Food fights in the courtroom

SBM post natural bean dip

What’s in a name? Will sugar by any other name taste as sweet? Well, yes, but calling sugar “evaporated cane juice” in an ingredient list may get food manufacturers into trouble. Consumers in several class action suits allege that companies are trying to disguise the amount of sugar in their products by calling it something else.

Robin Reese filed a class action suit against Odwalla, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, saying use of the term “evaporated cane juice” instead of sugar fooled her into thinking she was getting a healthier product when she purchased Odwalla juice. Odwalla told the judge the suit should be dismissed because it’s up to the FDA to decide the issue. The FDA issued draft guidelines, in 2009, taking the position that the term “evaporated cane juice” should not be used because it’s not a “juice” as defined in the Federal Regulations. For unknown reasons, no final guidelines were issued and food companies seem to be honoring the draft guidance more in the breach. The FDA reopened the draft guidelines for comment in March of this year, for 3 months, but still hasn’t decided. Meanwhile, similar class actions against other companies were dismissed or stayed pending the FDA’s making up its mind.

So what’s the difference, if any, between the two? Sugar company Florida Crystals told NPR the two are not the same and that evaporated cane juice is a “natural sweetener with ‘dark golden hues’ and a ‘sweet sugarcane flavor.’” Competitor U.S. Sugar begged to differ. Its rep said they are basically the same thing: “white sugar is stripped of all traces of molasses, while evaporated cane juice still has some little flecks of molasses that give it a darker caramel color.” According to this rep, from a health standpoint, there’s no real difference.

While Odwalla and other food companies may be trying to run from the word “sugar,” makers of high fructose corn syrup should be so lucky. The Corn Refiners Association asked the FDA to allow use of the term “corn sugar” instead of “high fructose corn syrup,” which, in some circles, is the equivalent of saying “poison” on the label. The FDA said no.

It’s only natural. Or not.

“Evaporated cane juice” is small potatoes compared to the food fights over “natural” ingredients. The biggest problem here is that no one really knows what” natural” means, even though it is ubiquitous in food product labeling and advertising.

The whole issue aggravates synthetic biologist Terry Johnson:

“Natural” is a word that has been used in so many contexts with so many different meanings that it’s become almost impossible to parse. Its most basic usage, to distinguish phenomena that exist only because of humankind from phenomena that don’t, presumes that humans are somehow separate from nature, and our works are un- or non-natural when compared to, say, beavers or honeybees.

When speaking of food, “natural” is even slipperier. It has different meanings in different countries, and in the US, the FDA has given up on a meaningful definition of natural food (largely in favor of “organic”, another nebulous term). In Canada, I could market corn as “natural” if I avoid adding or subtracting various things before selling it, but the corn itself is the result of thousands of years of selection by humans, from a plant that wouldn’t exist without human intervention.

Johnson’s comment is part of a terrific list titled “Ten Scientific Ideas that Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing” (including “quantum” and “gene”) which, in my opinion, which should be required reading for everyone.

sbm post natural tortilla chipsIn the last few years, dozens of class action lawsuits have been filed alleging food and other consumer products are labeled “natural” when, according to the plaintiffs, they contain synthetic ingredients. Many consumers believe that “natural” equates with “healthier” so they seek out and purchase products alleged to be made partly or wholly from natural ingredients. Mintel, a market research firm, did a consumer survey reported in a publication called Natural Foods Merchandiser. 60% of consumers read nutrition labels regularly and 51% look for “all natural” on the product label. One suit (over tortilla chips) cited a survey by Consumers Union which found that 86% of consumers understand the term “natural” to mean that the product doesn’t have any artificial ingredients in it.

My source for information on these lawsuits (including the “evaporated cane juice” cases) is a website called “Top Class Actions.” Motto:

Connecting Consumers to Settlements, Lawsuits and Attorneys

For example, here’s a “top class action” from July 11th, titled “Flushmate Toilet Class Action Settlement.”

The manufacturer of the Flushmate toilet flushing system has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve multiple class action lawsuits accusing the company selling a defective product that causes toilets to explode. If you own or owned a toilet equipped with a Series 503 Flushmate III Pressure-Assist Flushing System, you may be eligible to claim money from the class action settlement.

Of course, this suit has absolutely nothing to do with natural products, except in the broadest sense, but I couldn’t resist. To get to the suits we’re discussing in this post enter “natural” in the Top Class Actions search box.

WARNING: This website is not for use by drug and device manufacturers, consumer products manufacturers, financial institutions, publicly traded companies, large employers, or any other persons likely to have issues with the plaintiffs’ bar. Viewing this website may cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure, insomnia, depression, gastrointestinal upset, apoplexy and other symptoms of extreme aggravation.

The “natural” American meal: pizza, soda and cupcakes

My sympathies don’t lie with either side in this fight. One the one hand, it is simplistic to believe that “natural” and “healthier” are synonymous. On the other hand, companies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with false advertising. But is it false? After all, what does “natural” even mean? That’s a question we’ll return to in a minute.

And I have to wonder whether some of the consumers who file these suits are all that concerned about healthier eating. Take a look at the type of products they allege are mislabeled:

  • Waffles
  • Shakes
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Snack bars
  • Enchiladas
  • Pizzas
  • Sodas
  • Ice cream
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Cheese
  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Bean dip
  • Baking mix
  • Pie
  • Cupcakes

Other consumer products have also been sued in class actions over the “natural” claim as well, including toothpaste, baby wash, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, shaving gel, diapers and deodorant.

Products containing GMOs are the subject of several lawsuits, including one against Heinz, alleging its distilled white vinegar is made from GMO corn, which is not really natural. Other suits allege that products containing Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2, niacin, iron, riboflavin, folic acid and ascorbic acid should not be labeled “natural.” Go figure.

The financial reward in these suits is not great, at least not for the members of the plaintiff class. While the total amount of the settlement can range from several hundred thousand to several million dollars, costs and attorneys’ fees must come out of that amount. To recover, individual consumers must file a claim with the court and generally receive only a few cents to a couple of dollars per product purchase, with a limit on the total reward, depending on whether the claimant has a proof of purchase or not. (Who saves grocery receipts in anticipation of a possible consumer lawsuit?) To add insult to injury, a claim will sometimes be rewarded with a voucher for more of the defendant’s products. If the settlement fund is not sufficient to pay all claims, each claim can be reduced pro rata.

For example, in a class action over claims of “natural” ingredients involving several dozen Kashi products, class members will get $0.50 per product, but those without proof of purchase will be capped at $25 total. The total settlement fund is $5 million. (As in all such settlements, Kashi denies plaintiffs’ claims.)

Attorney’s fees can sometimes eat up a substantial chunk of the settlement fund. In a recent class action against the maker of Nutella, plaintiffs claimed the product was misleadingly advertised as a “healthy breakfast food.” The case was settled with an agreement to alter Nutella’s label and advertising as well as a settlement fund of $1.5 million. About two thirds of that went to the attorneys. Three class members challenged the fee amount, arguing that such awards were generally limited to 25%, but a federal appeals court refused to overturn the lower court’s approval of the settlement.

Common sense

Not all plaintiffs have been successful.

An Alabama federal district judge tossed out a class action suit against Citrus World, Inc., makers of Florida Natural orange juice. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the juice was mislabeled as pure and natural when, in fact, it is “heavily processed, stored and flavored” before it is put on store shelves. In effect, the judge told the plaintiff to use a little common sense in the grocery store.

The plaintiff makes much ado about believing the packaged containers of orange juice contained ‘fresh squeezed’ orange juice. As a matter of common sense, whatever is in a container on a store shelf with an expiration date some weeks hence cannot contain ‘fresh’ anything. . . The fact that the plaintiff may have believed defendant hired individuals to hand squeeze fresh oranges one by one into juice cartons, then boxed up and delivered the same all over the country does not translate into a concrete injury to plaintiff upon his learning that beliefs about commercially grown and produced orange juice were incorrect.

Class action lawsuits have also been filed alleging orange juice made by Coca-Cola, under the name “Simply Orange,” and Tropicana, is not actually 100% juice nor is it natural. Plaintiffs claim that these companies use “flavor packs” to add back flavor and fragrance that is lost in processing.

So, what is “natural” anyway? That’s a question the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Nestle USA, Inc., couldn’t answer.

