The Trials and Tribulations of Mr. Natural

By Joe Romano,

Marketing Manager

mr-naturalFlakey Foont: 
Mr. Natural! What does it all mean?
Mr. Natural: 
Don't mean sheeit...

Back in the sixties, when underground comics were in their heyday, a mystical guru named Mr. Natural was created by the counterculture comix artist R. Crumb. "Stick with me folks, I've got all the answers" ... "Heaven? Well, it's a little corny, if you ask me" ... "If you don't know by now, don't mess wit' it" — these were just a few of the stabs at insight made by the little bearded huckster. Chock-full of empty aphorisms, Mr. Natural was more hype than substance, more con man than wise man, exhorting his disciples to eat only his line of "Mr. Natural Brand Foods."

It seems he was onto something. When applied to food, the term natural is the perfect scam. It is wholly unregulated and devoid of meaning. The average consumer is not aware of the term's insignificance, equating it with organic, at least on some level.

And now, because the term natural is as dubious a guide to nutritional enlightenment as Mr. Natural himself, some courts have seen fit to protect the consumer.

According to CBS News, Kellogg's will stop using the labels "All Natural" or "Nothing Artificial" on Kashi products. The company will pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit in which it was charged with misleading people with those phrases on products that contained a variety of synthetic and artificial ingredients.

The ingredients at issue? Pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, hexane-
processed soy ingredients, ascorbic acid, glycerin, and sodium phosphate.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s take on this? They say they do not have an official definition for the term natural, noting that in many cases a food product will have been processed and therefore is "no longer the product of the earth."

Uh, yeah ... that is what makes it not natural.

Frito-Lay was sued for using all natural labels despite the fact that their products contain artificial and unnatural ingredients, flavoring, coloring, and preservatives.

The FDA will not object to the use of the term "all natural" as long as the food does not contain artificial and unnatural ingredients, flavoring, coloring, and synthetic substances, like preservatives. So, now that Frito-Lay has been caught, and sued, and tried, they'll finally have to find another way to mislead their customers into thinking their junk food is healthy.

When they were caught hoodwinking shoppers, Frito-Lay changed their "Simply Natural" line of chips to "Simply," with no change in the ingredients. They also changed their "Natural Quaker Granola" to "Simply Quaker Granola."

Speaking at the Natural Products Expo West show, United Natural Products Alliance president Loren Isrealsen said, "At the next Expo West, you'll see the word natural being used far less. I think we're seeing the end of the golden age of natural. We'll see more words like simply instead."

Trader Joe's, Nature Valley, Bear Naked, PopChips, GoLean, Marie Callender's, General Mills, Campbell's, PepsiCo, and ConAgra have all been named in suits. Products like Puffins, Naked Juice, Goldfish, SunChips, and Snapple drinks have all been taken to task for their misuse of "natural."

Attorney Justin Prochnow told Natural News he's experienced "very erratic decisions from the courts" regarding this issue. "I tell my clients that unless you've literally pulled it out of the ground yourself and stuck it in a box, don't call it all-natural," and now Consumer Reports has launched a campaign to "kill the natural label."

Ok, but if we kill off natural, we're only left with organic and everybody knows that organics are no better than conventional foods, right?

Not so fast, Mr. Natural. To turn your own words on you, "Don't ask, and you won't have to be told."

Just recently, an extensive new study showed that organic food is safer and healthier than conventional and natural products.

According to Healthline, Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have published a major study that will clear up all the back-and-forth on the value of organic food once and for all.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the meta-study is bolstered by the sheer strength of numbers of other studies the researchers reviewed. Using data from 343 peer–reviewed papers, the research shows that organic foods have a lower concentration of pesticide deposits, lower levels of cadmium (a harmful heavy metal), and higher levels of antioxidants as compared to their conventional counterparts.

"There are good, long-term health-oriented reasons for purchasing organic fruits and vegetables and grains," said Charles Benbrook, head of Washington State University's Measure to Manage: Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health program and the sole US-based researcher on the study.

Of course not everyone can always afford to buy organic.

Kelly Hogan, a dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, suggests that buying organic food can be done judiciously. People might first select the foods on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of foods with the most pesticide residue, while organic versions of snacks and processed foods may not be as important to buy organic.

Benbrook disagrees, pointing out that plastic cartons of conventional produce can cost more than organic produce purchased in season and in bulk, or frozen. As consumers do the latter more and demand grows, "it's going to fuel more investment in the organic industry," Benbrook says. "This in turn will spur more research and acceptance of organic foods. The biggest impediment is government policy and reticence from the conventional food industry that simply does not want to admit that there are health benefits from organic foods."

It all makes you want to ask, "Mr. Natural! What does it all mean?"

According to Charles Benbrook and many other proponents of sustainability and health, it means that "Americans are going to get the kind of food system that they put their dollars behind."

Which is why becoming a member of and investing your food dollar at a local co-op like GreenStar is such a good idea. We have known the value of eating food "in as natural a state as possible" for all of our forty-plus years. We put our dollars behind as many likeminded businesses as possible, and because we do we've picked up more and more people who want to "Keep on Trucking" with their favorite co-op, GreenStar Natural Foods Market.

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Adam Morris,
Grocery Manager

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