester Graham (of graham cracker fame) advocated for vegetarianism, but also for the superiority of whole grains and natural, unprocessed foods.

“It is nearly certain that the primitive inhabitants of the earth ate their food with very little, if any artificial preparation,” he wrote approvingly, in stark contrast to the ancient Chinese. “Food in its natural state would be the best.”

During the same period, food chemistry exploded — accompanied by concerns over dangerous chemicals. In her history of sugar, Wendy Woloson reports that as early as the 1830s, the medical journal The Lancet carried articles warning about popular British candies, exported to America, that were adulterated with “red oxide of lead, chromate of lead, and red suphuret of mercury.” These candy makers also used cheap, poisonous dyes to attract children. Nor was it just children: People suffered the ill effects of strychnine in beer, sulphate of copper in pickles, and countless other poisonous additives that proliferated in a largely unregulated food industry.

Notwithstanding increased oversight — most prominently the 1906 establishment of the FDA —20th century agricultural developments brought additional concerns. In her 1960s bestseller Silent Spring, Rachel Carson called attention not only to the environmental harms of pesticide use, but also to their presence in our foods. “Packaged foods in warehouses are subjected to repeated aerosol treatments with DDT, lindane, and other insecticides, which may penetrate the packaging materials,” she wrote. To make matters worse, Carson warned that the government was powerless to protect us: “The activities of the Food and Drug Administration in the field of consumer protection against pesticides are severely limited.”

Given the last hundred years of food history, it’s hard not to sympathize with those who venerate natural food. Medical authorities have come to agree with Graham on the benefits of whole grains. Diets rich in highly refined carbohydrates – the kind found in cookies, chips and other processed snack foods – and sugary drinks are implicated in rising obesity rates and related health problems. Meanwhile, articles run on a near daily basis about the potential dangers of synthetic chemicals used to produce and package these foods. The powerful corporate giants that produce them spend heavily to influence science and public policy. Worst of all, there appears to be a revolving door between the companies and regulatory agencies.

It’s no wonder that people are scared. Skepticism seems warranted — which means that faith in the most recent incarnation of “natural” food, far from being irrational religiosity or a relic of the romantic past, might be a good way to keep ourselves and our families safe.

III.

Despite these legitimate concerns, the long and checkered history of natural cautions against an uncritical embrace of the term, especially as some kind of panacea.

Philosophers warn of the “appeal to nature” fallacy, in which good is equated with natural. In addition, there seem to be nearly insurmountable difficulties with defining the term in the first place. Even the well-known food writer and activist Michael Pollan sees no real way forward. Confronted by “such edible oxymorons as ‘natural’ Cheetos Puffs,” he throws up his hands: “Nature, if you believe in human exceptionalism, is over. We probably ought to search somewhere else for our values.”

Nevertheless, in the very same essay, Pollan indicates that some common sense version of natural really should guide our choices. It’s not hard, he says, to figure out which of two things is more natural: “Cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup? Chicken or chicken nuggets? GMOs or heirloom seeds?” The opposite of natural, on his reading, is artificial or synthetic, and it’s clear that the former should be preferred to the latter.

But is that really true? I interviewed philosophers and chemists to see if there was some kind of consensus on the matter. It turns out that those who think professionally about the issue are no less confused or divided than the rest of us.

Take the philosophers. Joseph LaPorte of Hope College specializes in the language we use to classify the natural world and has written extensively on the idea of “nature” and “naturalness.”

“To be sure, natural doesn’t mean safe,” he told me. “Nature produces some of the most formidable toxins in the world. But when it comes to packages of chemicals, as they exist in foods or fragrances, nature is a good bet, or at least a clue, because coevolution often suggests its safety and efficacy.”

Not so fast, says York University’s Muhammad Ali Khalidi, also a philosopher of science who specializes in classificatory language. “Something very recent might be safe,” he points out, “and something that’s been around for hundreds of years could be very dangerous.” Case in point: Aryuveda, or traditional Indian medicine, has long prescribed herbal remedies that contain dangerous heavy metals. Smoked meats, a mainstay of non-industrial food production, are now known to increase cancer risk.

