This is Day 50 of the Green in 365 series!
You know that the Real Food movement is starting to shake up the industry when you watch food commercials on TV and every other word is about how that particular food product is “real” “natural” contains “real ingredients” or “no artificial ingredients”.
The problem? They’re at best being misleading, and at worst, straight up lying to consumers. Most of the foods being advertised are still highly processed, and not at all close to being Real Food.
This practice has been termed “Real-Washing” by real foodies, and is similar to “Green-Washing” where companies try to make their products sounds more environmentally friendly than they really are.
Real-Washing: a Definition
If you’ll indulge my inner Webster for a moment, I’d define “real-washing” as:
(v.) To place an unclear and not-entirely-true label on a package of food in order to make it sound extremely healthy and straight from nature. (also real-washed)
(n.) The abhorrent act of tricking eaters with healthy intentions into eating food that has been adulterated with chemicals, food additives, growth hormones, and other unnatural practices. Seen most often in American grocery stores.
Real-washed food may sound like clean eating, but it’s really a dirty marketing practice that makes it very difficult to learn to eat well.
I completely agree with Katie, it’s dirty marketing practice, and it’s super frustrating to me to know there are people who really are trying to eat well and make healthy choices for their family, and they buy these products, thinking they are getting “real” food, and they’re really not at all.
One way you can watch out for “real-washed” foods, is by looking for these two terms on the label or packaging of a food product. These labels can be very misleading, and they show up a lot on food products today.
1. Natural or All-Natural
If you’ve been around green and natural living and real food for a while, you already know about this one. But the problem is that so, so many consumers have no idea that these terms “Natural” or “All-Natural” do not mean ANYTHING at all! It’s an unregulated term in both the food, and personal care products, industries, so it can be slapped on any label or packaging hoping to entice you that the product is safe, unprocessed, or “of the earth” when often nothing could be further from the truth.
Most food products are made of something that originally comes from nature, so the term “natural” could apply, no matter how processed, adulterated, or filled with other un-natural chemicals it is. Even high fructose corn syrup is “natural”, it comes from corn, right?!
2. Contains… or Made with…
This is another misleading label. A package might say “Made with Organic…” fill in the blank ingredient, or even non-organic but some other seemingly healthy ingredient. Or, like in one of the examples Katie gave, “Contains 100% Juice”. But just because a product “contains” or is “made with” something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t “contain” anything else.
Like in the case of the Lemon Juice that “Contains 100% Juice”, it doesn’t mean that it’s made up of ONLY 100% juice, just that the juice that it contains is 100% juice and the bottle “contains” other ingredients in addition to the juice. And just because something has the word “Organic” on the package, doesn’t mean it’s actually an organic product, or even that the rest of the ingredients are safe or healthy, it only means that one of the ingredients is a certified organic ingredient – the rest are up for grabs
It’s all so tricky, tricky, and quite confusing and frustrating, isn’t it!
So the lesson learned is that you have to be super vigilant about reading every ingredient in the list on every single food item before you purchase it. Don’t trust the packaging, just because it says it’s good for you, let the ingredients speak for themselves.
I also like Michael Pollan’s rule from In Defense of Food, that if there are health claims on the package, it’s probably not actually healthy, or something you should be eating. When possible, try to find foods that are single ingredients, it’s one of the easiest ways to know you’re not getting duped by a misleading label.
And of course, you also have to think about the labeling on personal care products too. Sigh. Maybe someday there will be a truth in labeling laws so that we won’t have to go to such great lengths to make sure that products are safe for our families.
Until then, if you think this information could help a friend or family member who is making the transition to real food and trying to make good choices, please pass this along to them! The more we can get the word out about real-washing, the less of an impact it will have on consumer’s choices!
Have you purchased something thinking it was healthier than it turned out to be when you looked at the ingredient list? What’s one of the worst “real-washed” foods that you’ve seen?
Find all the Green in 365 posts.
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