Words are just noises we use to communicate with each other. To the extent that we agree on the meanings of the words we use, we are able to communicate well.
But to the extent that the words are used to mislead or confuse, communication is damaged.
As the general population has become more aware of, and concerned for, “the natural world” (that is, the rest of the physical world beyond ourselves and other humans, as if we were somehow not natural), the word “natural” has become more common in stores in recent years. And, as the trend leads to more sales, the use of the word “natural” has become ubiquitous on the labels of products in grocery stores.
But what does “natural” mean?
According to my Mirriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, “natural” means (among other meanings):
- being in accordance with or determined by nature
- having or constituting a classification based on features existing in nature
- growing without human care; also : not cultivated *natural prairie unbroken by the plow*
- existing in or produced by nature : not artificial *natural turf* *natural curiosities*
- relating to or being natural food
- living in or as if in a state of nature untouched by the influences of civilization and society
- closely resembling an original : true to nature
- marked by easy simplicity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or constraint
- having a form or appearance found in nature
And, under “natural food”:
- food that has undergone minimal processing and contains no preservatives or artificial additives
So, what does “natural” mean on a food label? Is it “food that has undergone minimal processing and contains no preservatives or artificial additives” or something close to that?
Well, at least in the United States, no.
Keep in mind that those of us in the United States, eating the “standard Western diet”, are part of the most overfed and undernourished population in the world, with the most expensive health care and the worst health of any “developed” nation.
Hardly a glowing tribute to our food system, which focuses on producing heavily processed items that should be food, but are not.
So why do so many of our food packages come with the word “natural” on the label? Because it communicates a benefit and assurance that leads to increased sales and higher profits, and in the United States is unregulated on food labels – anybody can claim that something is natural, without having any need for it to be true, or having any liability if it is not.
Hence, corporation profits are at an all-time high.
And we swallow this misuse of our language along with the food.
Meanwhile, our health continues to decline.
Of course, we could question what is actually in what we eat, and make better food choices, but that would take personal effort and responsibility as well as better labeling.
Another thing to keep in mind: “natural flavor” means absolutely nothing: everything has flavor, even used engine oil! So, what does the term “natural flavor” mean when you find it on a food label? It means there is something in this product that you probably don’t want to eat, but it is a cheap substitute that tastes like an ingredient that you would want to eat, similar to the “artificial” flavors.
What do you think?