Nor is the lack of consensus limited to the safety of natural food. Scientists also disagree on whether it makes sense to distinguish natural from synthetic products at all. Richard Sachleben, an organic chemist, told me flat-out that all chemicals are natural. Petroleum, he explained, was originally algae. Coal used to be forests.

“The natural enthusiasts, they like to distinguish things based on origin,” he says. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Think about this: I could raise a pig in my backyard, and feed it corn that I grow myself. I could slaughter the pig and render the fat. I could ferment my corn and distill out the ethanol. Then I could boil wood ash, put this all together, and make bio-diesel. It would look no different chemically than if I used products derived from petroleum.”

But when I talked to Susie Bautista, a long-time flavor chemist turned blogger, she had no problem distinguishing between natural flavors —”which are made with natural starting material, like fruits, roots, leaves and bark”— and artificial flavors that are synthesized, bottom-up, out of chemical building blocks derived from sources like petrochemicals.

“I think it’s entirely reasonable to want natural flavors,” she says. “As a Mom and a consumer, I would lean towards natural flavors.”

What, then, should we take from all this? If nothing else, the issues surrounding “natural” do not admit of easy answers. Those who shop for natural foods and fear “chemicals” are not necessarily irrational or anti-science. They shouldn’t be mocked by (well-meaning) satirists who refer to water as dihydrogen monoxide or list the chemical contents of an “all-natural” banana. At the same time, there’s no good evidence that parents who eschew natural food and embrace GMOs are poisoning their children. Industrial agriculture, whatever its defects, shouldn’t be confused with the work of (Mon) Satan.

No one put the situation better than novelist John Steinbeck, who ruefully recognized these opposing perspectives within himself:

“Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother’s cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance.”
Indeed, it’s this conflicted understanding of natural, tempered by tolerance and compassion, that I heard from Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann. In addition to his accomplishments as a scientist, Hoffmann is a prolific poet and playwright who has written extensively on the intersection of science and religion, and the meaning of “natural.” During our long conversation he expressed sympathy for both sides of the debate, and maintained that there were no easy answers.

“Agriculture itself is the greatest invention for manipulating the natural and changing it that the world has ever known,” says Hoffman. “I would like people to be aware of that, and the chemical basis for it.”

Nevertheless, he also maintained that everyone, laypeople and scientists alike, is attracted to what is natural — a claim that has empirical support. For Hoffmann, natural isn’t just about healthfulness, or the environment. It isn’t a matter of physical identity. Even if synthetic diamonds are completely indistinguishable from geologically produced diamonds, the origin story matters: They are the same and not the same (which is also the title of one of Hoffmann’s books).

Did he prefer natural products himself, I wondered?

“I would like to believe there is something to the construction of natural as good for us and Earth,” he replied after a long pause, and then laughed. “I know my wife believes so!”

Ultimately, Hoffmann thinks that fear, however irrational, can only be tempered with empowerment. “No amount of knowledge, no matter how skillfully and widely taught, will assuage fear of the synthetic,” he argues, “unless people feel that they have something to say, politically, in the use of the materials that frighten them.”

It is for this reason that we should applaud the FDA’s current project, difficult though it may be. All of us would do well to browse the submissions, either to increase our understanding of faith that differs from our own, or to reflect on the faith that we already hold. After doing so, perhaps you’ll be inspired to submit your own reflection, and together — the same and not the same — we will muddle onward in humanity’s long journey towards unraveling the riddle of “natural.”

Source: npr

Opinion: America Needs a Real Definition of What a ‘Natural’ Food Is

Nick Stockton wrote . . . . .

Earlier this week, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both announced they are going natural. Goodbye Yellow-5. Ciao trans fat. Sayonara unsustainable palm oil. “Today’s customers want simplicity, transparency and choice in the foods they eat,” proclaimed the Bell’s broadsheet. And while it’s great that fast food giants are listening to the public, there’s one problem: In terms of describing food, “natural” is almost completely meaningless.

