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Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Unnatural "Natural Foods"

A product touting being "All Natural". I can't make any
 statements about this product, as I am unfamiliar with it,
I just chose to use this picture as an example.
Once upon a time, I believed everything I was told. I was very gullible, and people had such an easy time convincing me of just about anything under the sun.
Then I grew up a bit and with it, gained just a little bit of healthy skepticism. I learned to take things with a grain of salt. To not believe everything just because someone said it or wrote it. To make sure to ask for proof when something seemed even slightly unbelievable.
But one bit of gullibility remained. When something was written on food packaging, I believed it. When I read that something was made with "All natural ingredients", and I was able to confirm it by looking at the ingredient list on the packaging, I believed it.
After all, why shouldn't I?
Why would they lie?
Lets get back to that.



100% Orange? Pure and natural?
I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
I first would like to share with you an article I recently read about one of the few "healthy" drinks out there. Orange juice. And not just any orange juice, but the ones labeled 100% orange juice. Its by Kristen over at Food Renegade, and its entitled "The Secret Ingredient in Your Orange Juice." Head on over there and read it; she says it best.
But in the meantime, in summation, the post talks about the very unnatural process of removing the oxygen from the orange juice so that it can be kept without spoiling for a while, even when oranges are out of season. Along with that, deoxygenating the juice also removes its flavors, so orange juice companies hire fragrance companies to make them flavor packets with which the juice is then flavored. These flavor packets are not made in any natural way- they're altered chemically from the orange oil and essence and resemble nothing in nature, but since they're derived from oranges, companies legally can write 100% orange juice on their cartons.
Sick, isn't it?
So even when you read the package, and it tells you that the food they're selling is 100% natural ingredients, that doesn't mean they're actually telling you the whole truth.
I recently was in the grocery store and saw them selling some soup mix, with a huge label on the front, saying "100% natural ingredients", and I was tempted to buy it. I read the ingredients listed, and while there wasn't anything questionable written there other than the ambiguous "spices", I wavered, and in the end decided not to purchase it. Because even that "100% natural ingredients" soup mix seems unnatural to me. The smell that emanates from the package smells very chemically, reminding me of MSG.
And speaking of MSG, because in some cases, it is derived from natural substances, it doesn't need to be labeled MSG in the packaging, and the packaging can claim "All Natural Ingredients" with no fear of repercussions.

Someone asked me on my post about making homemade soy sauce why I bothered, and why would anyone bother, especially if you can actually find chemical free (and gluten free) soy sauce in the grocery store.
And you know what? The reason why I want to make everything from scratch at home, or at least know how to make it myself at home, from scratch, is to know that not only are the ingredients in the food natural, but also that the process the food goes through is all natural as well.
For a food to contain only non artificial ingredients is a big plus, but if the natural foods go through a very unnatural process to get them to be as they are, could they really be defined as healthy? If a food needs to be processed in a laboratory or under really unique conditions that can't be replicated in a normal kitchen, can that food still be qualified as natural? I'd say likely not.

Some examples that come to mind:
An ancient style olive oil press. This is
 NOT how they make soy oil; you can't
get soy oil just from squeezing soy beans
the way you can with olives 
Corn Syrup. Made from a natural ingredient- corn. But it goes through such an intricate and unnatural process to make it that it becomes very unhealthy to eat, pretty much the most unhealthy sweetener out there.
Splenda. Some wanna be healthy people claim that splenda is totally natural, as it is derived from sugar. Uhh, yea, made from sugar, but that sugar also goes through a complicated chemical process so that it doesn't remotely resemble sugar anymore, and is much more unhealthy than regular sugar. Natural ingredient? Not!
Soybean Oil. In case you thought soy bean oil is a natural ingredient, made with natural processes the same way olive oil is made, think again. Soy beans go through a lengthy process to get the oil, involving percolation, mixing with solvents, evaporation, degumming, alkali refining, and bleaching. It may be made from a "natural ingredient", but it sure as heck ain't natural.
TVP, or Texturized Vegetable Protein are a byproduct of making soybean oil. Also very unnatural.

Of course, then there's the other foods that while I can't explain to you in detail how they're made, they can't be made without any specialized equipment, so that they can only be made in a factory and not at home.
Rice Krispies, puffed wheat and other grains, rice cakes, etc... all also go through an unnatural process to become the way they are sold in the grocery store.

