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The Conversation: All-Natural Foods


“Wait, so Red Bull doesn’t come out of the ground?” Ben & Jerry’s made headlines this week when it announced plans to remove the “all-natural’ designation from its ice cream labels. Is labeling food all-natural all it takes to get the organic thumbs up? Do we even care if our chicken is really “all-white-meat” or just spray-painted to look that way? Here to discuss are Press Staff Writer Jaclyn Gallucci, Editor Brad Pareso and News Editor Timothy Bolger.

Brad

Hang on, you mean to tell me New York Super Fudge Chunk may not be all-natural? Next they’ll say TV dinners don’t grow on TV dinner trees.


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Jaclyn

I’m a fan of Ben & Jerry’s—the ice cream and the company. They do a lot of good. And Phish Food kicks ass. And now that I know they pick it in pints right off the tree, well, I love them even more. As for the labeling, I can go to the supermarket right now, grab a gallon of milk, which would appear to be all-natural since it comes from cows and all, and chances are, it contains artificial growth hormones. So, in a world where you have to assume that all of your milk and ice cream contains chemicals unless the packaging says otherwise, I don’t think having corn syrup, from non-genetically modified corn, as an ingredient makes Ben & Jerry’s “unnatural.” By my standards anyway. But ask someone who does shots of wheatgrass regularly and thinks Peeps are a product of Lucifer. I’m sure they’ll have a different opinion.

Timothy

We all know that it’s not just Ben & Jerry’s that labels their product as “all natural” when we know damn well ice cream doesn’t grow on trees. And sure, there’s validity to those who argue that our produce isn’t as nature intended unless it’s grown organically, without genetically modified seeds. But at least Ben & Jerry’s being called out and making the change has revived the issue of how far some companies push the definition of “all natural” and how there is still no legal definition decades after this had been pointed out as ludicrous. That said, full disclosure: I don’t read labels.

Brad

And you think reading them would do you much good? Show me someone who lives and dies by nutritional facts and I’ll show you someone living a life centered on lies and half-truths. Plenty of studies have proven those things to be skewed if not outright wrong. Being all-natural and organic is expensive and these are companies we’re talking about, with board members and shareholders and profit margins.

Jaclyn

And even labels that are accurate can be misleading. In order to be certified organic a farmer can’t treat sick animals with antibiotics…so it’s either let the animal suffer and hopefully get better, or die. So reading labels isn’t going to help you much. You have to educate yourself above and beyond to get the truth, and in order to do that you have to care and you also have to have the time, which almost no one has.

Timothy

Brad, your point of profits over quality product in the broader food industry is a valid one—pre-lawsuit McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets anyone? Call me jaded, but I’m not holding out hope that the FDA takes the cue from a couple of New England ice cream hippies and decides to finally answer the age-old question of what the hell defines “all natural.” And thanks for reaffirming my label-reading apathy, Jackie.

Brad

I’ll throw this out there—really, I don’t even care if food is all-natural. I buy Red Bull from Costco by the case, and I’m still one of my doctor’s healthiest patients (or so he tells me). We’re all guilty of casting blame on food companies and the FDA, but if you don’t want to wind up like the population of Earth circa Wall-E, get off your ass and exercise.

Jaclyn

I think we all just need to remember that in the end the goal is to sell a product, and the labels, even though they may be meant to help you, are still a sales gimmick. I actually saw a bag of corn kernels labeled “Contains Whole Grains!” last week. Just like everything else, food is a business. That said, pass the Chunky Monkey.

Timothy

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All this food talk is making me hungry.

Brad

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See you guys at Whole Foods.

Jaclyn

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I just have to stop at 7-Eleven first…

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