Online, a chorus of voices sing about natural foods, but with little harmony. It might mean antibiotic-free to some, while others target GMOs. Then there’s the confusingly powerful cries for chemical-free foods (everything is chemicals, people). Even the FDA admits there’s no satisfying answer. That wishy-washiness is a problem. OK sure, maybe nobody has a definition of natural, but we all kind of agree what it means. But what if that shared-ish definition changes? What if next year natural means my hamburger contains no robot parts?

Granted, the Bell and the Hut (both owned by Yum! Brands) each offered some specifics, but without a standardized, enforceable definition, there’s no guarantee that they’ll follow through. Or maybe they will, and in that case the lack of an enforceable definition for natural will hurt them, as other companies looking to cash in on natural’s now-enriched branding exploit the label with crappy products.

“There isn’t any firm definition associated with natural vs. artificial”, says Carolyn Ross, a sensory scientist at Washington State University. Instead, says Ross, it’s up to food companies to come up with their own internal guidelines for the label. When I asked Taco Bell to outline theirs, a representative told me that the FDA makes the rules about what is a natural flavor. That’s technically true (Section 101.22 a-3, if you’re interested). But the only flavors that the FDA excludes from its definitions of natural are ones that are exclusively created by chemical synthesis.

For a flavor to qualify as natural, it has to come from a plant or animal enzyme. But the FDA makes no distinction as to how many bubbling beakers these enzymes pass through on their way to the final product. Nor does it distinguish if the enzyme came from a plant or animal that had been genetically modified, doused with pesticides, or filled with antibiotics. Hell, with modern synthetic biology, this could mean the vanilla in your morning latte was burped up by a specifically engineered strain of yeast.

And it’s not like there’s no other model that the administration could use to guide its rule-making. For instance, the USDA’s standards for organic foods—which the US enacted in 2000—outline biological benchmarks, technical practices, and clear definitions of what is and isn’t allowed in the production of organics. It established a process for certification, and in the long run set the stage for a whole organic sub-industry.

Barbara Rasco, a food scientist and industry legal expert from Washington State University, says the natural label could be similarly organized. “We are going to agree that natural might mean the absence of preservatives, absence of certain colors, absence of certain flavors,” she says. Rasco prefers that these definitions come from the FDA, but says the food industry could also come up with their own guidelines.

After all, having a guideline would be in many companies’ best interests. “Sometimes companies use the Natural label in good faith, because they can’t meet all of the strict guidelines on the Organic label,” says Rasco. These companies are trying their best to be responsible, in the sense that something is minimally processed, locally sourced, or has certain organic characteristics.

Then again, because there’s no way to tell for sure, another company could piggyback on the hard work others have done to raise the value of the natural branding. Suppose the Bell and the Hut do a superb job of cleaning the chemicals out of their supply chain; there’s no guarantee that some other company can’t also use natural to brand a very similar product, which might be completely antithetical to what many Taco Bell customers consider natural.

Centralized guidelines or not, how is Taco Bell ever going to make an all-natural version of the neon insanity that is the Doritos Locos Taco? Rest assured, they’re not. The mad science behind those, and any other co-branded menu items will remain free from any natural alterations.

Source: WIRED


Today’s Comic

Opinion: The Bullshit Hypocrisy of “All-Natural” Foods

Here’s the thing about nature: It will stir up your shit.

A few weeks ago, the website The Naked Label published a picture of a vibrant, colorful mushroom. It was captioned with a quotation from author and paleo diet advocate Diane Sanfilippo: “We cannot make food better than nature.”

The problem? The mushroom pictured was the Amanita muscaria, which is highly poisonous.

The Naked Label probably wasn’t recommending poisonous mushrooms as a part of your balanced cannabis-induced munchies on purpose. However, this tiny meme is symptomatic of a bigger problem on the internet: self-declared “natural health” gurus who say everything natural is automatically better.

It’s not.

Are chemical additives safe or should you eat an “all-natural” diet? Is there a reason for the chemical paranoia brought on by Dr. Oz-endorsed mommy-bloggers, or is this just fear mongering from people who need to go back to chemistry class? Is the vision of “nature” propagated by Whole Foods and the like just another marketing term?