The complaint alleged the plaintiff bought Buitoni’s Three Cheese Tortellini and Spinach Cheese Tortellini believing that “all natural” meant they didn’t contain any unnatural, artificial or synthetic ingredients, when, in fact, they contain certain ingredients that aren’t “natural:” xanthan gum, soy lecithin, sodium citrate, maltodextrin, sodium phosphate, disodium phosphates, and ferrous sulfate. She would not have bought them had she known this, according to the complaint. The judge didn’t buy it.

The question before the court (on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim) was whether a reasonable consumer would likely to be deceived by the “all natural” claim. The plaintiff’s problem was that she could not provide an objective definition of just what “all natural” means. Basically, if you don’t know how to define it, you can’t say you were deceived by thinking a product failed to live up to the definition of “all natural.” This failure was not for lack of trying.

First, she tried the dictionary definition of “natural:” “produced or existing in nature” and “not artificial or manufactured.” The judge rejected this attempt, saying that consumers are obviously aware that Buitoni pastas aren’t “springing fully-formed from Ravioli tress and Tortellini bushes.”

So she tried again. This time, she argued that none of the ingredients in “natural” products can be “artificial” as that term is defined by the FDA. But the FDA’s definition applies only to flavor additives, not any of the ingredients plaintiff alleged were “unnatural.”

Finally, the plaintiff argued that none of the ingredients in a “natural” product are “synthetic” as defined by the National Organic Program (NOP). Two problems with that argument. First, the pastas weren’t labeled organic, so the NOP didn’t apply. Second, the ingredients plaintiff claimed were “synthetic” are actually permitted in products labelled “organic.”

The judge found, as a matter of law, that the description “all natural” was not deceptive because the actual ingredients were clearly disclosed on the label, quoting from another case where the plaintiff claimed “all natural” was misleading:

Because the labels clearly disclosed the presence of the [allegedly unnatural ingredients] it is not plausible that Plaintiffs believed, based on Defendant’s ‘[o]nly natural ingredients’ or ‘all natural’ representations, that the [product] did not contain [the challenged ingredients]

In other words, read the ingredients list on the label. That’s what it’s there for.

Posted in: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Health Fraud, Legal, Nutrition

Leave a Comment (130) ↓

130 thoughts on “Food fights in the courtroom

  1. ab says:

    Mmmm… ravioli trees and tortellini bushes.

    Jann: excellent column, as usual.

    I also love this site:
    Everyone reading this, who hasn’t heard of it, should go there now.


    1. Richard Abbott says:

      Who can ever forget the famous BBC April Fools day discussion of the Spaghetti harvest. Aired in 1957 and it is still a great example of what an April Fool’s should be

      1. KayMarie says:

        Great minds, While I went to double check my reference to the spaghetti trees you posted.

      2. Subtle Knife says:

        And here is the spaghetti harvest in full swing:

      3. Yodel lady says:

        rofl!! So wonderful. People should have to pass a quiz on this film before being allowed on the Internet. ;)

  2. Tomi Räsänen says:

    And you would you go on singing this excellent song by The Archies?

  3. DavidCT says:

    I usually take the side of consumer protection, but in the case of using “poetic license” in advertizing I am a bit less sympathetic. People should take some responsibility to learn some of the common euphemisms for food ingredients. Most of the time very little effort is required. The same people that will not take the time to do this are often the same ones who oppose any “nanny state” intervention. They also want their supplements to be unregulated.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The time it takes to become nutritionally sophisticated isn’t insubstantial though – you have to navigate considerable variations in terminology (sugar versus glucose, lactose, fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin, starch, glycogen, etc), understand what the difference between a macronutrient and a micronutrient is, and develop a fair amount of understanding of human biology. It’s at least a single full semester course, and that’s not really counting the time spent learning the basics of biology.

      Then to understand that “sodium citrate” isn’t scary, cobalamin is an absolute necessity, and ascorbic acid is ubiquitous is another leap of learning in chemistry.

      It’s one of the reasons I’m dubious about “science education” being a panacea – most of the people making these decisions are now adults, their window for science education has been closed for decades. I’d rather have experts running well-funded regulatory bodies that have considerable public trust. It’s own panacea with its own problems, but one that at least has the virtue of having genuinely educated people having more control.

      Or rule by robots, that would be good too.

      1. CC says:

        One of the reasons I’m dubious about consumer education being “the solution” is that it absolves the company of unclear labelling.

        Yes, the general public should have a knowledge of how to read labels, but the companies making those labels should be clear about what they’ve added as a sweetener, what they’ve added as a preservative, and so on.

        Also, “healthy” and “natural” are marketing terms and I wouldn’t be at all sad if they were banned from food packaging, including as part of the product or brand name.

        1. Nell on Wheels says:

          Consumer Reports has launched a campaign “aimed at pressing the government to prevent manufacturers from using the ‘natural’ label.”

          1. brewandferment says:

            but unfortunately they seem to be on the “label GMOs” bandwagon via their Consumer’s Union policy and action arm with a stated reason being that people should have the right to know what’s in their food so as to make informed choices.

            In theory this makes sense but since in reality the term “GMO” is at least as nebulous as “natural” that makes it as easy to define as nailing ooze to the wall.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              I’m on the fence about labeling. While consumers do have a right to know what is in foods, it seems too much like a warning, “Contains GMO” being along the same lines as “May cause cancer in California”. I think most consumers lack the knowledge to properly understand the (lack of) risks. Then again, if they did understand the (lack of) risks, they wouldn’t support labeling.

              1. Sean Duggan says:

                I’m on the fence about labeling. While consumers do have a right to know what is in foods, it seems too much like a warning, “Contains GMO” being along the same lines as “May cause cancer in California”.

                My go-to example regarding GMO labeling is to compare it to a community requiring neighborhoods to include disclaimers if the houses “contain black people”. The evidence isn’t there that black people harm neighborhoods and the evidence isn’t there that GMOs hurt people.

                Sadly, I recently heard someone describing a new neighbor moving in and the community’s efforts to point out that there were responsible white people on the block. Racism is not yet dead.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Great abstract example. Depressing real example.

              3. Roadstergal says:

                Ah, the “May cause cancer in California” labels. The only good thing about them is that they’re so omnipresent that they’re practically invisible.

                As I consider corn to be The Original GMO, I think any food containing any sort of corn whatsoever should be labeled Contains GMOs. I’d love to see my crunchy friends scramble to find anything decent to eat.

                (On a complete tangent, it seems that Amy’s has taken over the vegetarian food sections in my local supermarkets, and it’s very depressing – not only has Amy’s bought into the Non-GMO/Organic/Natural labeling crap, but it’s just terrible food. It’s every meat eater’s stereotype of the flavorless, strangely-textured shit that vegetarians have to eat. Where can a lazy vegetarian get LightLife Masala Chik’n Pot Pies in this world??)

            2. Jerry Schwarz says:

              What I’ve been telling people who say that we should require GMO labeling because “people have the right to know” is that I see their point and ask them if they’ll support my effort to have food labelled “fertilized with excrement”. So far no one has taken me up on that :-)

              1. Greg says:

                If they’re going to label GMO products as such, they should also be labelling conventional produce and products made from conventional produce with pesticide warnings.

              2. simba says:

                And organic produce, don’t forget that. ‘Pesticides and fertilizers were used to grow this product’

  4. KayMarie says:

    And they keep trying to tell me that BBC report on Spaghetti trees was a hoax.

  5. Justin \ says:

    So this has absolutely nothing to do with this topic, but i cannot post on another topic; so here is my gift to ignorance.

    I have been suffering from candidas overgrowth for about 5 years. Yes the majority of the population has some sort of candidas growing inside them. And I agree that yeast infections are due to a lack in immunity and bad diet, so its not a candidas problem; but an immunity problem. The fact is that it is both.

    The reason I am posting is because of ignorance when it comes to anything, especially somebody’s outlook on my own health. And it is a wide known abundance of ignorance in the medical field, as I went to four doctors and not one told me I had a yeast infection, but jock itch(which never got better), then psoriasis, and now thrush. all of this because of a false diagnosis of not knowing that a real condition of candidas exists. If candidas was the culprit tell the patient. Its ignorant not to. If Newton told you that a thing called gravity existed you still would not believe him.

    It is almost astounding how ignorant people can be, and how much it has effected my sexual life(I cannot even think about dating or having sexual relations with someone), and mental life (including me still writing this on a post that is not even about candidas). I cannot spend thousands of hours worrying about my medical condition when I was working my way through college. Waisting time and money to go see a doctor that will not fix the problem.

