A Frank Angle’s blog always has a little something for everyone, with satire and musings to satisfy just about anyone. His last post contained this comment:

Upon seeing a recipe with marshmallow earlier this week on a blog, I couldn’t resist asking if they used natural or synthetic marshmallows in the recipe. The blogger kindly responded synthetic – but all its ingredients are natural.

“Natural” is one of those interesting English words that has many meanings, depending on its context in a sentence. In this case, my computer’s dictionary lists five (just for the adjective form, not to mention the noun), the first of which applies to the usage above:

1 existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by human kind.

Lakeshore Natural Foods

Lakeshore Natural Foods (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

However, the meaning of “natural” relative to food still has a squishy meaning. I went to the FDA’s web site on the matter and they admit that they haven’t developed a food-related definition for “natural”. They say that they don’t object to its use so long as the stuff doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Hmm. Synthetic? That refers to chemistry and, relative to food, that apparently means something added from outside the growing process itself. Hmm. Still squishy.

It’s hard to think of anything people eat nowadays that’s like what was eaten a few hundred years ago. Maybe some vegetables, stuff like carrots or potatoes. But even in that case, what we see in the stores now is different. It’s bigger and has few visible flaws, and heck, no bugs at all. Plus all vegetables have been genetically modified either through gene therapy or through purposeful selection of seed. That has been going on ever since Grok the caveman selected the better seeds from among all those he saw growing wild. Modern corn, for example, is a robust gastronomical food machine that the first American colonists would hardly recognize.

Meat isn’t the same stuff either. Animals have been bred to maximize their food qualities at the expense of other traits. I read somewhere that domestic turkeys are nothing like their wild cousins, not to mention dumber than a sack of rocks. And the chicken? Forgeddabout it.


The bottom line for me in these musings about “natural” foods is that there’s no such thing.  There’s nothing on this globe that humans haven’t affected.  But there is a big difference between food that grows in the ground and meat. Meat has a huge environmental footprint and humanity’s growing appetite for it, particularly in Asia, is already having a significant effect on its cost. Fortunately, people are already working on artificial substitutes – making it out of plants or just chemicals. But don’t worry, we left “natural” behind a long, long time ago.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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9 Responses to Naturally

  1. PiedType says:

    Mmm, yummy natural meat substitute. Who could resist?


  2. Jim in IA says:

    What we choose to eat and how we live our lives is a big subject. Books, TV shows, blogs, documentaries…the list is long. Apparently, there is no one true answer to the question of what is best for us.

    We try to follow a balanced approach in most things. We have cut back a great deal on processed foods and try to eat more things we prepare ourselves. Melanie is a great cook and makes terrific soups. We make our own yogurt each week. You won’t find many boxed foods in our pantry. But, we still partake in small amounts of treats like chocolate, ice cream sometimes, crackers,…just not too much or very frequent.

    Then there is exercise. We get out for a 30-45 minute brisk walk several times a week. Hiking on a vacation, snowshoeing, have become bigger parts of our plans. It feels good and keeps us fit.

    We don’t smoke. We do partake of alcohol. We try to keep stress low. I guess we are advocates of eating and living a more ‘natural’ life, whatever that means. It seems to be working for us.


  3. aFrankAngle says:

    Great take on natural. Early in your post I started thinking about the FDA definition … and then you mentioned checking. At one time, maybe even still, “light” could mean lighter in color. Bottom line is that the fact that I inspired your thoughts made my day.

    BTW, one more tidbit about my story. I then told the blogger to consider organic marshmallows because of their unique taste … and she affirmed the thought.


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