Recently, several large companies have made decisions to alter their products based on chemical phobia. Is this a good thing? If you follow any “natural” food blogs, you might say yes. But the science says otherwise. And stuck in the middle trying to make sense of it all is the consumer. What the hell does “natural” mean anyway when it’s on a food label? Let’s examine a few recent food kerfuffles to figure out what Nature, Inc. offers the consumer.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese: Still Awful

Last month I wrote about Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe. I decreed that her tactics and statements about food were devoid of science (fine, she’s full of shit). One of her attention-grabbing schemes was petitioning Kraft to remove artificial dyes from their macaroni and cheese. Shortly after my article made her cry tears of blood about her life decisions, Kraft announced that they would be removing the artificial dyes, although they claimed that they started reformulating the recipe a year before she launched her campaign. Whether or not this was a response to her petition, did the change make the product healthier?

To start with, let’s remember that we’re talking about a product with powdered cheese. If you were looking for health food, you took a wrong turn three aisles ago after the spinach. We’re also not removing something that causes foodborne illness and replacing it with hummingbird whispers. We’re switching food dyes synthesized in the laboratory to food dyes that are… well, still going to be produced in the laboratory.

We now have the safest class of food dyes ever on the market (here’s some reading on the short history of food dye regulation in America). Laboratories have helped that process because they can check final products for safety and purity, whether synthetic or derived from natural sources. And no matter what the source of the dye, a chemical solvent is used to extract the target color molecule. A common tactic of the Food Babe is to tell you these solvents are toxic only in products she’s deemed evil. Paprika is one of the sources for Kraft’s new and improved mac and cheese, and just like in the processes used for some synthetic dyes, hexane is used in processing (when consumed in large quantities, hexane is metabolized into a neurotoxic chemical). Note, with both classes of dyes, you are not consuming hexane, but then again, the Food Babe isn’t known for facts.

As for the safety of the synthetic dyes, any substance has drawbacks and they’re about equal in synthetic and natural dyes. Some parents who previously bought the product for their fussy eaters are complaining about the new paprika-based dye. Even though it’s all natural, you can have allergies to paprika. This isn’t the only natural dye with this issue; carmine dye derived from the cochineal insect, sometimes used to punch up the red color in strawberry milkshakes, can induce anaphylactic shock.

But it is natural.

Milk Will Make You Sick

One sacred cow of the natural food movement is raw milk. And why not, all the natural hipsters know that organic kool aid is so five minutes ago and they’ve switched to suckling the raw teet. All my favorite bullshit peddlers—Mercola, Modern Alternative Mama, and Weston Price—endorse raw milk. Even the Food Babe buys into it, saying that “raw dairy is the best choice,” and that “raw dairy products are “alive.” Scary. They say that raw milk maintains milk’s natural enzymes and vitamins, that it even has components to fight off bacteria itself because of the goodness of its wonderful “naturaliness” (my version of truthiness).

But when natural advocates endorse going back to a time before we introduced a technological advancement, they often fail to remind the consumer why we made those advancements in the first place.

Pasteurization, the process of heating milk to a high temperature for a very small amount of time, kills a vast majority of the bacteria in it and keeps it safe for a longer period of time. Before the process became widespread in the early 20th century, milk was safe for maybe the day after you purchased it, and old milk was a source of festering disease.

There are a lot of myths about what pasteurization does to milk that have been floated by the natural health movement. But let’s lay those rumors to rest: It does not induce allergies or lactose intolerance. If you can’t tolerate pasteurized milk, you’re not going to be able to tolerate raw milk either. And as for all those “enzymes” that allegedly die off when Big Dairy is reaching around into your wallet, relax. Your stomach acid will destroy them anyway. All the macronutrients and micronutrients in your pasteurized milk are exactly the same as raw milk.

But is raw milk safe? You might think so, but you’d be misled. According to the CDC, less than 1% of milk consumed in the United States is raw milk. From 1993-2006, 121 outbreaks (causing 4,413 illnesses and three deaths) were caused that could be linked back to dairy. Seventy-three of the outbreaks were from raw milk and 48 were from pasteurized milk. Given that less than 1% of the dairy in the country is raw, if it’s safe, why is it causing a majority of the illnesses?