    You would not know a real disease if it fell off a tree and struck you in the head.

    And yes I know how to make websites and blogs so I will find a way to beat your post accreditation on google, so my post can be heard.

    Oh and the reason I am posting this is because it is my immunity and ignorant people like your group of people that has left me with an undiagnosed problem that a doctor should be able to diagnose.

  6. Angora Rabbit says:

    Wonderful article – thank you! If people don’t want to eat this stuff, then don’t buy crap-in-a-box. You pay for “convenience” with stabilizers, processing, and you lose control of what enters your mouth. Processed food is how to make what your mom made and taste only slightly worse. From there on, the slope slides downhill.

    The other issue is, as you say, people fawning over the latest internet infomercial without real learning to understand what the real concern is. Hence the above misunderstanding over HCFS. Learn how to really read the label – look at the calories and look at the calories from carbs. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing abundance. Thank goodness labels are now changing to also capture “discretionary” sugar which will help enormously, no matter what name the calories are hiding under.

    Would post longer but we traveling with unreliable email. Great post!

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Thank goodness labels are now changing to also capture “discretionary” sugar which will help enormously, no matter what name the calories are hiding under.

      Can anyone explain this a bit more to me? Is that like a better sugar breakdown as in “Corn flour, sugar (starch, glucose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, lactose)” rather than “Corn flour, starch, glucose, fructose…” or something?

      1. KayMarie says:

        For some reason I think it mean they are separating out the added sugars. It is one thing if the stuff comes with sugar in it right off the tree, but did the add more than that during processing.

        So milk will have some sugar in it, but it comes with lactose sugar. If you add a bunch more sugar to it to make a flavored drink that would have its own line.

      2. Nell on Wheels says:

        According to the FDA website:

        The current label simply lists “Sugars,” which refers to both added and naturally occurring sugars. FDA is proposing that the label have a new line, indented under “Sugars,” listing only sugars that are added during the production process—appearing as “Added Sugars.”

        The actual proposal contains 305 references to “added sugars,” but here are some highlights:

        “3. Added Sugars

        a. Declaration—FDA regulations neither define the term “added sugars” nor require or permit its declaration on the Nutrition Facts label. We are reconsidering the declaration of added sugars taking into account new data and information, including U.S. consensus reports and recommendations related to the consumption of added sugars, a citizen petition submitted by the CSPI, and public comments. For the purposes of the discussion in this document, added sugars refer to sugars and syrups that are added to foods during processing or preparation (Ref. 6).

        i. Consensus Reports. The IOM DRI Report on Macronutrients stated that “although added sugars are not chemically different from naturally occurring sugars, many foods and beverages that are major sources of added sugars have lower micronutrient densities compared to foods and beverages that are major sources of naturally occurring sugars” (Ref. 68). Although an upper level was not set for total or added sugars, a maximal intake level of 25 percent or less of energy from added sugars was suggested based on data that demonstrated decreased intakes of some micronutrients among American subpopulations whose intake of added sugars exceeded this level.”

        “When added sugars as well as naturally occurring sugars are present in a food, we are proposing to require manufacturers to make and keep records to verify the declared amount of added sugars in the food. Finally, we are proposing to require manufacturers to make and keep records to verify the declared amount of added sugars in specific foods, alone or in combination with naturally occurring sugars, where the added sugars are subject to fermentation.”

        “Issues to be addressed include how a declaration of “Added Sugars” and alternative footnote statement may influence consumer use of the label.”

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Neat, thanks for that.

    2. Windriven says:

      ” If people don’t want to eat this stuff, then don’t buy crap-in-a-box.”

      I’m feeling like a bit of an outlier here. My larder has almost no “processed” foods beyond Special K breakfast cereal. I like rice, what can I say. But garlic, salmon, olive oil, etc. don’t come with hard to understand labels. We don’t spend a disproportionate fraction of our lives cooking so what is the big advantage to mac and cheese in a box? Or tuna helper? Buy a sharp knife and learn to chop a frigging onion. Compost the peelings. Grow tomatoes. Make and freeze your own tomato sauce and tomato paste. It is like eating at a fine restaurant every night.

      When the kids were teens Mrs. Windriven and I both worked full time, she attended grad school mostly at night, and we still ate proper meals made with fresh ingredients every day. It really isn’t that difficult and I’d be willing to bet that our weekly grocery run costs less than the average crap-in-a-box buyers.

      1. Derek Freyberg says:

        I’m in full agreement with almost everything you say, Windriven, except the second half of the last sentence “I’d be willing to bet that our weekly grocery run costs less than the average crap-in-a-box buyers”.
        That may be true for you, but for all too many people, especially city dwellers on low incomes, “crap-in-a-box” is cheaper than buying fresh ingredients. Moreover, in a number of areas, “crap-in-a-box” is about what you can buy, because there are no real grocery stores easily accessible.
        That’s a problem that no amount of debate over food labeling is going to solve.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          I eat a massive amount of unprocessed foods (I poop 3-8 times per day, not a typo) and i agree – the way I eat is expensive. A frozen, microwavable sandwich cousts $4 for two, for me to make an equivalent is considerably more pricey. And if you don’t enjoy cooking, then the time it takes is an added tax upon you.

          Also, while I like cooking, I hate gardening. The outside world is terrible.

          1. Nell on Wheels says:

            I like gardening, but it is hard work and keeping everything adequately watered can be time consuming and expensive. And, unless you have friends and neighbors who like vegetables, you often end up with more than you can consume, even with a freezer, Just two indeterminate tomato plants can produce an amazing number of tomatoes over a season.

            Then there are the failures and the critters. The rabbits around here apparently put out a bulletin about the free buffet at Nell’s and no amount of rabbit fencing seems to deter them from the broccoli and corn, so I’ve given up on those. Squash bugs decimated my zucchini one year.

            I do, however, maintain a very lovely herb garden. There’s nothing like stepping out the kitchen door to clip just enough sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, tarragon, oregano or mint for whatever you’re cooking at the moment, and I let the purslane grow wild as groundcover in my flower beds.

        2. Windriven says:

          ““I’d be willing to bet that our weekly grocery run costs less than the average crap-in-a-box buyers”.”

          Well based on your thoughts and Williams, perhaps I’d lose my bet. But, feeding 2 these days, a half pound of salmon at $10 per pound, a broccoli crown at $1.25, a cup of rice (uncooked), some fresh peas, a few mushrooms, chicken stock (learn to break down a chicken, save the wings and backs and make your own) a pinch of saffron (OK, that’s a little pricey). Still, Dinner for two for what, 10-12 bucks?

          1. Narad says:

            Still, Dinner for two for what, 10-12 bucks?

            How many calories is that? SNAP varies by state; here it’s $189 max for a single person. There ain’t no $10/lb. salmon in no budget. A 2 lb. box of On-Cor lasagna is $3.49.

            (Actually, there’s no $10/lb. salmon anywhere, but that’s a separate question. Last week’s sale flyer, which I happen to have in the recycling, was $20/lb.)

            1. n brownlee says:

              You can feed yourself a wholesome and nutritious diet for fifty bucks a week per person, and you sure can’t buy enough junk to feed you for a week for that amount. Beans, lentils, eggs, onions, potatoes, cabbage, small amounts of cheap chicken or pork- it’s not hard. It’s a little monotonous, but it’s not difficult. Most people in this country have simply never learned how, and they don’t think they should have to. I just read a story in a major online American newspaper about the “hidden face of hunger in America” which featured interviews with a family of five who simply cannot get enough on SNAP – and they were all, including the children, obese. They did not have a clue how to feed themselves properly.

              There are hungry people in the US, but these people were not among them.

              1. mouse says:

                I think it does appear that there is an association between food insecurity (low income, poverty) and obesity.


                My question is, what is the cause? Lack of food prep and planning skills, lack of time, transportation, accessibility to healthy foods? I’ve heard that monthly pay checks or support checks perpetuate a hunger/binge cycle that encourages obesity. I’ve heard that a cheap diet may lack nutritionally density and actually trigger excess appetite. (I was told this in Kazakhstan to explain how my daughter could be slightly cubby, but still malnourished and hungry). I don’t know.

