The Consumer Reports group is calling for a ban
of the word “natural,” and many others are complaining about the way words are used for food labeling, packaging, and advertising. I’m all for keeping the phraseology honest, but let’s face it—truth in advertising is a foggy concept no matter which “mad men” are shaping it.
I do recall a forthright cigarette company in the 90s—located in England, I believe. They called their product Death cigarettes. The only packets I saw were in Asia, and they were black, with skull and crossbones woven into the design. I’m not sure they marketed them widely. I have a feeling the buyers were looking for novelty items, or they had achieved a type of zen fatalism. On the other hand, the company did manufacture Death Lights also, so maybe they had a sense of humor about it all.
Labels and ads are controlled in widely different manners around the world, but here in the United States some say the government interferes too much, while others think not enough. Some terms are regulated: “organic” must fit certain specifications, but I’m sure it’s still misused at times. Medical terms and nutritional facts are also regulated—even if the reality is not always “nutritional” or “factual.”
Lobbying groups and various factions have made much of the debates regarding proposed GMO labeling laws, and others argue about the way sugar, salt, fat, and other items are listed. Consumers need to know what they’re eating and drinking, but I’m not certain about the best methods needed to get the information across in the clearest, most helpful manner.
One thing for sure—it was much easier when I was a kid. The terms seemed more basic—easier to understand or ignore. Let me give you a few examples:
Sugar—was just that. It’s what animated characters dumped on cereal in the ads, and what Mom used in baked goods. No terms clouded the issue—after all, high fructose sounds a bit like a premium grade of gasoline. The local dentist never mentioned the word “sugar,” but he didn’t say much anyway. He was too busy putting fillings in our teeth.
Organic—was an adjective that came in front of the word “chemistry,” and we all knew organic chemistry was a tough course in high school filled with brainiacs heading to science universities.
Fat—was the gristle we cut from steaks and pork chops. Of course it was also a term used in school to bully certain kids. Sadly, we didn’t know it was bullying because just about everyone in school was called something derogatory—we had equal opportunity denigration.
Free range—is what happened when our pigs or cattle got loose from the pastures or feedlots. We had lots of free range livestock on our farm.
Natural—never seemed attached to the idea of food. Most of our food items came from home cooked meals or small town restaurants—until TV dinners and fast food arrived. The latter gave us a trendy feeling, and the former seemed futuristic. After all, we were watching the Jetsons cartoon show, so we thought food was going to move straight from the kitchen table to outer space foodoramas.
Many other current terms weren’t even on our radar back then. Antioxidant and gluten-free would have sounded like something a pseudo scientist was using in a shady toothpaste ad. And environmental concerns hadn’t yet joined our lexicon. If someone would have mentioned the problem of agriculture and carbon emissions, we’d really be confused. As teens, our biggest greenhouse warming efforts were on purpose. We’d try to rig up high-performance carburetors and straight-pipe exhausts to increase performance—and noise—on our ’57 Chevys.
“Gee, Wally; I didn’t know cars could pollute.”
“Aw, Beav—there’s a lot you don’t know. You’re just a dumb kid.”
Ignorance did have its benefits.