Halo Foods: What Healthy-Sounding Buzz Words Actually Mean--And That They Don’t
By Kurtis Bright
Watching Out For Tricky Labels That Make Food Sound Healthy, And What They Really Mean
In these weird times when White House officials identify what has hitherto been known as “utter bullshit” by the much nicer but less descriptive moniker “alternative facts,” and when everyone has their own definition of the phrase “fake news” (generally this seems to mean "anything I disagree with") perhaps it is time to identify some ongoing cases of alternative facts when it comes to food labeling.
There are a number of terms manufacturers employ in order to create a health “halo effect” and fool unsuspecting--and let’s face it, naïve--consumers into thinking they are actually eating healthy.
Of course, there is sometimes truth in labeling, but in these times, it is more often a cruel sham. For example, the Senate bill known as the DARK Act by opponents (Denying Americans the Right to Know) that was hastily cobbled together as a fig leaf for big food manufacturers and agrichem businesses that think they should be able to sell the public foods that contain GMOs without telling us, despite the clear evidence that we don’t want them.
It is a bill that allows food manufacturers to “identify” GMO-containing foods by forcing consumers to scan a QR code, visit a website, or call a 1-800 number to find out what’s inside--all this runaround in order to avoid simply putting a label on the package identifying it as something that contains GMOs--again, because consumers don’t want them and the carcinogenic chemicals such crops contain, and to manufacturers, our lack of desire for their products should be no barrier to their ability to sell them.
So with an understanding of the depth of bullshit the food industry will sink to in order to sell us their shitty, unhealthy products that we don't want, here are a few other alternatively factual ways food manufacturers try to con health-conscious consumers.
- Natural - When I see this word I think of John Denver, playing guitar in a Colorado mountain meadow, sunshine streaming down on the golden grasses blowing gently in the wind. Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but at the very least most of us would probably assume that foods that have this word on their label would have some relation to foods that are, well, natural--that is to say, not synthesized in a lab. The sad truth is that the Food and Drug Administration is as culpable for allowing the level of bullshit that food manufacturers favor: the word “natural” has no formal definition for the FDA. So it can mean whatever manufacturers want it to mean. In other words, don’t stop reading when you hit the word natural. Be sure to read the fine print, keeping an eye out for things like high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars, as well as chemical preservatives.
- Yet another term that on the face of it might appear to be pretty
self-explanatory. However, big food equals big money, and manufacturers
and their marketers are nothing if not wily creatures--and their pet politicians who make the rules for consumers are nothing if not greedy. So let’s start with
the clear-cut: the USDA organic seal signifies that the food in question
was produced without using synthetic pesticides, GMOs, petroleum or sewage
sludge fertilizers. When it comes to dairy or meat products, it means that
the animals in question were fed organic, vegetarian feed and had “access
to the outdoors.” (This phrase is especially interesting: for example a
tiny one-foot by one-foot doorway for tens of thousands of chickens leading to a three-foot square
concrete pad located at one end of a massive factory farming facility
qualifies under the USDA definition.)
However as we’ve seen with other examples of truth-challenged claims, the devil is in the details. The USDA organic definition only applies to foods labeled “100% Organic.” So if a food label says merely “Organic,” it only needs to contain 95 percent organic ingredients. And “Made With Organic Ingredients” means only 70 percent needs to be organic. But hey, what’s five or 30 percent ingredients grown using glyphosate or human waste among friends, right? "Alternative organic,” that’s what.
- Local - Once again, we see a seemingly straightforward word that has no actual definition from the FDA. Indeed, adding to the deliberate confusion sown by food manufacturers with the aid of the FDA, a recent survey showed that 23 percent of respondents thought that local also meant “organic.” It does not, not even by the weak-ass USDA definition outlined above. Keep in mind too that mom and pop operations such as you might find at farmer’s markets employing a “local” label are often legally able to skirt nutrition facts labeling, so be sure to ask for ingredients when buying jam or pie is unlabeled.
- Gluten-free - Oh, the popular label du jour for faux-health-conscious hipsters in need of some attention. What with consumers mistakenly thinking that cutting out gluten alone will help them lose weight and get a ripped body just like their favorite TV or movie star, gluten-free nonsense probably still hasn’t peaked. One positive: the FDA actually has a definition for this. Products must have a limit of gluten that is less than 20 parts per million. However, this doesn’t meant that a gluten-free label indicates a bullshit-free label. They also may label a whole raft of foods as gluten-free even if they don’t and never have contained any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains. That’s why we see ridiculously absurd things like gluten-free tonic water and gluten-free shampoo. Aside from the less than one percent of people who actually suffer from Celiac disease, this label is expressly designed for people with too much money and too little sense.
- Grass-fed - Yet another deliberately obtuse label designed to obfuscate rather than enlighten. The “grass-fed” label is often taken to mean organic, though it does not. What it does mean is that the cattle whose meat is so labeled were fed only mother’s milk and forage. However, the cattle’s feed has no requirement to be organic, nor does it mean that the animal is free from antibiotics or hormones.
So good luck avoiding stepping in the fully organic bullshit that seems to be everywhere these days! Hope this helps.