              2. n brownlee says:

                I don’t think it’s a mystery. The obese poor eat huge amounts of processed carbs- that is, all the fiber removed- and said carbs are prepared with large amounts of fats, sugar and salt. Almost no protein, almost no vegetables or fruits. Super-sized cheese fries and a half gallon of coke for supper, sugared cereal for breakfast, mac and “cheese” for lunch, more sugared cereal in between, for ‘snacks’. The mystery is that anyone survives it WITHOUT becoming obese.

              3. mouse says:

                I don’t think the mystery is in the fact that eating higher calorie foods will make someone gain weight. I think the mystery is why we are seeing this more in low and poverty level women and what is(are) the most effective way(s) to correct the problem.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Is it really a mystery? Heavily processed foods are made from easy-to-grow monoclonal uniform grains converted into standardized packaging cooked with large amounts of preserving fats that along with considerable salt and sugar produced through heavily mechanized industries to allow for lengthy shelf lives that in turn permit companies to produce foods that can ride out irregularities in the economy and production lines, allowing for enormous economies of scale that are universally tailored to satiate and require minimal free time or supplementary labour to produce a filling meal. The poor generally don’t have the time to do a lot of coooking (because when they aren’t working for a subsistence wage they’re generally commuting or sleeping), definitely don’t have the money to hire a cook, and often all adult members of the family must work, thus all lack the time to prepare food. It’s a neatly interlocking perfect storm of business incentives and social taxes on time with a single, predictable and depressing outcome.

              5. simba says:

                I wonder if the ‘food insecurity’ is the key- that most of the time you have food but you know at some stage you won’t know when the next meal is. I can see there being an incentive, conscious or otherwise, to stuff yourself in those circumstances. That and ‘being involuntarily hungry’ is such an aversive that if you’d experienced it you would go to great lengths (such as stuffing yourself, buying easily preserved food, hiding food) to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

                Plus food isn’t just nutrition: you need food that is familiar, that comforts you, or that doesn’t hurt your pride, and maybe that gets more important if you don’t have other comforts and your self esteem’s low. During the Irish potato famine Alexis Soyer reported seeing a starving woman carrying two loaves of bread- a white one outside the cloak and a brown one (less expensive) under it where people couldn’t see it.

              6. Windriven says:

                And isn’t it bizarre that we are even talking about food insecurity in the 21st century in one of the wealthiest nations on the face of the planet? We’ve been fighting the war on poverty since before Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. This is the best we’ve managed?

              7. E-rook says:

                I hate to have to point this out but we need to do some privelege-checking here. When people are money and resource insecure, it is demonstrable (shown through research) that they are more likely to make bad decisions. A lot of research on cognitive and will-power reserve has been discussed in these forums. So I think you need to consider that these people are worried about the physical safety of their kids, clothes, social / status pressures, paying water/electric bills, making rent, keeping kids out of trouble / in school, possibly spousal / relationship issues (domestic abuse rates are higher in poorer populations), transportation to a job, a stressful/unfulfilling job. There’s a LOT to deal with when you’re poor that eats away at you cognitive- and will power- reserve when at the end of the day, you have to make decisions on what food to purchase, how to prepare, and clean up; just thinking about makes me want to open a can of spaghetti os instead of chopping up veggies.

              8. Windriven says:


                I’m just fine with my privilege, thank you very much. The issue isn’t spending time obsessing about my ‘privilege,’ it is extending that privilege to those who lack it. I actually do more than move my lips in that regard and I hope you do too.

                We have been willing to swallow a host of false dichotomies and over-stuffed straw men on the grounds that our economic prosperity depends on it. These are facts not at all in evidence. The consequences have been an upward shift in GINI that began in the 70s and is accelerating today.

              9. Greg says:

                Most people in this country have simply never learned how, and they don’t think they should have to.

                The irony is that if you ask people if they know about nutrition, most will say they do. I guess the problem is they know very little but think they know all they need to. For example, my wife’s friend’s husband who is obese was telling us that he knows a lot about nutrition, while he scarfed down two big white bread buns, just before dinner,

              10. Angora Rabbit says:

                I’m back in town from nephew’s lovely wedding – cancer cured from leukemia at age 2. Yes, dear reader, chemo works.

                “I don’t think the mystery is in the fact that eating higher calorie foods will make someone gain weight. I think the mystery is why we are seeing this more in low and poverty level women and what is(are) the most effective way(s) to correct the problem.”

                Great posts on this topic and many of the reasons were touched on. If this were easy, we’d have fixed it. The problems are myriad: Lack of access to healthy choices (we all know about food deserts?). Dangerous neighborhoods where you don’t want to encourage kids to play outside and exercise, let alone walk to school. Calorie-dense, micronutrient-poor foods are easily accessed and cheaper than healthier choices. Slash-and-burn political assaults on SNAP. Poor education. A poor external environment that poses stresses that reduce cognitive potential especially in children (for example, close location to airport noise). Maybe even genomic imprinting with a cycle of obesity.

                I’m a huge fan of what Will Allen is doing in Milwaukee with his Grow Power. I’ve mentioned it before. The good news is that there is increased emphasis on programs that address the systemic problems, like better access to quality food, safer neighborhoods, school programs where kids grow their own food and learn that fresh veggies are tastier than MickeyD’s.

            2. Windriven says:

              “Actually, there’s no $10/lb. salmon anywhere”

              Actually, there IS $10/lb salmon in the PNW, even in grocery stores at the right times of year.

            3. Windriven says:

              How many calories is 4oz of salmon, steamed broccoli, and some risotto Milanese? I have no freaking idea but it ain’t too many.

              1. Windriven says:

                How many calories in a plate of Costco frozen lasagna and a bowl of Cheetos?

              2. n brownlee says:

                The Costco lasagna isn’t a bad choice, nutritionally- especially if you add a salad or a skillet sauté of broccoli, squash, onion and carrot (the cheap option!). But the truly cash strapped can’t shop at Costco, anyway- the membership is too expensive and the offered items, while cheap at a per/each price, are way too expensive for small budgets.

                It’s smarter and cheaper to cook your own pasta and sauce it with a canned tomato sauce with LOTS of fresh vegetables added. Pasta is a dollar, marinara is a dollar (Hunt’s), onion, zucchini, etc for another couple dollars. Vegetable oil. Feeds four.

              3. Windriven says:

                “It’s smarter and cheaper to cook your own pasta and sauce it with a canned tomato sauce with LOTS of fresh vegetables added. ”

                Couldn’t agree more. Tastier too.

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            That’s not how I eat though – I eat almost exclusively raw fruits and vegetables throughout the day, and that volume of fresh produce is expensive. I don’t tend to eat cheap (in the sense of cost, not in the sense of nutritional value or flavour) carbohydrates like bread or rice on a regular basis. I replace it with apples, carrots, beets, cauliflower, grapes, etc. I could eat much cheaper, but I don’t want to (for purely psychological reasons, I enjoy the predictability of my daily diet and the reassurance it gives me that I’m well-nourished).

            I’m quite lucky I make enough money to be able to easily support my irrationality.

            1. Windriven says:

              Sooooo William, whatcha doin about protein? I love beets and all the other fruits and veggies that you mentioned. But a cup of beets is less than 5% of your protein requirement (USDA, anyway).

            2. n brownlee says:

              Me, too! Though it was not always thus. Besides the years during which I gardened and market-gardened, there were the years of 2-jobs-plus-freelance writing- plus-giant, hulking teenaged boys to support. The challenge there was filling them up without resorting to garbage food and/or having someone come repo the car due to me not making payments. Tell me about the working poor…

              I think the obese poor thing happens now because it CAN. Cheap, tasty food is in virtually unlimited supply in this country, for what amounts to the first time in human history. I mean, corpulence was historically the province of the wealthy. Poor people were skinny not because they didn’t have enough cheap nutritious food. They didn’t have enough food to get fat, period. Now they do.

              It’s not exclusively a human thing. Animals in zoos are fed very carefully monitored diets- because if allowed to, they get fat. Primates in particular get very fat, very fast- especially if well meaning visitors give them treats like chips and cookies. (They also get rotten teeth and heart attacks, but that’s another question.)

            3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Protein requirements are generally far lower than the actual amount consumed throuh a regular diet. But my insanely rigid daily diet also includes yogurt and flax seed in the morning, an egg with my morning fruit, several nuts before my afternoon bucket of vegetables, all the protein in the vegetables themselves (incomplete of course, but still providing some protein), and my quite-conventional dinner which is often meat-centric or meat-heavy. The CDC RDI is 56 grams, but I’m a shorter than average so can probably skimp without much concern, and my weekend diet is also more meat-heavy. Given I have eaten this way for well over a decade now, and given the amount of exercise I get (6-7 days per week), if there were any chance of deficiency (and in particular any side effects from deficiency) I would have seen them by now.

