Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Like F-ing Natural Artisan Mumbo Jumbo

It may be only children and pedants who believe that once a word is coded into more than one dictionary its meaning becomes fixed and immutable. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider the "f-word" which can mean virtually anything depending upon the context in which it is used. The word "like" is equally adaptive and, in the mouth of a skilled user, can indicate a simile (as in "I'm like wasted."), affinity or affection ("You like what?") indecision ("I was like what?") or nothing at all ("Like, you know.").

Likewise, in the world of commercially produced food, there are many words and whose applied meaning have little to do with their formal definitions. Take the word artisan, for example, which normally indicates a person who is skilled in a trade and works largely with his hands and hand tools.

Nowadays, most supermarket bakeries sell artisan bread that is made in factories. The flour for the bread is ground in automated mills, sifted by mechanical sifters, mixed in dough mixers and baked in automated ovens. If it is hard to imagine a role for an artisan in the process of making thousands of loaves of bread a day, it's only because you don't know that the baking industry has expanded the definition of artisan to include a minimum-wage worker with only enough skill to cut and slash a loaf of bread in exactly the same way 10,000 times a day.

People who sell chickens and turkeys can label them as fresh even though their poultry has been frozen because they have a different understanding of definition of the meaning of the word frozen. According the National Turkey Federation
"evidence exists that (freezing) occurs somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees F, but the precise temperature eludes us."

It doesn't matter at all that meat is mostly water and that the public understands that water is widely defined as freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (okay, the water in chicken contains solutes so it's freeze point is probably around 28 degrees) because the poultry industry understands that language is mutable, and either assumes that the public understands that it knows which versions of the words fresh and frozen it is using or, to take a more cynical view, is too dumb to know that it's being duped.

Forgetting for the moment that since the fundamental definition of the word natural means "present in or produced by nature" only foods that are still in their native habitat, or are not in anyway added to or reduced by human hands or their machines can truly be said to be natural, it is possible to see a broad range of natural food products that appear to be natural in ways that would give nature pause to wonder if it knew what it was about. Tyson and other chicken producers sell "100 percent Natural" chicken breasts that are injected with salt water and seaweed extract. Since salt water and seaweed are natural products, adding them to chicken does not, according to Tyson and the USDA, render the chicken unnatural anymore than smoking tobacco or injecting narcotics turns a natural born fool into a manufactured dope.

Even highly processed foods like ketchup and frozen fish sticks can be labeled natural as long as they don't contain anything that was synthesized in a laboratory. According to the Code of Federal Regulations a natural additive is:
"the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice ..."

Well, I suppose that enzymolysis is natural enough.

Of course, unless you believe that you are being harmed by eating fresh natural artisan chicken that is not fresh, not produced by an artisan and not natural, there is no reason to rise up in arms about the loosey-goosey ways that food companies are using your language. On the other hand, it is like (f-word) annoying when like, think you are being played for a like, dupe.


Chris said...

I get around the whole issue by buying all of my meat/chicken from a guy, on whose farm I have spent an entire day.
I often say hello to the guy that bakes the bread I like, when he delivers it to my favorite pasta shop.
I just plain don't buy stuff that comes in a box.

F-ing food companies suck.

Bob said...

Deceit is the coin of the realm in America. Lobbyists and the money they give our politicians make it so.

This is why foods can have hydrogenated oil as the 2nd or 3rd ingredient and yet the Nutrition Facts label on the box says 0g of trans fat because they can also call it the less feared "saturated fat."

Scotty said...

In the words of one of my favorite movies: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Maryann said...

I'm just here to wish you a very Happy Easter, Bob :)

Bob del Grosso said...

Buon Pasquale Maryann!

ntsc said...

We've one local store that I'm fairly certain the bread has never been touched by human hands. It is however Kosher, although not for Passover. And it is so labeled.

I can't imagine a Jew who cares about this not knowing, but I'm of the Goyem.

IdahoRocks said...

In complete agreement, which is why it irritates me so much that the lard at the grocery store is lard + shortening. Grrrr.... And after reading Pollan's books I'm also not into corn posing as chicken, butter substitutes posing as butter, and processed foods posing as natural.

Larbo said...

As you say, Bob, deceit is such the coin of the realm that as soon as anyone says "organic," "natural," "artisanal," or prints this on their packaging, we know it must not be true.

Whenever someone asks about food we put in front of them, we always tell them, "It's raw, natural, wild, organic, minimally-processed, line-caught, hand-coddled, shade-grown, bird-friendly, artisanal, and worker-owned-cooperative-produced."