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The Food Party!

By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Help Define “Natural” on Food Labels

Uploaded: Mar 13, 2016
The FDA has extended request for comments on what “natural” means on food labeling. The Food Party! took a field trip to a grocery in Michigan to see how the term is being used these days....

I especially love the "natural flavor with other natural flavors."

I think natural should include no pesticides, chemicals, no GMO’s and no irradiation. How about you?

If your New Years resolution was to write more letters to officials, and even if it wasn’t, please post a comment on their website

And if you have a moment, paste it below too for others to learn and strengthen their response.

Comment period ends May 10, 2016.

From the FDA website:

“The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. We also note that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, it did not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit. “

Local Flavor Update
Woodside Bakery closes March 15

The last day of business for the Woodside Bakery & Cafe will be Tuesday, March 15. There will be a farewell party with a $25 buffet dinner on that evening at the restaurant. Call 650-851-0812 to RSVP

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Mar 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

The "elephant in the room" here, Laura -- the point so rarely faced in consumer forums about food marketing as to be almost taboo -- is that this is all more deeply about consumer buying psychology, not the latest rhetoric by which hokey product manufactureres play to it. You see the principle elsewhere on the same labels, where "40% less sugar" and "no high-fructose corn syrup" are promotional claims of the moment. "Gluten-Free" is today claimed on products where gluten was never an issue, for the same reason "Low-Carb" was on half the US food labels in 2000 and "no saturated fats" in 1970.

Along with shallow labeling claims, manufacturers tart up their products with sugar and salt because consumers relentlessly reward it, preferring the cheaply enhanced flavors in test marketing. So, sugars crept into ingredient lists of countless products that don't need them and didn't have them before (from breads to salad dressings). For hundreds of years until modern times, ketchups were unsweetened. US canned vegetables and tomatoes are grossly salted because consumers reward the practice by buying the products, just as they reward pretentious labeling claims like "natural" or "real" ("Real Parmesan cheese!" boasts a Kraft-subsidiary pizza box, none of whose ingredients come from Italy, implying an interesting question of what could possibly constitute "unreal" Parmesan cheese.)

50 years ago, "sugar" was a positive, successful labeling catchword on breakfast-cereal labels. Sugar Smacks, Sugar Pops, and Sugar Frosted Flakes later lost the word (but not the ingredient!) when consumer notions started to disdain it. Juicy Fruit Gum early-on promoted its "artificial" flavor, when consumers perceived the concept as clever, futuristic.

Some of these consumer preferences are utter shallow fads that drive food scientists crazy. Many of the worst poisons, carcinogens, mutagens, food adulterants, and contaminants are 100% naturally occurring and wouldn't be effected by stronger labeling laws. "High-fructose corn syrup" is exactly the same as what table sugar becomes once it gets into your mouth and meets digestive enzymes (HFCS is a current lightning-rod, very successfully distracting attention from the health issues common to all dietary sugars). If consumers respond to label rhetoric, superficially-understood dietary concerns, or cheaply sharpened flavors, then professional food packagers are _obliged_ by their jobs to accommodate those responses.

Posted by food nerd, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for bringing up this topic! People trust the word natural even though it has no legal meaning. Love those labels.

Isn't it a bit of an inherent contradiction that anything needing a label could be called natural? Even packaged produce will thereafter have some levels of pesticides from the field (even some organic, oddly), detergents from washing the produce, plasticizers migrated into the food from the packaging, possible unnatural microbial contamination, waxes, preservatives sometimes, etc.

Maybe natural needs to be used only for things that cam be found just like that in nature?

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Mar 14, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

By the way, among the ironies in your label examples is the hot-dog label, reflecting a consumer liking for "Natural Smoke Flavoring." _Natural_ wood smoke is one of the first and most famous environmental carcinogens clearly established in foods. Niels Dungal's 1961 essay "Stomach cancer in Iceland" (which was both medically and popularly republished in the US) reported on the unusually high mortality rate from gastric cancers among Iceland's (then mostly rural) population in the first half of the 20th century, its geographical correlation with the practice of home-smoking meats, and high malignancy rates when the same foods were experimentally fed to rats in the 1950s. All 100% natural.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Max Hauser, you always add great points to The Food Party! Thank you. I also found it amusing anything "natural" would be on a label from a company that raises animals like they are plastic widgets.

Posted by Photos, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Mar 16, 2016 at 7:27 am

Love those photos.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Mar 16, 2016 at 10:33 am

I think the USDA Organic label (or one from another verifying organization) is appropriate for food that have "no pesticides, chemicals, no GMO’s and no irradiation"; the term natural can be a little less restrictive, as long as there's a clear way to communicate those other restrictions.

The word "natural" usually refers to flavorings. I'd say it would need to:

- Be extracted the original food (i.e., Strawberry flavoring needs to come from Strawberries)
- Only have a few simple, specified procedures that can be used to extract the flavor (i.e., you squeeze the fruit, maybe cook the juice, fermentation is fine. You might consider high fructose corn syrup unnatural, because it goes through some rather complex chemical manipulations.) Even with the chemical manipulations - as Max pointed out with respect to corn syrup - some artificial flavors are the same molecules as the natural flavors, they just come from another source. But I'm still for words having meaning ...

What is "natural smoke flavor", BTW? I have no idea how you would bottle that.

I watched that "In Defense of Food" documentary, and found it very intriguing what it said about processed food. The problem with white flour isn't what is in it, but rather, what was taken away - the wheat germ and fiber. I never thought about "processed food" in that way until then, but this thought was very enlightening to me.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Mar 17, 2016 at 8:46 am

Alan, Thanks for this. Good info. Look up Wrights All Natural Liquid Smoke

Posted by Atoria, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Jun 14, 2016 at 10:45 am

The natural ones should always have a label on them,

Posted by Jaina Hastings, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on Jun 21, 2016 at 4:29 am

Natural flavors I have wonders what on earth is that? Or how the "national drink" of our country has no artificial substances and is pure natural. Sure it is, it grows on a bottle tree after all, oh wait...We definitely have to read the labels but more importantly understand what we read. Not everything is clear just like not everything is bad. Not every E is the evil thing. Read, learn, educate and write more pieces like that, please.

Posted by kenter23, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 22, 2016 at 7:27 pm

great blog.

Posted by umam, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Sep 24, 2016 at 8:43 pm

umam is a registered user.

importantly understood

Posted by umam, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Sep 24, 2016 at 8:50 pm

umam is a registered user.

Good blog, thanks

Posted by Torben, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 26, 2017 at 8:42 am

I truly appreciate this post. Thank you again!

Posted by huge, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Apr 19, 2017 at 6:39 am

I will keep these tips in my mind. This blog has really peaks my interest. Thank you.

Posted by Nate, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 27, 2017 at 6:22 am

As the article indicates, this has been an ongoing battle for years. Personally, I would like to see the word "natural" eliminated from food marketing as it is deliberately misleading. Of course Big Ag would object so that will never happen.

Consumers ultimately have a choice. Organic or chemically laden food. I would also like to see the requirements for organic seriously strengthened.

Spare me the reply that organic is an invented marketing term. It is a quick and better way of stating that this food is grown without being sprayed with pesticides, laced with chemical fertilizers, and not grown in fields contaminated by Round-Up. Organic fits the bill.

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