              1. mouse says:

                I’d say watch out for b12 deficiency, but it looks like you are covered with the eggs, eh?

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I also eat a lot more meat in the evenings and on weekends than I do during the day. Tomorrow’s lunch and dinner will consist of a demi-baguette liberally smeared with pate, and an Italian sandwich with a half-inch of deli meats piled on top.

                Even when I was a vegetarian and near-vegan I didn’t suffer from B12 deficiency, despite vigorous regular exercise, more so than now. Of course, I doubt I eliminated meat for long enough to run out of hepatic stores.

      2. Andrey Pavlov says:

        We don’t spend a disproportionate fraction of our lives cooking so what is the big advantage to mac and cheese in a box? Or tuna helper? Buy a sharp knife and learn to chop a frigging onion. Compost the peelings. Grow tomatoes. Make and freeze your own tomato sauce and tomato paste. It is like eating at a fine restaurant every night.

        Both me and my better half work a lot. She more than I, actually, which is surprising considering I am a medicine resident.

        We still manage to find time to cook healthy and delicious meals and certainly have food most of our friends who come over for dinner are jealous over.

        However, I can tell you that there are certainly times when the time and energy are just not there. Like yesterday. I ended up staying 2 hours extra and she came home even later than I did. And I still had to write some discharge summaries and do a few things from home. Yes, we could have still cooked a meal, but it would have meant that I couldn’t get done a few things that I otherwise did and we would have had just enough time to cook, eat, and go straight to bed. So we keep around a few “crap in a box” kind of things to make things easy and fast for nights like that. Last night we just ordered sushi delivered from our favorite place.

        As for composting and growing our own stuff… you must have a much nicer set up than we do. And ours isn’t too bad. But I can barely keep the flowers and plants on our front porch alive let alone an actual garden. But more to the point, the vast majority of people can’t possibly do that – living in an apartment building doesn’t exactly give you much gardening space. We live in a house but I still can’t do it (even if I wanted to) because we rent.

        Freezing things and keeping them sounds great… until you run out of room in your freezer, which happens to us not infrequently.

        Basically, I get what you are saying and I agree with most of it, but I think that most other people face practical and pragmatic limitations that don’t make it quite as easy to manage doing exactly what you do. But I do absolutely agree that most people can certainly do a lot better in that regard than they do. But a lot of the falling short has to do with a lack of education on the topic; people simply don’t know how to do much cooking or even what sorts of options there are out there. One of the programs that I was a part of and my successors in the student society are participating in is a program to teach underprivileged high school kids how to cook. It is a profound need that is sorely unfilled.

        1. Nell on Wheels says:

          I blame the fact that Home Economics is no longer a requirement in schools anymore. We were required to take Home Ec in 7th grade, where girls were taught simple sewing skills, basic cooking skills and household budgeting. The boys took shop. Girls also had one semester of electrical shop and boys had one semester of cooking.

          I think both sexes should be required to take Home Ec, including nutrition, how to shop for food, basic cooking, hand sewing (buttons, repairing seams and hems), simple home repairs, and budgeting. Call it Life Skills if you think Home Economics has too many negative connotations.

          1. Lytrigian says:

            In my middle school, both boys and girls took both Home Ec. and Shop. I’m a little surprised this isn’t commonly done. Everyone benefited from it.

            1. mouse says:

              I’m for home ec. and shop, but the reality is, it’s only a very shallow intro on the concepts. If the student doesn’t use the skills, they’ll lose them quickly. Most home and handy skills you learn by doing often while having someone on hand to ask questions.

              Although, I will say, self teaching is a hell of a lot easier now than it was before the internet.

              1. Nell on Wheels says:

                I don’t know about that–I haven’t done it since 7th grade, but I could still rewire a lamp if I had to, and the principles I learned by creating a simple circuit to make a doorbell ring in electrical shop have stuck with me and have, on occasion. helped me figure out and remedy a problem instead of having to call an electrician.

              2. mouse says:

                Really? I’m surprised. I know people who took shop, but can’t change a headlight in a car. I figured it was just lack of using or expanding upon the skills.

                Maybe lack of aptitude? Knowledge that interests us sticks with us?

                I enjoyed shop in middle school, but we only did woodworking, no electric. I also had “shop” (using various wood and metal working tools ) in art school. So I thought it just stuck with me, through use. I enjoyed sewing in home ec, but I have only a very vague memory of any cooking. Cooking, I learned from my mom and somewhat my sister, who is a more talented cook than I.

                It kinda drives me crazy/makes me sad that so many people can’t work with their hands these days, whether it’s cooking or simple handy household tasks…On the other hand, there does appear to be a resurgence of “crafting” – beer, sewing, electronics, baking, gardening, etc. So maybe that’s cause for hope.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I have very little interest in working with my hands. I can do some basic household tasks – paint, change a light bulb, and certainly cook, but I enjoy only the latter. I could learn how to change a headlight or oil filter and oil, but I have no interest and can afford to simply pay someone to do it. Money can’t buy you more time, but it can spare you from having to spend time on things you don’t want.

                Though oddly enough I mow my own lawn, which I hate. I spend the time listening to podcasts.

                I’m never going to learn to wire a house, or rewire a lamp, or put up drywall. I find these activities tedious and unenjoyable. I also am irked by the waste of having to throw out the broken whatever, which makes me a hypocrite.

                Truly first world problems.

              4. mouse says:

                @WLU Well – You do cook.

                For me – it is not so much about saving money or independence* or not wasting, or what you should be able to do. It is about missing out on the joy, the feeling of accomplishment and the “flow”** that building something or fixing something can bring. (Whether it is a meal, a cabinet, a car, a robot.)

                To refine my statement, I’m not talking so much about people who have no interest in doing those things…who just prefer to spend their time building not so physical things (software, a body of knowledge, etc). I am talking about people, like the patrons I talk to at art fair, who seem to admire and kinda long to be able to build things, but never learned some of the basic skills to get them on their way or practice enough to feel competent. That makes me sad. :( I’m probably projecting.

                Also – I never mow the lawn, except maybe three times in my life, when circumstances held no other option. I build my life around not having to mow the lawn. I don’t know why, I’m perfectly able to lug and garden and get sweaty, but mowing the lawn seems like only something to do only as a last resort.

                *Well somewhat

              5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I would never get flow from any of these tasks, not even cooking. I enjoy cooking, but it’s like exercise for me. I also have no real desire to produce any art (bar perhaps a novel one day, but that’s unlikely) though I do dearly love appreciating good art.

                You hate mowing the lawn because it’s stupid, and because lawns are stupid, and the idea of an ideal length of grass is stupid, because it’s a bit of pointless Western conspicuous consumption based on outdated ideas about what prosperity and suburban etiquette means. You get nothing from a freshly mown lawn. Nobody does, unless they’re a serial killer or retired.*

                *And here I’m projecting ’cause I F&#$%^NG hate lawns and mowing them.

              6. mouse says:

                WLU “I would never get flow from any of these tasks, not even cooking. ”

                Huh – What activity is absorbing enough for you to lose yourself in, then?

                I’m pretty sure that my dislike for lawn mowing is not so intellectual. I think it’s more like some people dislike frogs or body hair. Sure, they may give you a reason, but it’s pretty much just visceral dislike.

              7. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Huh – What activity is absorbing enough for you to lose yourself in, then?

                Arguing with people on the internet of course :)

                Not to mention, though flow might be a rewarding experience it is not the only rewarding experience. I quite enjoy the intellectual but not necessarily flow-inducing experience of reading a particularly difficult book or passage and internalizing or disentangling the topic. Can reading be flow-inducing? I don’t even know.

              8. mouse says:

                “WLU “Not to mention, though flow might be a rewarding experience it is not the only rewarding experience.”

                Of course – agreed. I think it’s a good thing, but not by any means the only worthwhile experience.

            2. Sean Duggan says:

              I think that, to some degree, it’s getting lost in all of the other classes people “have” to take. I had choir and computer classes. Those were the only electives I could really fit in. My other “elective” courses such as foreign languages and advanced math were required if I wanted to be able to get any sort of scholarships upon graduation.

