Food Labeling – Meaningless Terminology

May 10th, 2016

It has become increasingly common to see undefined, meaningless, or irrelevant terms in food labeling. Food labelers often use terms like “natural,” “low fat,” “local,” or “free range” to appeal to consumers concerned about health or environmental issues. Unfortunately, the government does not regulate these terms (although the FDA may soon define at least one of these), which means they can be stretched to mean whatever the company wants them to mean.

  • Green:

What they want you to think: Buying this food, instead of that food, proves I am God’s gift to Mother Earth. After all, I drive a Prius and recycle, too.

What it really means: Greenwashing is profitable.

  • Light:

What they want you to think: This food will feel like clouds in my stomach, and if I eat it, I will finally be a Skinnier, Better Person.

What it really means: Maybe this food has fewer calories, or less fat, or is a prettier color than that other food. Or not, who knows?

  • Low fat/sugar:

What they want you to think:  How virtuous am I, buying this low fat/sugar version of these creamsicles? I shall live to be 105 and go straight to heaven.

What it really means: Low fat/low sugar compared to something else. Like, compared to a pile of fat and sugar, for instance.

  • Local:

What they want you to think: I’m so trendy, supporting my neighborhood farmer and reducing my carbon footprint. Go me.

What it really means: Well, it’s not from Alpha Centauri, so local it is. But even then, Alpha Centauri is our space-neighbor, and as long as we’re thinking about it, it’s just a hop-skip over to Dwingeloo 1.

  • Humane:

What they want you to think: Torturing animals sure is a drag. I’d rather not support that practice. I’ll just buy this humanely produced food item and sleep like a baby.

What it really means:  Shrug, mumble.

  • Natural:

What they want you to think: This food I’m buying is pure, untouched by the filthy hand of modern industry. It’s good for the earth, good for the body, and good for the soul. God, I feel so good about my choices!  I may even skip yoga.

What it really means: Some or all of this product may be plant or animal based, but there’s no telling how much or in what way.

  • Grass-Fed/Cage-Free/Free-Range:

What they want you to think: Green pastures, animals running free. It’s the ciiiiiiircle of life, and it moves us aaaaaaalllll…

What it really means: We showed that chicken some grass that one time.

  • Kid Approved/Parent Tested:

What they want you to think: My six year-old will not fling this in my face in a fit of rage, and I can avoid writing that guilty/defensive blog post later.

What it really means: Some kids liked this, and their parents were like, okay, whatever.

This post was originally published 7/6/12.

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