I recently read Nature - The Seductive Myth of Nature’s Goodness by Alan Levinovitz. The book looks at the word nature and all of the meanings we’ve given it. The term nature is used in a lot of domains - food, the outdoors, makeup, medicine, philosophy, and even economics.
Levinovitz explores an example around vanilla essence. If we saw a bottle of Natural Vanilla Essence in the supermarket how do we think it was made? Likely something that involved the use of vanilla beans and has no additional additives or flavourings. The FDA definition of natural food includes anything produced by fermentation. This wording means the yeast used in the fermentation cam be synthetically produced, and that’s exactly what is done.
Evola has developed a method of making vanillin by yeast fermentation - using yeast as a platform to produce compounds. This new technology allows production of vanillin instead of using petrochemicals - Synbio.info
And so the majority of natural vanilla used in baking and cosmetics is produced by this method. Funnily enough we can’t tell the difference between vanilla sourced from pods and that which is produced through fermentation.
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When we say natural is that really what we mean? The vanilla may have been grown in your local region, and your decision to buy it was support local producers. Perhaps the vanilla beans may have been grown on the other side of the world, but the vanilla you are buying is fair trade certified. On the other hand if you’re concerned about labour exploitation and the origin of the product isn’t clear, then the synthetically produced option is probably your safest bet.
We all have factors which influence what we buy. Price is #1 for most of us, but a combination of environmental factors, social good, ease of access, locality, time, beauty, sound, and feel impact what we buy. Natural is a word that can be twisted to paint nearly any of those in a good light.
- Himalayan table salt, produced by nature over millions of years.
- Buy this 4 wheel drive and experience wild nature.
- Precisely created from powerful active, natural ingredients, Aleph products work in harmony with skin at the cellular level.
So does the word natural have meaning anymore? As individuals we have our own positively framed image of what natural means to us. For me natural is about the outdoors, wild animals, and untouched landscapes. Being in the middle of nowhere where freedom is absolute. Advertisements throw in the word natural we all have our own emotional reaction.
It’s not just advertising. Since reading the book I’ve caught myself using natural to justify a purchase or taking a specific viewpoint. On further inspection it wasn’t justification, it was just some excuse I could trot out to make myself feel better about it. I treat the word now as a red flag, not to shy away from it, but the because it’s natural is a distraction from some underlying reason.