The simple answer? It’s not safe, and the people promoting it are not promoting healthy food. They’re promoting the natural epidemic at any cost.

Aspartame Won’t Kill You or Make You Fat

Recently, Pepsi announced that they were going to remove aspartame from from Diet Pepsi and replace it with sucralose and acesulfame potassium, AKA Ace K. Sucralose is derived from sugar, and Ace K is the sweetener used in Coke Zero that gives it that “real sugar” flavor. Internet-based fears about aspartame are sweeping. Quacks and conspiracy theorists say it’s the most dangerous substance in food, that it causes MS like symptoms and, my personal favorite, that it killed Heath Ledger.

So with all these fears, was removing aspartame from Diet Pepsi necessary for safety or health? Science says no.

Aspartame is one of the most-studied food additives ever. It’s been shown, time after time, to be safe. No links to cancer, MS, ADHD, the NY Yankees, premature ejaculation, your dog sniffing the litter box, or any other random thing you want to blame on this. It just tastes sweet.

It’s not even making you fat. I’m sure you’ve heard that diet soda with aspartame can cause weight gain. I drank Diet Coke when I was overweight, I drank Diet Coke all through my 90lb-weight loss, and I still drink Diet Coke. The difference is that I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables now and fewer french fries. An excess of calories will make you gain weight, not carbonated water with caffeine. Studies linking diet soda to weight gain are, at best, corollary, and haven’t closely enough examined the other behaviors of the people in the study.

And speaking of my favorite soda, Coca-Cola offers multiple sugar-free varieties of cola for their customers with different types of sweeteners, and they all taste a little different. Pepsi’s decision to change the sweetener due to a small decline in sales will change the flavor that 95% of their loyal customers enjoyed. It only serves the people with overblown fears of a safe product. Given that aspartame is safe, why not just offer a second option like their competition did?

That doesn’t make as good of a press release from Nature, Inc.

Paleo: Not Good for Babies

Pete Evans is a former pizza chef from Australia. Now he’s trying to harm your children.

Evans became a celebrity chef due to his popular and flavorful pizza offerings. But then he discovered the Paleo lifestyle, or the annoying-everyone-you-know diet. The Paleo diet alleges to be a natural diet, one that closely mimics what our primal ancestors ate. Paleo devotees say that many diseases in society came along with the “unnatural” introduction of modern agriculture. Under this line of reasoning, Paleoites believe all foods that came with agriculture should be removed from your diet for optimal health. So when Evans, the man who made a fortune as a celebrity pizza chef, found Paleo, he began advocating the removal of grains, dairy, and other whole food groups from your life in order to find health.

So if it’s so healthy, why was Evans’ new cookbook, Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way, pulled before publishing over concerns that the recommendations would harm a baby?

In attempt to be more natural than store-bought formulas, Evans’ bone-broth based baby formula recipe could have potentially starved a baby. Despite the recipe’s overwhelming naturaliness, it lacked calories, something tiny humans very much need to thrive. Furthermore, the liver pate recipe for infants contained such high levels of vitamin A that it could have caused toxic side effects.

The unfortunate part of this is that well-meaning parents with every intention of feeding their children healthy foods easily would have bought this thinking they were doing the right thing for their kids. Parents, whether you choose breast milk or formula, please consult your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. Just like you wouldn’t consult your local Dominos pizza guy on what to feed your baby, Pete Evans the pizza chef is also not an expert.

Non-GMO Chipotle Will Still Make You Need to Use Chipotlaway

Burrito giant Chipotle announced last week that they ditched the GMOs from their menu. Amid random pictures on the internet of fish being spliced into tomatoes, reports from people who have never worked in food regulation about no-GMO regulation, and questions from mommy-bloggers-cum-doctors about GMOs causing health problems, did Chipotle act in the best interest of the public?

Not even close.