          2. Calli Arcale says:

            It is still required in my state, for both sexes.

          3. brewandferment says:

            It is often called Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) and in my area it is for all students in middle and early high school. Covers many of those things. I believe it may even be a state requirement.

        2. Windriven says:

          I read a piece not too long ago about a guy in an urban setting (LA?) who went around planting gardens in medians, abandoned lots, and other neglected spaces. Roped in others in the community to help. Pissed off the city because of zoning or something but the optics were too bad for them to stop him. The places looked nicer, there was free, wholesome food, and it engaged people with their community.

          You and your lady are outliers given your professions and still you manage quality consumption at least most of the time. NBD, I’ve been known to eat a Dorito now and again.

          @Nell, Lytrigian, and Calli
          Amen. I had to take shop and wanted to take home ec but was wa-a-a-ay too macho (or too afraid of being considered a wuss by my peers). It should be a must for everybody.

        3. simba says:

          The thing about it is that people have always not-cooked, both rich and poor. And many of the middle classes still don’t cook or eat properly (hence why you get organic, overpriced junk food so people can eat it while thinking they’re eating healthily.) But the poor get a disproportionate amount of the criticism for it.

          Even in the Victorian ages, and previously, people gave out about how the poor couldn’t cook, and often didn’t. Alexis Soyer noted how the poor wasted much food simply through inability to cook… as did the wealthy-to-middle-class ladies who ran the soup kitchens. Orwell did the same. Come from one of those families and you’re in trouble because our society assumes Mammy will teach you how to do all that’s needed in that department.

          1. n brownlee says:

            You are so right. What’s more, the whole cooking-and-eating-as-entertainment thing is quite new, as is the idiotic chefs-are-rockstar-celebrities thing. We have a huge surplus of available calories, and a huge surplus of unoccupied time to fill. (Maybe a giant bag of chips and Strictly Come Dancing, maybe a monkfish bisque and grilled langoustine dinner cooked in the outdoor kitchen by the pool. Whatever you can afford.

      3. mouse says:

        A couple things about cooking from scratch vs processed foods. Cooking from scratch often means organizing and keeping staple foods and seasonings as well as the other ingredients you will use. So for beef stroganoff hamburger helper, you need to buy ground meat and the box. From scratch you need, (off the top of my head, I’m not going to look it up.) Sour cream, onions, mushrooms, garlic, salt, egg noodles, meat and WTF throw soon frozen peas in there because the kids will actually eat them that way.

        So that’s two aisles (or three if you put peas in it) for food that you can put in your cupboard and freezer and take out when you need it versus 5 aisles, with some searching in the fresh food section, for food with some ingredients that may spoil in the fridge. Multiple that by seven dinners and bring a couple of kids to the supermarket (who are alternately wrestling and begging for all the colorful package food (sponge bob yogurts, they name is satan.) Then add breakfast and food for packed lunches (how does one pack unprocessed lunches, Am I supposed to make pasties, chopped salad? the kids would literally run away and go live with the neighbors). Then bring it all home and put it all away. Then go back later because you forgot cat food and milk.

        Anyway…that kinda meandered in a different direction than I intended, but cooking time may be negligible, but the time for organizing, shopping and preparing food from scratch adds up and can be unpleasant. Also, how well you execute those tasks (getting in the habit of keeping staple foods and seasoning on hand) has a lot to do with acquired skills and focus.

        1. simba says:

          There’s also the issue of if you’re somewhere you can actually cook, have the equipment etc. If you’re physically able to chop things, carry things, where you are (because no car and limited time to walk can seriously restrict your diet unless you can beg favors off richer friends which gets old fast), if you have somewhere to store the multiple ingredients you’ll need to cook ‘tasty’ things from scratch, if you actually know how to use them etc.

          1. mouse says:

            Excellent point Simba.

          2. Windriven says:

            Goddammit simba, don’t ruin my gustatory idyll with harsh realities!

            1. simba says:

              My comment was totally worth it because it inspired the phrase “gustatory idyll”. Consider it stolen, Windriven.

              And I have managed to live very cheaply off very little, as a healthy happy person in a walkable area with great shops (at one stage I did about $4/day). Given those conditions I can live off half nothing. Once other stresses pile up I start finding it less fun to see how low my food bill can go.

              1. Windriven says:

                “Consider it stolen, Windriven.”

                You can’t steal it. It is my gift.

                ” a healthy happy person in a walkable area with great shops”

                I spent a bit of time in Copenhagen and one of the things I loved most was walking to the various shops for fish and vegetables and flowers. It is a much nicer way to live than American suburbia.

        2. Angora Rabbit says:

          Oh, Mouse, I can’t let you get away with this. The best advice I ever got on this topic came from the professor who taught one of my college history courses. I pass it along to our readers here:

          1) develop a list of 5-7 meals you can make even when you are drop-dead tired. For example, spaghetti, stir-fry, quiche.*

          2) go to the store and buy all the staples that let you make the magic 5-7 meals.

          3) attach a note pad and pen to your refrigerator door. Every time you use those staples, put it back on your shopping list. Replenish.

          This way, even if you are both still too tired, you can still put something on the table that isn’t horrid. When we were grad students, we did keep a few boxes of M&C. But to that we added our own cheese, mustard powder, fried onion, and a few other things to zing it up.

          Here’s the last trick. Figure out what’s for dinner BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR WORK. This is key. Dear Spouse and I typically work till 6pm. But in doing this, even though we may be too tired to think, we know what’s for dinner and can go through the automaton motions.

          * I made this list a few years back for my nutrition class, and had to stop after about 35 meals. That was a little frightening, but then we’ve been at this for awhile.

  7. goodnightirene says:

    I thought I was reading FOOD POLITICS (food there for a minute. Marion Nestle has much to say on a regular basis about all these “natural” topics. She is the one who made me food literate–and exposed the political goings on of the DSHEA long before the internet was born (or in common use, anyway) in her excellent book “Food Politics”.

    Just to illustrate the disconnect going on in the mind of the ordinary person, at a block party the other day, at least four people who were too drunk to get to the bathroom on their own (and stuffed full of all manner of junk food) informed me that they would never take medication, because it isn’t “natural” and has “side effects”. One of them quit taking his blood pressure meds because they “give him the shits”–five months later he still has the shits. He won’t go to the doctor, but visits the chiro bi-weekly. His girlfriend was astonished when I scoffed at her story about her sister applying herbal compresses to her successfully treated cancerous breast to “pull out the toxins”–could it have been the chemo and radiation I asked?

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      My initial reaction to reading Marion Nestle’s name is always “yuk”, I think because she opposes GMO to a degree I consider irrational. I kinda put her in the same mental category as Michael Pollan. Is she worth reading? Should I challenge my preconceptions? Is her GMO opposition an island of irrationality in an ocean of otherwise-informed mind?

  8. stanmrak says:

    Surveys indicate that the majority of the food-buying public think that “organic” and “natural” are synonymous. They will gladly pay as much or more for a product when they see ‘all-natural” on the label. It gets even dumber… all you have to do is put an illustration of a barn on the package, without any words, and consumers think the product is “all-natural” and will pay more for it.

    The best tact is to not buy ANYTHING that comes with a list of ingredients, or grow your own food. Even with a nutritional label on the package, there are lots of things – chemicals, preservatives, flavor enhancers, substances used in the processing – that don’t have to be listed on the label. You are being poisoned, slowly enough that you don’t notice.

    1. Nell on Wheels says:

      I do know the difference between “Natural” (meaningless) and “Organic” (adhering to certain, albeit debatable, standards) but was fooled into buying “Natural” chicken because it was mixed in with the “Organic” chicken in the organic section of the meat case. Didn’t catch it until I had bought it several times because the packaging was exactly the same used for that brand’s organic products except for the word “Organic,” and they were side by side. Have complained to the store and manufacturer, but have yet to hear back.

      1. stanmrak says:

        Don’t hold your breath… the labeling deception is intentional, it increases profits.

        Ever notice how boxes of kids cereals have cartoon character faces with huge eyes on them, and they’re placed on the shelf so that they’re staring right down at the eye level of a 6-year-old?

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          You know what else increases profits? Fear mongering. Higher entry barriers means reduced competition, which means higher profit margins. All of your bleating means you’re supporting Monsanto’s bottom line.

