I’ve heard many pastors and teachers talk about the insidiousness of Satan, and how he entangles us not by such obvious sins as murder and stealing, but rather subtly with things like pride and covetousness – problems that can be deeply rooted before we ever realize they are problems. For some reason, this makes me think of the deception involved in nutritional labeling.
Wait, am I really comparing the processed food industry to Satan? Maybe – but really, my point is that we have to be perceptive to avoid deception. I’m pretty sure most people can’t tell you what sodium benzoate, TBHQ, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein are, but they could easily do some research to find out. But what about a meaningless phrase like natural flavors?
When a label has natural flavors listed in the ingredients, it means (as you would probably guess) that the flavors cannot come from synthetic (artificial) sources. More specifically, they can be derived from
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, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. (source)
Does this present a problem for anyone? We have allergy issues in our family, so it is very important for us to know if something contains even a very small amount of dairy protein. While my daughter is very sensitive, there are people who are even more sensitive – like people with peanut allergies who cannot tolerate 20 ppm of anything peanut-related before they go into anaphylactic shock. Read this story about a wheat-allergic toddler’s reaction to a chicken nugget marketed as gluten-free.
And there’s also the issue of religious dietary restrictions. Sure, there are kosher agencies that monitor larger food processing operations. This article goes into detail about what they look for and how it’s done. After reading that article, though, I was left with the impression that there are many possibilities for gaps – specifically when it comes to cross-consulting with other kosher authorities. I’m sure the rabbis do their best, but they’re still human. And of course, Judaism is not the only religion with dietary restrictions.
My vegetarian friends should also be concerned with ambiguous labeling. I was vegetarian for many years, and during this period of my life, it would’ve bothered me to know that animal products could be concealed within my food. I consumed more processed foods then, like soy milk and Boca burgers, so my diet wasn’t as whole foods-based as it is now. But if you’re intentional about keeping animal products out of your food, then this is something to consider.
Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions with how evil this whole thing is, but I just don’t like not knowing what’s in my food. The USDA has a list of food additives that are “generally recognized as safe” – but do you trust a government agency that has proven ties to the lobbying of Big Food? The only way to avoid the conundrum of natural flavors is to avoid the processed food that contains them. If a label indicates the presence of natural flavors, then it is obviously a highly-processed food and should be avoided.
How do you feel about buying a product with an ingredient called natural flavors? Does this send up a red flag?