Chipotle claims that GMOs increase pesticide use and that the long-term health impact of their consumption are unknown. However, the claims just don’t stack up. We also have decades of data showing that GMOs are safe for consumption and the environment. In a large-scale analysis of all the studies done of GMOs, data showed that they reduced chemical pesticide use by 37% and increased crop production by 22%. Farmers can spend less and use a lower amount of safer types of pesticides. In fact, by switching to non-GMO ingredients, Chipotle is knowingly endorsing the use of more toxic pesticides and a fairly hazardous production method in the name of avoiding the GMO title. As Stephan Neidenbach wrote at We Love GMOs and Vaccines:

BASF used a process known as mutagenesis to breed their sunflowers. Their seeds were doused with ethyl methanesulfonate and sodium azide to alter their DNA.[8] Ethyl mathanesulfonate is a possibly carcinogenic compound that produces random mutations in DNA.[9] Sodim azide is an extremely toxic compound used as a biocide and in airbag systems. It is lethal to humans at only 0.7 grams.[10] (…)The one conclusion that we can draw is that Chipotle is not doing this for any reason other than to profit off of the current GMO paranoia.

Additionally, it’s incredibly disingenuous for Chipotle to claim that they’re only using non-GMO ingredients. The meat they serve still comes from animals that eat GMO feed. To switch to non-GMO feed would make their prices skyrocket and drastically hurt their business. As was demonstrated by this marketing stunt, their commitment to “food with integrity” comes right after their commitment to shareholders.

Promoting fresh, natural thousand-calorie burritos with integrity gets harder if the price goes up to $16.

Panera’s Publicity Ploy

On the heels of the Chipotle decision, not to be outdone, Panera announced that they were tired of serving poison to their customers and would be removing approximately ⅓ of their ingredients from their recipes. This list of ingredients they’re removing includes caffeine, components of vanilla, and artificial sweeteners. According to Nature, Inc., this means their menu, from their 1,110-calorie sandwich to their 700-calorie caffeinated milkshakes, is suddenly a beacon of health.

Unless they’re getting rid of the coffee and soda, claiming they’re removing caffeine from the menu is total bullshit. Remember, everything is made of chemicals, even your cup of “make-me-not-hate-life” in the morning. And if they do get rid of the option to add Splenda to the coffee, I’m heading back to Starbucks for a “toxic” PSL, thanks.

The reasoning behind the retooling is publicity. Ron Shaich, Panera’s CEO, claims his “kids are eating Panera 10 to 11 times a week,” and he doesn’t want them to eat “junk.” Whenever a decision like this comes out, you should take an enormous pause to consider what it says about the ingredients the establishment was serving before. How much did Shaich care about his company’s food previously if he’s calling it junk now? Is this just a new way of greenwashing a thousand-calorie sandwich? Was Shaich not aware of the incredibly strict regulations involved in getting food additives to market? Didn’t anyone tell him that chefs and food scientists, who his company chose to hire, worked to make those exact flavors for their company that he’s now publicly deemed “junk?” (Those latter two questions are rhetorical.)

And as for Shaich’s kids eating Panera ten times a week, I offer this suggestion: locate a grocery store. Maybe buy some goddamn apples.

The Difference Between Nature, Inc. and Nature

What is natural, anyway? And what’s the difference between slapping “natural” on a label versus… getting food from nature?

We drive hybrid cars, own designer dogs that have been inbred from the grey wolf down to the chihuahua, and live in temperature-controlled, eco-friendly environments. We load the hybrid dog into the hybrid car, stretch on a pair of green-friendly $100 lululemons while hiking in the artificially designed nature trails of L.A. while drinking artificially sanitized water and tweeting selfies on our technological marvel iPhones with the hashtag #nature.

That’s Nature Inc™.

Nature, on the other hand, is generations ravaged by smallpox because vaccines weren’t invented yet. It’s having a home birth not because it’s been romanticized, but because it’s your only option. It’s dying of malnutrition because, even though you have soil, sunlight and water, you don’t have the technology to fight off bugs, weeds, or droughts. Nature is one too many sunburns leading to melanoma. Nature is when shows like Naked and Afraid and Born In The Wild are just life, and not documentary-worthy expenditures of bored and privileged twenty-somethings who can call the hospital when something goes horribly wrong.

Because as much as nature makes delicious fruits and vegetables, if you’re not paying attention, it also makes poisonous mushrooms.

Source: Gawker