          Ever notice how boxes of kids cereals have cartoon character faces with huge eyes on them, and they’re placed on the shelf so that they’re staring right down at the eye level of a 6-year-old?

          What does this have to do with anything, except that marketing executives (aren’t you a marketing executive?) understand and apply what it takes to get children to whine for empty calories?

          You dispense tidbits like this as if they were great wisdom rather than well-known facts twisted to seem sinister.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      1) You’re not being poisoned. At worst you’re being fattened.

      2) Growing your own food is impractical for many people and unnecessary for nearly everyone – grocery stores do stock fresh produce, generally of adequate quality for everything but tomatoes and out-of-season strawberries.

      3) You feed that ignorance Stan. In between your factually inaccurate proclaimations about vitamins, you babble about natural products, superiority of different brands of supplements (when a molecule is just a molecule), synergies that don’t exist, subclinical allergies, claiming wheat is harmful because it is cultivated for a profit, spurious comparisons of drugs with bee pollen (also sold for a profit!), you promote organic food for unscientific reasons that have zero to do with the actual practices of organic farming (for instance, organic pesticides are applied in far greater quantities than glyphosate, and linger on the produce for much, much longer periods of time).

      So rather than calling out the stupid general public for daring to conflate organic and natural, a tactic the organic lobby themselves has adopted for marketing (and profit) reasons, why not just have a nice cup of tea, disconnect your internet hookup and stop being a hypocritical douchebag.

      1. stanmrak says:

        Your food is not as clean and wholesome as you have been led to believe…

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Well considering the amount of food I eat, processed, unprocessed, primarily non-organic and substantially genetically modified, I am in amazingly good health (or the lack of cleanliness and wholesomeness is of no significance to the average person).

          You can make claims like “the food supply is polluted” or “GMOs are dangerous”, that doesn’t make it true. And when your claims are fact-checked, it turns out you’re incredible inaccuracy is matched only by your totally unwarranted certainty.

  9. CC says:

    The plaintiff makes much ado about believing the packaged containers of orange juice contained ‘fresh squeezed’ orange juice.

    I don’t know about Florida Natural juice (the subject of the quoted class action) but Tropicana’s advertising made that exact claim, or it did a couple of years ago when I last paid any attention to it. Whole oranges jumping into the carton, a straw stuck in a whole orange, the slogan “nothing added, nothing taken away”, etc. All intended to make the customer believe that they squeezed oranges directly into the carton.

    It was a thing in Canada for a while, including the fear of flavour packs (with implication that they were artificial flavours) so I wrote a bit about it. Quick summary of what I found: unpasteurized orange juice has a shelf life of 2-3 days, max, while pasteurizing stabilizes the particulates that make OJ opaque and makes the shelf life much longer; the de-aeration and heating involved in the pasteurization process evaporates the yummy volatiles and oils that make OJ taste like OJ; those volatiles are captured, condensed, standardized, portioned out, and returned to the cooled pasteurized OJ just before it goes into the cartons. So… technically, nothing that wasn’t originally in the orange was added or taken away. They didn’t squeeze orange directly into the carton as their ads showed, however.

  10. Nell on Wheels says:

    In a recent class action against the maker of Nutella, plaintiffs claimed the product was misleadingly advertised as a “healthy breakfast food.”

    I love me some Nutella*, but couldn’t believe the advertising campaign presenting it as some sort of healthy breakfast spread. Come on! The first ingredient is sugar:

    (bold emphasis theirs) Ingredients. Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Hazelnuts (13%), Skim Milk Powder (8.7%), Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder (7.4%), Emulsifier (Lecithins) (Soy), Flavouring (Vanillin)

    *Nutella between two graham crackers, or straight out of the jar–I just can’t stop. I’m not allowed to buy it anymore, and turn into Sybil when I pass it on the grocery store shelf, muttering, “NO! You know what happens when you buy that. No! Keep walking…”

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      I love Nutella as well, but personally I find the German Belmandel to put Nutella to shame. That stuff I must stay away from or else I’ll eat an entire tub of it in one sitting. And feel very ashamed afterwards.

      1. Nell on Wheels says:

        I just looked up Belmandel and am going to pretend I didn’t read your post or their website in an effort to avoid adding yet another irresistible binge-inducing temptation to my considerable sweet tooth.

        1. Renate says:

          I did the same and my mouth started to water. And to make things worse, in September I will be in Germany for a week.

      2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        I personally love the way the shame creates a warm, rosy glow deep in my stomach…followed by a thick layer of fat.

    2. Frederick says:

      I love nutella, My mothers used to buy some from time to time, I do think that marketing it as “a healthy breakfast” is pretty stupid, that doesn’t mean kid should not have access to it from time to time.

      take a good bread, whole grain or pumpernickel, toast it, a little butter, On one toast you put Kraft peanut butter, on the other nutella, and you close them together. huuum. Or with a spoon, you eat the peanut butter and nutella together directly from the jars.

      1. Frederick says:

        Did i just make mother plural? damn it. I’m spamming now lol

    3. Nell on Wheels says:

      I was introduced to Nutella in Rome during a high school graduation trip (studying “Comparative Cultures and Art” — 5 countries in 4 weeks). The youth hostel in Rome served those great crusty Roman rolls with little individual packs of Nutella.

    4. CC says:

      If I’m going to have a chocolate sandwich, I usually go for butter and chocoladevlokken instead of nutella :)

    5. mouse says:

      I used to occasionally give the kids Nutella on toast for breakfast. I knew it had sugar, but since it’s before brushing teeth, I didn’t care so much. But, I thought it had more nuts/protein in it. Then I saw the breakfast loves Nutella spot on this website. – (ya gotta scroll down and look in the right bar, I could figure out how to get the individual URL.)

      Some of us are more visual folks. I count calories, if needed, and limit grams of sugar or percentage fats, when needed, but I don’t get a realistic vision from ingredient lists.

      If I’m going to loose control, it’s not over Nutella. Not sure what (varies per day), probably something with chocolate, caramel and salt.

      Oh yeah, and humus, some days I just can’t stop eating humus. I can knock of 2/3 a container, easy.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Hummus isn’t bad, depending on how much olive oil and tahini it has in it. At least it’s got a lot of fiber and nutrients. Man, I can eat hummus with a spoon. There’s a place nearby that make it with extra tahini, sooooooooo creamy…

        Watched the nutella video. He used both sides of the knife to spread the nutella, now he’s not going to be able to put it directly on the counter, tsk. But I’ll forgive him because he’s Yoni Freedhoff. I must admit, even I, who expected nutella to be catastrophically bad for you, did not expect two tablespoons to be equivalent to five Oreo cookies.

        1. Windriven says:

          “Hummus isn’t bad, depending on how much olive oil and tahini it has in it.”

          Hummus isn’t bad but melitzanosalata is, in my opinion, superior in flavor though not in nutrition. A Greek friend makes his with fire roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil, and a small amount of bread crumbs – but no tahini. Variants with and without tahini can be found from Eastern Europe through the Levant and down into Egypt.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            If we ever meet in person, clearly we will have a hard time picking a restaurant. Eggplant is gross.

            1. Windriven says:

              Mash it up with enough garlic and first rate olive oil and it tastes like heaven! But yeah, otherwise it pretty much sucks.

              1. mouse says:

                Love eggplant too. We grill it with olive oil, but my mom used to dip it in flour and pan fry it. I haven’t been able to reproduce that, but it was sooo good (her’s was crispier, mine is too floury).

                Then again I like most food, even my kinda lame eggplant. This is probably why I’m not a great cook. I’m just not picky enough.

              2. n brownlee says:

                Noooo… Eggplant parmesan! Or- Cube it, press to drain, saute and use as a bread substitute in making sage and onion dressing? Low carb! Or- how about The Imam Fainted”? Take small eggplants (little Japanese ones are best), hollow them slightly and stuff with tomato, onion, garlic, lots of olive oil, set them together closely in a deep pot and add liquid, poach gently until tender- maybe an hour.
                Besides, eggplants are beautiful.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I also hate zucchini.

                Mouse, have you tried using corn starch and/or panko as an alternative?

              4. n brownlee says:

                Oh yeah, zucchini is the polyester pants suit of vegetables.

              5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                It’s cucumber’s syphilitic, inbred cousin.

              6. simba says:

                Anything you can do with elderly wrinkled eggplant? Most recipes suggest fresh.

                Last time I had it it was so bitter it put me off.

