It's Only Natural -- Or Is It?

While traveling to the Natural Products Expo East, I was reading The Wall Street Journal, and an article,"More Snacks Made from Brown Rice, Vegetables," reignited an ongoing internal debate that I struggle with: “If it's Crunchy and Comes in a Bag, Does It Count as a Vegetable?” I had flashbacks to 2011 when Congress and the USDA proposed that pizza, French fries and ketchup be considered vegetables. Yet another absurd example of consumption confusion.

Furthering my internal debate is the simple word “Natural” and all that the term promises. Natural should be an easy word for a kid or mom to understand. Yet in my experience, it has been compromised and confused to the point that we know that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean natural at all!

I set about my day walking the show, excited to see what was new. As in recent years, there was a wide range of new and improved offerings. At the show, I found every form of recognizable food, snack and treat, many twisted to encourage the same indulgent behavior patterns as the traditional snack equivalent with, at best, true and proven benefits and, at worst, a less harmful effect. Among the thousands of products were hundreds of chips, bars, cookies and candies made in the form of the usual processed foods, basically snacks with a few natural ingredients thrown in.



It quickly became obvious that even to the “seasoned professional” this Natural Products market is confusing. Moreover, it appears that a great deal of it is intentionally deceptive. Clearly, the Natural space is designed to address and justify a behavior, to deliver an emotional benefit, and do so as conveniently as possible. I see this every day when I shop for my family. I’ll see a woman stand and debate, “should I buy that bag of chips, or wouldn’t that bag of kale chips (that costs three times more) with the same calorie count but a few grams of protein, be a wiser choice?” And I assume she’s saying to herself, “which will my kids like, and make me look like I care more about my family than those traditional chip eaters.”

Many of the products tailored to kids and families were actually just processed and packaged, meaning more convenient, alternatives to their genuine, original, natural forms – like an actual fruit or vegetable. This is troubling. The truth that most of these products are being developed by adults for adults who as parents introduce these products and the resultant lifestyle choices to their kids, concerns me even more.

Why introduce a child to another alternative, to snacks and foods that aren’t truly good for you, and that aren't the real deal -- like an apple? Why not require real fruits and vegetables, and return to the reward benefit of an occasional snack or treat? Why take fruits and vegetables and hide them in enhanced, manufactured, “natural” foods? Is convenience now compromising responsible parenting?

I am also a father of four, and am often challenged by the same issues as any other dad or mom. I know it's not easy. Is this "‘food" good for my kids? Will this do what I need it to do? 

But as a parent, I take responsibility for this decision, as well as the education, development and behavior of my children.By fostering a sense of responsibility, transparency and clarity, we might overcome the challenge and opportunity at the core of this natural trend -- which in my view is simply human nature. I wish the “natural” industry could help us parents out a bit more.

Wouldn't it be great if that came just as naturally?

1 comment about "It's Only Natural -- Or Is It?".
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  1. Bill Goodwin from Goodwin, November 6, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.

    True Paula, sad but true...
    Frankly I was concerned when writing and sharing this as it is somewhat of a rant, and in truth there is quite a bit of good baked into the real, genuine natural food movement.
    Grateful that an article in today's WSJ reaffirmed my conviction:

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