The term greenwashing may not be familiar to everyone, but it is time it became popular.
The real food movement has become strong enough that the big corporations are beginning to pay serious attention, and what was a small time problem with greenwashing, is getting launched into the national and international food product world.
Until fairly recently most people believed the claims on the packaging, things like cage free, all natural, made with organic ingredients, or my favorite, natural flavors, but it seems that finally a sufficiently significant portion of the population is becoming educated about these prevarications that it is seeping into the collective social consciousness. When sit-coms start making jokes about something, you know that the audience has to be aware enough to find it funny.
What are not funny are the methods of pushback by the food manufacturers. The latest tactics appear as positive steps, but they are essentially just clever PR.
Take a product with 15 ingredients, more than I normally use in a complex meal, something like instant oatmeal. The product will have oatmeal, stabilizers, coloring, sugars, salts including MSG in a couple of forms, plasticizers, a humectant or two, flavorings etc. and the box will splashed with the words GMO FREE OATMEAL. This is a lie and the truth at the same time.
Oatmeal is definitely not GMO as there are no GMO oats on the market at the moment, but that does mean that the rest of the ingredients do not include GMO soy, corn, or beet sugar. As there are no GMO labeling rules, they can pretty much say what they want as long as there is a tiny shred of truth still there.
Another method which is very much in the news at the moment, is the “We will remove this harmful ingredient!”
Wonderful, you have taken one toxic ingredient out of a product that contains 10 toxic ingredients and now it is meant to be edible? However you are not telling us what you are replacing it with.
In the world of processed food like substances, the scale of manufacture is so large that percentages of a penny start to make a difference to the bottom line. If they are using 10 million pounds of MSG making one kind of toaster tart and they then remove it, what is going in to fill that 10 million pound gap at the same price as the ingredient that has just been removed? It cannot be something like fruit, flour, or even sugar under any of its 317 names (updated to 360, see All the names of sugar), as they all cost far too much, it has to be something the same price or less, meaning probably as toxic or at best, an inert filler like chalk.
Then there is the “healthier alternative”. This one is an old favorite of mine, as invariably it is not healthier; it is just marginally less poisonous than the comparison. The assumption that any industrially processed food is actually healthy is now too difficult for me to hold in my mind.
I could run on for hours, but I will finish with the “made with all natural ingredients”. This is probably the worst as not only are things like Arsenic and Mercury natural ingredients, but the industry takes this to the extreme of assuming that because something is available in nature somewhere, that when they make it by high temperature enzymatic action in a fractioning tower where they can use hexane to extract it, that it still qualifies for being labeled “natural”.
So when you hear how much better something is in an advertisement, you have to ask yourself just how terrible was it to start with and remember, the greenwashers do not have your best interests at heart.