              7. Windriven says:



              8. simba says:

                Am I alone in liking zucchini? I love it in curries, it soaks up the tastes.

              9. Windriven says:

                I like zucchini well enough but it doesn’t bring much flavor or nutritional value to the party. I tend to use it as a filler, a sponge for other flavors, and a good way to balance against a carb overload.

              10. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I like zucchini well enough but it doesn’t bring much flavor or nutritional value to the party. I tend to use it as a filler, a sponge for other flavors, and a good way to balance against a carb overload.

                I’d just like to point out that you could be describing cardboard, styrofoam, plaster powder, sawdust or dryer lint with this sentence :)

              11. n brownlee says:

                Best to use eggplant while it’s fresh and shiny and smooth. The small Japanese eggplants are less likely to be bitter. But if you’ve got a large, mature black eggplant to use, peel and slice it and salt both sides of each slice. Place in a single layer on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, cover with more towel, and weight it with a couple of plates. Leave it for half an hour- this presses out the bitter juice. Rinse, dry, and use as desired.

                I was taught to do this with all eggplant- but then I found the little Japanese or Italian ones, and they are much less likely to be bitter.

              12. simba says:

                N Brownlee- trying it now, thank you!

              13. simba says:

                N Brownlee- you genius! It worked!

                Om nom nom aubergine, root veg, mushrooms and potatoes cooked in spiced red wine stew.

  11. Frederick says:

    Great article. I think consumer protection is important, but company should not have to pay for science illiteracy and naive fear of people. I’m 50/50 on that subject.

    The “natural” argument can be twisted in all the way you want. for example. Since Chemistry is natural, all laws of physic and chemistry are born with the universe, So using chemistry is natural in a way. And maybe some chemical reactions that are not happening “naturally” on earth might be “natural” somewhere else, on a far away planet where atmosphere, pressure, temp. etc is different. Anyway everything that exist have been synthesized inside massive fusion reactors, and heavier element when those reactors exploded. As long as the ingredient are tested for safety, anyway everything can be poison anyway. Everything we grow are gmos.
    Of course there’s always denier and science illiterate people.
    I think consumer protection is important, but the biggest danger of food is more about eating too much sugar or too much fat than eating ‘unnatural’. And beside can we eating some junk without being look at like Aliens, Junk is good ok, you can eat some from time to time without problem! I’m claiming the right to eat JUNK!

    Kettle chips are great, but I do have a grudge against them, here they are labelled “non-gmo project”, So I don’t like to buy them for that, since they participate in the irrational fear of gmo, and of course they have all the interest in the world ( more money) that people stay scared of that. But with that said, they are quality chips, their New-York cheddar and jalapenos are sooo good.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      May I say Frederick, your English is getting much better.

      Also, Ms. Vickies Sour Cream and Sweet Chili chips are the best thing ever.

      1. simba says:

        Agreed, well done.

        Now I just have to find a Science-Based Medicine in French so I can try this tactic…

  12. MTDoc says:

    Funny, I avoid most foods labelled “natural” or “organic”. Probably because they cost more, and sit next to equally appealing products in the supermarket. I read labels, as I do need to know CHO and sugar levels in order to control my diabetes (A1c 6.0). I “cook” often as my wife still works part time. However, I don’t worry about the “chemicals” in my food, as that is what my liver is for. Just so long as it is something my hepatic detox system is programmed to handle, like the hundreds of “natural” toxins our vegetables produce to protect themselves from their (other) enemies.

    Here in the north we enjoy our garden and the fresh produce, albeit for a very short time. Even though the end product costs twice as much, my wife will never give it up as long as she can manage it. The home ec course really has merit. A lecture or two on marketing (Hype 101) would help all consumers. Of course, there would still be class action suits, as they are for attorneys, not customers.

  13. OleanderTea says:

    These people going on about “natural food” always remind me of the old Far Side cartoon….

    1. Windriven says:

      The world needs more Gary Larsons.

  14. Elaine says:

    I knew a lady who had one of those exploding toilets. The tank blew up, ceramic shrapnel everywhere. Fortunately no one was hurt.

  15. Kiiri says:

    For home ec. we had a semester in high school no less in TX. It was a bit of a farce really. It turned out that I and one or two others in the class could cook, and were immediately labeled the captains of our respective groups. I still remember being settled with one of the biggest football players who barely knew which end of a spoon to hold. One of our ‘lessons’ was to bake an angelfood cake from scratch. Which meant beating the crap out of the egg whites. I immediately cracked the eggs, set them in a bowl in front of the football player, handed him the mixer and said ‘beat’. He very diligently moved the mixer around the bowl the entire time I prepped the rest of the cake ingredients. We were the only group with a fluffy cake. I really don’t think the class helped much of anyone actually learn to cook, one of the boys confided in me he learned way more watching me than he did from the teacher, as our instruction was mostly to find a recipe (matching certain parameters), the teacher shopped for all ingredients and then we cooked it in a group. If you had even one semi-decent cook you were almost guaranteed to come out with something more or less edible and hence pass. they didn’t offer shop. I learned basic car maintenance and repair, and basic household maintenance following around after my grandfather and dad. My dad in particular is adamant about all of his ‘girls’ (I should qualify this by saying I have 3 sisters) learn to ‘take care of yourselves’. We did.
    As for growing your own food, great if you live in the right climate and have the right space, and time to devote. We moved recently and since it is too late to put in a garden I look forward to next spring when I can. But this will be a new luxury. It is possible to cook and eat mostly healthy, but I work full time and hubby part to full time. Hard to find all the time it takes, but as we both cook very well we trade off. Great topic!

  16. RobLL says:

    I concur with others that natural and organic are unhelpful terms, and usually avoid both.

    GMO, there is adequate information that this will be needed big time if we are to feed the world population. On the other hand, agri-business has kind of shot itself in the foot refusing to label. Why not just start labeling and get over it. As well the public.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Because as soon as they label it, then a massive number of people stop buying any foods with genetically modified ingredients, which tanks their profits, which reduces investments in ongoing research, which means a less efficient food supply in terms of land, time, energy, tillage, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, more waste and ultimately less overall food, and ultimately the problem is only solved when widespread starvation results in a smaller population.

      It’s happened in Europe – they label GMO and as a result there are almost no genetically modified foods produced, imported or sold. All because of ignorance and fear.

    2. Frederick says:

      The labeling is just a way for non-gmo food maker/farmer to have Unfair business advantage, That’s it, after that all they have to do is keeping the doubt in people heads. Food company that do not use GMO can already label themselves as “non-gmo” which is fine and should stay that way. you want to sell to scared people fine, do it, but don,t try to kill you competitors with lies.

      If you want to be fair, ALL food as to be label GMO since that despite the “legal” definition of GMO include only the undsutrial/lab-made GMO, the reality is that all food is modified. To be fair even organic food should the label with the fact that they were breeded cross breeded, selected etc to achieve the taste/color/size/ crop yield they wanted. Hell, Humans should be label GMO lol.
      But at this point this information is over-information and become useless. So IMO that’s why label is bogus. Label is giving ideological propaganda lobby a easy victory.

  17. Lucas Beauchamp says:

    The FDA prohibits calling foods with added citric acid natural, even though citric acid takes its name from a class of fruits laden with it. Several of those fruits form the base of smoothies, but a case is pending against Jamba Juice for calling its smoothie kit all natural when it added citric acid. Somehow citric acid in orange juice is good, but added citric acid is bad. Granted most added citric acid has never seen a tree, but it is chemically the exact same thing.

    A previous action against the maker of Arizona Iced Tea was dismissed because the plaintiffs could not show that citric acid or high-fructose corn syrup was unnatural.

  18. Spectator says:

    Take one step back and ask what the net purpose of this is.

    Everyone already knows that an apple is good for you, while Apple Power Fizzy Bomb Drink is not. Cyanide is natural, distilled water is not. No one is being fooled by naming chips as natural or sugar as dried cane juice (which it is), at least no one who does not have a strong attraction for self-delusion.

    In the cane juice case they could simply look up from the small print, to the summary info on the label : Calories, Fat Protein Carbs Sugar. If they can read “evaporated cane juice” within a long list they can dmn well read “sugars: nn grams”. Personally, when I see “evaporated cane juice” on a label I read it as “fat hippie food”.

    The whole biz is about full employment for trial lawyer trolls.

  19. El Jefe says:

    Look! It’s chemical free!

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