I think to myself, "If I can't make this myself at home, can it really be healthy for me?"
I don't have a proven answer to that 100%, but my gut tells me that just because something actually only contains natural ingredients, doesn't make it healthy, and that in order for it to be healthy for it to be consumed, it has to be made with a process that could have been made for the past thousands of years, and doesn't need newfangled advanced technology to make the food.
Food and technology... I don't think they should mix. Real food is food that is made like it always was. If you want technology to do what you can already do, more efficiently, that, in my book, is totally fine. (Ex: electric pumps for milking cows still milks them, but more efficiently. Electric sifters still sift, just more efficiently. Crock pots still cook, just with a more regulated heat. Etc.) But if you're doing something to the food that can't happen without that special equipment or process or whatever, that can't really be healthy for you.

So, a big part of why I want to know how to make soy sauce at home is to have the knowledge that soy sauce is something that potentially could be made at home, that it's a natural process that doesn't take any special technology to make.
And that knowledge alone makes me more comfortable with feeding my family soy sauce.

The other aspect of why I want to make as many foods as I can at home is because, quite frankly, I don't trust manufacturers.
Manufacturers have their own agendas, and they're different from my agendas.
My agenda is to eat good food healthily, and to feed my family healthy foods.

The manufacturers agenda is to make food that is cheap to produce, looks pretty, has a uniform, perfect taste, and will appeal to the greater public. Health of the food is not their primary concern. Because if making food healthy will stop the food from having a perfectly uniform taste, or will make the food be its natural color instead of a vibrant chemically induced color, or will cost too much money so the company won't make a profit, then the company will do what it needs to do to get the most people to buy it.

Now, there is a general awareness among educated consumers about eating healthily. People want natural foods. They want chemical free foods.
So the companies try to appeal to them, by advertising "0 grams of fat in this candy", neglecting to mention that it is full of sugar which can make you get fat, or "100% natural ingredients" while at the same time including pseudo-foods that may have a natural source but go through a process to an extent that they are no longer "natural ingredients".
And the law protects them, and allows them to get away with this type of false advertising for the most part.
Because lobbyists are the people with money, and mega corporations who have money have a lot of influence when it comes to making and drafting laws that serve their own best interest.

If a big company makes a food, or if its store bought and processed in any way, I don't trust it 100%. The only foods I trust are the foods I make in my own kitchen, with foods I picked myself from sources that I trust.

Food is problematic.
But whatever I can make at home, I will make at home.
And even if it doesn't save me so much money, I still find it worth it.

And you know what? I think I need to find another alternative to the rice cakes that are sitting in my cabinet. They can't possibly be healthy if I can't make anything similar at home...

If it can't be made at home, maybe I shouldn't eat it. With all foods.

How do you feel about natural ingredients vs natural processes? Do you care whether your food has all natural ingredients, or does that not matter so much to you? If you do care that your food is made from all natural ingredients, how do you feel about foods that started off natural, and then go through all sorts of chemical processes in factories to get a different end product, which is then used in foods and listed under the category of "100% natural ingredients"?
Do you trust packaging? If it says its all natural ingredients, do you trust it enough to feel that its healthy and good to feed your family, or do you have a dose of skepticism when reading that? Had you heard about the issue with orange juice before now?
Does your family consume corn syrup, splenda, soy bean oil, or TVP? Why or why not?
How do you feel about eating things that can't be made at home, like rice cakes or rice crispies? Do you feel they're healthy so long as they don't contain any added unhealthy ingredients?
Do you trust packaged foods from large companies? How do you decide which companies are reliable and which ones are not?
Do you also feel similar to myself that if a food potentially cannot be made at home, then you shouldn't eat it, but if a food potentially can be made at home, its fine to eat it store bought, even if making it at home is always the better option? Or does the possibility of being able to make something at home play no part in whether or not you feel a food is healthy?

Wow, a million questions. I really hope you'll take your time to answer some of them.

Linking up to Monday Mania, MaFF Monday, Homestead Barn HopFat TuesdayTraditional Tuesdays, Hearth and Soul Blog HopReal Food WednesdaySimple Lives Thursday

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