cerealDoes the label "natural" mean anything to you when you see it plastered on a package of food?

There was quite a dust-up in the cereal aisle over this question last week. A grocer in Portsmouth, RI pulled Kashi cereal from his shelves and posted a sign explaining why:

You might be wondering where your favorite Kashi cereals have gone. It has recently come to our attention that 100% of the soy used in Kashi products is genetically modified, and that when the USDA tested the grains used there were found to be pesticides that are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.

Someone posted a photo of that sign and it went viral -- which triggered an anti-Kashi backlash online. People were shocked because Kashi cereals have that "natural" health food halo. Was this a case of false advertising? Or is this just another case of food labeling being utterly meaningless?

Kashi isn't the first company to stir up controversy over the "natural" label. Trader Joe's, Naken Juice, Ben & Jerry's, and other food companies are being sued over their "all natural" claims. But what does "all natural" even mean?

It can mean ANYTHING. There is absolutely no industry-wide standard for what "natural" means. No official definition for the FDA, and no official definition for the Federal Trade Commission.

But because the idea of natural food is catching on with shoppers (especially us moms!), food companies are slappin' that label on as fast as they can. They might as well be putting "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" on the packages. They could put "all natural!" on a package of freaking bubblegum if they wanted to. Seriously.

I feel like we're living in an age where half of us still really care about what's in our food, so we're reading the ingredients labels with a magnifying glass and desperately trying to keep up with all the different kinds of certifications out there. And then the other half of us have pretty much said, "Screw it! What's on sale?!?" because it all just seems so confusing. We know the "organic" label is actually regulated, but what if you can't afford organic food?

Not everyone cares about buying "natural" food. But the big fight last week shows that we do resent it when food manufacturers aren't being straight with us. Kashi has since posted a video saying that they've partnered with the Non-GMO Project and that seven (of their over 80) products are GMO-free. It's good that people are paying more attention and demanding more accountability from companies. But it's also not like we have loads of time to keep up with all these food controversies.

Do you trust food labels?

 

Image via musicfanatic29/Flickr